Prep football: Undefeated Negaunee, Ishpeming set to battle Friday for Mid-Peninsula Conference lead

ISHPEMING – Negaunee handed the Ishpeming High School football team its only loss last season en route to the state Division 7 championship.

If the Hematites are using that 20-8 defeat as any extra incentive when the two unbeaten teams meet Friday, IHS head coach Jeff Olson isn’t saying.

“I don’t know if there’s a revenge factor … but it’s making our guys more focused,” he said Wednesday in looking at the 7 p.m. Mid-Peninsula Conference clash in Ishpeming.

“We know Negaunee’s capable of beating us. We have to play better (against the Miners) than we did last year.”

Both teams are 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the M-PC, with the outcome of Friday’s game likely to determine the league champion.

“We didn’t make that a goal last year,” Olson said. “We’re really just talking about Negaunee right now.”

NHS head coach Paul Jacobson expects Olson and company to use the 2012 game as a motivational tool.

“They’ll do everything they can do to prepare for the game,” Jacobson said. “I expect a good game out of Ishpeming.”

The Hematites feature the best overall offense and defense in the M-PC, with the Miners second in both categories. The Hematites have averaged 43 points and 430 yards of offense thus far; the Miners 40.3 and 348, respectively.

On defense, IHS has allowed just 26 points this season and has held opponents to 87 yards per contest; the Miners 60 and 221.

“We know what Negaunee brings to the table,” Olson said. “They’re big, fast and look like a Division 2 team. They’re just dominating teams.”

NHS senior running back Tyler LaJoie leads the M-PC in overall rushing with 738 yards in 57 attempts (12.9 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns.

“We’ll have to get as many guys as we can (defensively) on him,” Olson said, “though it’s tough to key on one person. If he finds a seam, he can go the distance.

“Every one of our guys has to be assignment-oriented.”

Miners quarterback Ryan Syrjala (17-of-29, 406 yards and three TDs) has Zane Radloff and Tyler Jandron as his primary targets. The two receivers have combined for 14 receptions, 282 yards and three scores.

“They’re big threats,” Olson said of Radloff and Jandron, “and pose some problems.”

Ishpeming also has some threats, with four backs – led by QB Alex Briones – with at least 153 yards rushing. Briones has rushed for 523 yards (7.2) and scored nine TDs.

“We’ve been spreading the ball around a lot,” Olson said. “We have a lot of running backs who can carry the ball, so (opposing) teams can’t key on one person. We like our versatility on offense.”

Said Jacobson: “Ishpeming has a good skill set. They have a lot of good athletes.”

Briones has also completed 29 of 47 passes for 724 yards and nine scores. Tyrus Millimaki has caught eight of those passes for 206 yards and four TDs.

“Briones is a solid player,” Jacobson said. “He’s big (6-2, 215), physical and strong. He can hurt you with his feet and his arm.”

The Negaunee coach is also aware of the defense Ishpeming will bring to the table.

“They’re solid there. It’s what they do best,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson, who said he’d “like to think we’re getting better every game,” expects a well-played contest between the neighboring rivals.

“It’ll be a good opportunity for the kids,” he said. “We just have to make the most of our opportunities on offense and defense.”