MHSAA Division 7 football: Ishpeming hosts Lake City again in Division 7 regional final on Saturday

ISHPEMING – If Ishpeming High School hasn’t been tested defensively yet this football postseason, it most likely will be challenged Saturday.

The No. 1-ranked Hematites (11-0) will host an offensive juggernaut in Lake City (10-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the MHSAA Division 7 regional championship.

The visiting Trojans averaged 47.7 points a game during the regular season. They also beat Whittemore-Prescott, 35-20, and Lincoln Alcona, 56-14, in district tournament play.

“They’re explosive. They put a lot of points on the board,” IHS head coach Jeff Olson said. “Our defense will have to try to contain them.”

Behind linebackers Alex Briones, Mitch Laurin and Bobby Zhulkie, the Hematites haven’t allowed a point in postseason play in wins over Mancelona (50-0) and West Iron County (34-0).

IHS also gave up just 6.3 points a game during the regular season.

“We have a big task (on defense) ahead of us, but we also have a smart group of kids,” Olson said.

Key for the Hematites will be containing Lake City quarterback Drew Marion. The 6-2, 194 senior – a four-year starter – scored six touchdowns on the ground last week while gaining 139 yards on 18 carries.

He also completed 14 of 20 passes for 211 yards and a score.

“He’s the real deal,” Olson said. “He has huge stats running and throwing the ball.

“They use a spread offense to create space for him to run. We’ll have to choose our poison, go after him (defensively) or back off and go into coverage.”

The No. 5-ranked Trojans – whose only loss this season was a 42-35 overtime decision to Beal City – will also likely be challenged defensively.

Ishpeming features many offensive weapons, beginning with 6-2, 215-pound senior QB and Upper Peninsula Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year Alex Briones.

Last week against WIC, he ran for 129 yards and scored four TDs. He also went 2-of-6 passing for 48 yards.

“He’s a great weapon,” Olson said, “but we have a number of backs who can carry the ball. Opposing teams can’t key on one person.”

Briones led the team in rushing during the regular season with 814 yards, but backs Zhulkie (455), Adam Prisk (414) Noah Olgren (253) and Nate Meyer (241) also contributed.

“Lake City’s defense has been shutting teams down,” Olson said. “They’re very athletic and put eight people in the (defensive) box. They’re similar to us.

“We’ll have to keep the ball in our hands. They can score in a hurry, so we can’t give up the big play.”

The two teams met in the regional final last season, with Ishpeming taking a 28-12 home win en route to the state Division 7 championship.

“Playing at home (Saturday) means a lot,” Olson said. “We can stay in our same routine. It’s a nice reward for the kids and their success this year.

“It’s going to be a tough test (though). Lake City is a good football team.”