Eskymos charge out of the gates

IRON MOUNTAIN – Two touchdowns in the first minute and 27 seconds of the game helped propel Escanaba to a 34-14 non-conference victory over Iron Mountain Friday night at cold, soggy Mountaineer Stadium.

Trevan Wendrick, untouched, took the game’s opening kickoff 85 yards for a score, and then Escanaba linebacker Nicholas Chenier recovered a fumble on Iron Mountain’s first play from scrimmage to set up a quick three-play drive in which quarterback Travis Heller scored on a run from 14 yards out.

“You can’t do it much better than that,” Escanaba coach Jim Hansen said. “Special teams did a great job of blocking. Wendrick just found a seam there and got going.”

Led by Chenier and interceptions from Jacob Walker and Christopher LeMire, the Eskymo defense completely shut down Iron Mountain’s offense in the first half. Qualley was picked twice and brought down behind the line four times, while James Christiansen was checked to 22 yards on nine carries.

“We knew they wanted to control the ball, control the clock and grind yards out,” Hansen said. “I was happy with how we were able to get them in some bad down and distance early on in the game. It takes away a little bit of what they want to do.”

A second quarter drive that started at the Iron Mountain 24 put the Eskymos up 18-0 when Heller scampered nine yards for his second touchdown of the night.

“We got off to a bad start,” Mountaineers coach Robin Marttila said. “We knew their speed would be an issue, and their spread offense, we haven’t seen a spread all year. We got better as the game went on but we put ourselves in too much of a hole early.”

Iron Mountain’s defense did prevent the game from completely getting away in the first half. Qualley came up with a pick to stop one Esky drive. Iron Mountain also held the Eskymos on fourth down twice in the half, including a stop inside the 10.

“Yeah, we got better as the game went on defensively, but offensively, we didn’t execute at all. Number 40 (Chenier) is a real good football player. We had trouble blocking him.”

Heller led nine different Eskymo ball carriers with 112 yards on 15 trips. He gained 101 of those before halftime. Corey McInerney totaled 93 yards on 10 tries.

The Mountaineers lost Christiansen to an ankle injury early in the second half. He did not return, finishing with 31 yards on 12 carries.

Iron Mountain finally cut into the Escanaba lead later in the quarter.

With the ball slipping out of runners’ hands on both teams due to the slick conditions, it was Joe Axberg coming up with a fumble recovery for Iron Mountain inside the Esky 35 yard line. Qualley kept on a fourth and one from the 14 and got all the way down to the half yard line. He went over the top of the pile on the next play to get the Mountaineers on the board.

But Escanaba answered on their very next drive thanks to a 38-yard scoring run by McInerney. A one-yard score by Sean Bissell and two-point push by McInerney early in the fourth made it 34-7 Eskymos.

“Their speed and athleticism was better than ours, and that was a problem for us,” Marttila said.

A late 23-yard touchdown pass from Brock Grenier to Jake Weslin put the Mountaineers into double digits.

“The kids fought to the end,” Marttila said. “They put some points on the board. That was a positive.”

Walker had a pick of Grenier in the fourth quarter for his second interception of the game. Escanaba, improving to 3-5, wound up with five sacks in the game, taking away 47 yards from the Mountaineers.

“This was a big win for us,” Hansen said. “A lot of kids played. We’ve had some injuries, and other kids have stepped up and done a nice job for us the last two weeks.”

A 49-yard rush by Grenier on a third and inches keeper up the gut gave the back-up QB a team-high 52 yards rushing. He also caught two Qualley passes for 27 yards in the first half. Justin Rock added eight carries for 26 yards.

“The kids battled hard,” Marttila said. “Turnovers hurt us. We’ll go back to the drawing board because we got a game next week.”

Iron Mountain (3-5) hosts Norway in the season finale Friday.