DETROIT – Last year seemed like a date with destiny.
But would that destiny hold up for another year?
The answer on Saturday was a definitive yes at the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Division 7 state championship game.
Ishpeming led all the way in posting a 22-12 victory over Detroit Loyola at Ford Field in Detroit.
Ishpeming’s 2012 campaign was a storybook season was played in the aftermath of several deaths of former teammates who were also family members from the current team’s players, an uphill but successful fight to get an overage teammate eligible to play, and national exposure that included a trip to New York City to be celebrated by Sports Illustrated.
This 2013 season was a more typical scenario of excellent play on the field. But what play it was, as the Hematites blew through a perfect 9-0 regular season, which included mercy-rule or near-mercy-rule victories in eight games and revenge for the previous year’s loss to Negaunee in the ninth.
The playoff run was just as spectacular, with three more 35-point mercy rules invoked at some point in three of the first four playoff games.
But Ishpeming’s opponent for the final game looked just as, if not even more impressive, if that was possible.
A small Class C school like Ishpeming, Loyola played nothing but Class A and B teams during the regular season, winning all of them, and blew apart its earlier playoff opposition averaging more than 50 points per game.
It was the same Detroit Loyola team the Hematites edged 20-14 for the 2012 title, but back with a sense of revenge, even if its head coach – John Callahan – wasn’t keen on admitting that.
“We have unfinished business from last year,” he said in the run-up to the game. “But it doesn’t matter who we play.”
Twenty-second-year head coach Jeff Olson of Ishpeming worried nonetheless, with the Bulldogs returning speed everywhere he looked – and power where they needed it.
“They made it very difficult,” Olson said Saturday at the postgame news conference. “They bring a lot of guys close to the line of scrimmage designed to stop our run.”
His star player, senior quarterback Alex Briones, concurred.
“They’re big, they’re fast and they’re strong,” said the Associated Press’ Division 7-8 first-team QB who was also named Offensive Player of the Year among large schools in the Upper Peninsula in early November.
Even without the challenges, senior running back Adam Prisk said this was a close-knit team.
“We’ve developed a brotherhood over the last two years,” he said. “We even pick on each other just like brothers do.
“I’m really going to miss this. I don’t think you can ever have another relationship like this again in your life.”
Despite Ishpeming’s wire-to-wire victory, no one felt completely safe until Hematites sophomore Ozzy Corp made an interception with 91 seconds to go and the Hematites ahead by two scores.
“It just felt like a heavyweight slugfest out there,” Olson said. “We’d feel the momentum swing in our favor with a big play, then they would stuff us and negate that and it was going the other way.”
Steve Brownlee can be reached at email@example.com. His phone number is 228-2500, ext. 246.