MARQUETTE — Defense, defense and more defense. That was the key Saturday as Johannesburg-Lewiston inched past Iron Mountain 7-6 in a Division 8 regional championship game at the Superior Dome.
The game ended as Iron Mountain senior Caleb Evosevichl-Hynes missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide left as time expired.
The game featured less than 350 total yards of offense, including just 115 by the Mountaineers.
“When a team gets to the state quarterfinals, you’re usually playing against a really good football team,” said Iron Mountain head coach Robin Marttila. “Give Johannesburg-Lewiston credit, they were able to run the ball more effectively than we were throughout the game.
“We didn’t get any big plays like we’re used to, explosive type plays. We didn’t score enough tonight because of that,” Marttila added.
Joburg, who improved to 10-0, dominated time of possession in the first quarter — basically the entire first half.
“Iron Mountain is a great team, they’re coached well and you can tell their kids are prepared like it,” said Cardinals head coach Joe Smokevitch, a Crystal Falls native. “I am excited to get this win and I am excited for our kids.”
The Mountaineers’ first drive got a boost from a 40-yard completion from quarterback Eli Lofholm to Dante Basanese. However, the drive stalled on the next play when Cardinals senior defensive back Jason Richter picked off a Lofholm pass in the end zone.
The first quarter ended scoreless but Iron Mountain reaching paydirt a mere 27 seconds into the second stanza. After Joburg turned the ball over on downs, junior Gabe Richtig crossed the goal line into the left corner of the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 6-0 lead. Joburg’s Logan May knocked down an Evosevich-Hynes pass attempt for the Mountaineers two-point conversion attempt.
Late in the second quarter, the Cardinals capped a nine-play drive as all-state fullback Sheldon Huff barreled into the end zone from 5 yards out. Junior Henry Baker added a left-footed extra point that ended up being the difference.
To start the second half, the Mountaineers received the kickoff. Joburg surprised everyone in the building, which was only the media and game officials, as there were no fans in attendance. Lucas Maxon of the Mountaineers recovered the onside kick near mid-field.
“We suck at kicking off, we really do. So we said let’s give it a try on this surface, but the Iron Mountain kid made a great play on it,” Smokevitch said. “I figured that would be a better option than to tell our kid, ‘Don’t kick it to 34 (Evosevich-Hynes)’ because the ball would have ended up right to 34.”
The Mountaineers, however, couldn’t move the football and were forced to punt. The Cardinals’ ensuing drive ended inside the Mountaineer 10, with Mountaineer senior Bryce Pietrantonio scooping up a Joburg fumble at the 6-yard line.
As the game wore on, it was apparent the Cardinals smothering “44” defense was going to limit Iron Mountain’s usually dynamic offense — and it did. The Mountaineers defense only bent a little more throughout the game.
“Our defense, we saw on film we needed to stop 34,” Smokevitch said. “We had to take away the edges from him and jam the middle of the field to stop him and 33 (Caleb Burklund). Our kids stepped up and played tonight.”
The remainder of the third quarter neither team was able to gain much yardage. With under 30 seconds left, Lofholm twisted his ankle in the back of the end zone after a successful defense of a pass play, and had to come out of the game.
Shifting into a wildcat formation, Iron Mountain’s ensuing possession resulted in major negative yardage. Evosevich-Hynes boomed a huge punt deep into Joburg territory.
The middle portion of the final stanza was much like the third quarter, with neither team getting much of anything.
With 2:37 remaining, the Cardinals went for it on fourth and inches in their own territory, getting stopped by the Mountaineers’ defense who jammed the line of scrimmage with nine or 10 defenders, stopping Logan May of the Cardinals short of getting what may have been a game-sealing first down.
The Mountaineers got the ball back with less than 2:30 remaining with one timeout left, while the Cardinals had none. IM used a somewhat methodical, slow drive to get into position for either a game-winning touchdown or field goal attempt.
The Mountaineers used some short screen passes to plug down the field, as Lofholm’s mobility was limited. An untimely dead ball personal foul was called on the Mountaineers in the drive.
With the Cardinals unable to stop the clock, Marttila had the Mountaineers run the time down to 0:07 remaining and called his final timeout, with the ball at the Joburg 20.
“Indoors, and the usual range Evo has, I felt it was our best option at the time,” Marttila said.
The kick, despite having the distance, went wide left and the Cardinals stormed the field in excitement. They advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1998.