Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports Columnists

November 13, 2010

Dennis Chase: Contrast in regional final

The contrast was stark.

On one side of the 50, Iron Mountain players jubilantly hoisted an elusive Division 6 regional football championship trophy.

Mountaineer fans cheered as the players celebrated and then posed for a team picture.

Onward bound.

On the other side, Suttons Bay players were shedding tears, embracing one another, trying to cope with what just happened as their dream season ended two weeks prematurely.

In the background, the scoreboard said it all: Iron Mountain 41, Suttons Bay 17.

"This is way harder than I thought it would be," Suttons Bay senior back Noah Reyhl said, moments after playing his final high school football game. "It was tough last year, walking off the field knowing that I wouldn't be able to play with some of those kids again. But this team was a family. God blessed us. You can't help but be thankful for it. This brings tears to your eyes"

The best team won Friday night. Iron Mountain was just too big, too strong, too physical. The Mountaineers controlled the line of scrimmage — and the game.

"They're just a great team," Suttons Bay senior Layton Korson said. "They execute their plays well. They don't make mistakes. They go forward every play. They don't have any negative plays. It's tough to stop a team that has that much size and power.

"We did our best. We fought to the end. That's all you can ask for. We just got overpowered."

It was an uphill battle for the Norsemen right from the opening drive when Iron Mountain marched right down the field for a touchdown. Still, Suttons Bay had its opportunities. The Norsemen were stymied three times deep in Mountaineer territory, once at the 1 just before the half that could have made it a three-point game. It was that inability to finish drives that helped seal Suttons Bay's fate.

In the second half, Iron Mountain used its size to wear down the Norsemen. And when injuries started to mount, the gap widened — and the Norsemen had no answers.

Suttons Bay coach Joe Trudeau knew what to expect. He had watched the film on Iron Mountain. The film didn't lie.

"My goodness," he said. "That was the fear, that they're going to pound and pound and pound. And that's what they did. They just line up and come at you and there's not a lot you can do."

Reyhl agreed.

"They were the most physical team we've played," he said. "Credit to them. They are a good team. I thought we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, but they were fabulous. I wish them good luck the rest of the season."

Trudeau sought out his seniors after the game. They were the leaders of this 11-1 team that had been so dominant this season.

"It's tough because these seniors have been such a great group," he said. "Their leadership and work ethic is just phenomenal. Everything they've gotten, they've deserved.

"They broke 23 team records, 31 individual records. It's nuts. It's crazy how good this team was. It's just a shame."

For Iron Mountain, this regional championship was long awaited. The Mountaineers had lost to Montague in the regionals each of the last three seasons.

"It's awesome," Mountaineer star linebacker Paul Kuoppala said after accepting the trophy. "We finally didn't have (Montague) in our way. We played a heckuva game tonight."

He'll get no arguments.

Monday is opening firearms day for deer season. It's like a holiday in the Upper Peninsula.

School in Iron Mountain will be closed. Kuoppala will be among those in the woods.

But not all day.

Practice starts at 3:30 p.m.

And that's just fine for Kuoppala and his teammates. They wouldn't want it any other way.

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