Briones dominates as Hematites repeat

DETROIT – Detroit Loyola High School was reported to be spoiling for a rematch with Ishpeming to end this year’s high school football season.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs learned that age-old lesson – be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true.

In a rematch of the 2012 MHSAA Division 7 state final, the Hematites showed last year’s championship wasn’t a fluke with a 22-12 victory at Ford Field in Detroit.

On Saturday, unlike in last year’s back-and-forth championship matchup where the lead changed hands several times, this Ishpeming squad took control from the opening kickoff and held Loyola at bay even when the Bulldogs threatened to make a game of it down the stretch.

“We didn’t dominate the game, but some things went our way because the big plays went our way,” IHS 22nd-year head coach Jeff Olson said in the postgame news conference. “We’re a smash-mouth team, and they made it difficult on us, so we had to throw the ball some.”

Bulldogs coach John Callahan agreed with much of Olson’s assessment.

“You can look at fourth-and-goal plays and some others, but what it boiled down to was that they outplayed us,” the fifth-year coach said. “We had probably our best week of practice preparing for this game, but we got whooped, we got beat.

“From the opening kickoff, the ball bounced the wrong way, but that’s because Ishpeming helped make it bounce the wrong way.”

If an opening kickoff can set the mood for an entire game, this one was it.

Alex Briones, known best as an all-state quarterback and only slightly less as a star linebacker, booted the opening kickoff on a line drive that hit the turf and eluded Loyola returner Patrick Harbin. He tried to pick the ball up so he could run with it, rather than taking a safer route by just falling on it.

He failed to see that several Hematites, including junior Ozzie Hakkarinen, were quickly converging on him and it was Hakkarinen that came up with the ball at the Bulldogs’ 22-yard line.

Briones ran the ball five straight times before the Hematites faced third-and-15 at the 17, prompting Olson to let his QB unleash his arm for the first time.

Though the senior averaged just seven pass attempts a game in the previous 13 contests, Briones showed why he’s been the model of efficiency through the air all season, unleashing a throw on the run and against the grain to a waiting junior Marcus Antilla, who was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown.

Senior running back Adam Prisk, who stood next to Briones on most snaps throughout the day, ran in for what would later prove to be an important two-point conversion to make it 8-0.

Briones ruled the game throughout the first half. On the first play of the second quarter, he made a spectacular play to bump the margin to 14-0.

Facing third-and-goal from the 2, Loyola sent an all-out jailbreak after Briones. The Ishpeming QB scrambled 15 yards backward but then had the presence to find senior Mitch Laurin along the goal line, stop and plant with three or four defenders in his face and fire a strike for his 21st TD pass of the season.

Loyola seemed desperate to bottle up Briones in the second half, opening opportunities for Prisk, who had netted just five rushing yards in three carries before the intermission.

Prisk started inauspiciously with a two-yard loss on his only attempt the first time the Hematites had the ball in the third quarter.

But when they got it back at the midpoint of the period, Prisk took the ball on the first play and sprinted right about 15 yards, stopped on a dime and made a 90-degree turn left and raced across the field before he was tackled.

Anthony Frierson wrapped him up at the end of a 37-yard gain down to the Loyola 17.

The drive ended three plays and a penalty later with Briones going airborne with a dive into the end zone. Briones tacked on a two-point pass to Antilla for a 22-0 advantage.

Prisk came up big on Ishpeming’s next possession after Loyola crept within 22-6. Facing third-and-13 from the Hematites’ 12, Olson set up what looked like an unbalanced line, with three receivers all on the right side and lined up not far from the right tackle.

Though Loyola scored once more, the Bulldogs had two other fourth-quarter possessions that stalled out, the final one ending on an interception by sophomore Ozzy Corp.

Two victory-formation kneel downs ended the game and brought the team back onto the field for a championship celebration for the second straight season.