IRON MOUNTAIN - Traverse City St. Francis spent all afternoon searching for the end zone Saturday in a 21-7 football loss to Iron Mountain in a Division 7 regional final at Iron Mountain.
The Mountaineers (12-0) meet Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) in a state semifinal contest Friday at 7 p.m. (EDT) at Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome. The Gladiators finished 8-4.
St. Francis, limited to 65 yards prior to their final possession, averted the shutout on a 12-yard pass from senior quarterback Kolin Endres to senior tight end Noah Kadlec in the final 3.4 seconds on a sunny and mild afternoon at Mountaineer Stadium.
"We couldn't get anything going on offense," said St. Francis coach Josh Sellers. "They played aggressively and that had a lot to do with it. We didn't execute well because of their aggressiveness. They put eight in the box and we could never get ahead of the stick. Everytime we did something good, we shot ourselves in the foot. We had too many penalties."
The Gladiators had seven infractions for 118 yards and the Mountaineers ended with six for 60.
Iron Mountain, taking advantage of a short field twice in this match-up, gained a 7-0 lead on senior Marcus Johnson's 30-yard pass to junior running back Caleb Evosovich-Hynes with 52.5 seconds left in the first quarter.
Following a short punt, the Mountaineers gained possession on the Gladiators' 29-yard line three plays before their first score.
They added their second touchdown following an exchange of fumbles midway through the second.
On the next play, Johnson scored on an 18-yard keeper around left end for a 13-0 cushion.
"Marcus had a great throw and Caleb made a great catch on the first touchdown, and Marcus's patience was excellent on the second touchdown" said Iron Mountain head coach Robin Marttila. "Our kids played great today. We knew they wanted to go downhill, and the key was we were able to stop their power game early in the game. We were also able to get pressure on their quarterback and our offense did what we needed it to do."
St. Francis appeared to catch a break a short time earlier when it recovered a fumble on its 36. The Gladiators then lost a fumble on their 18, setting the stage for Iron Mountain's second TD.
"They were tough and very physical," St. Francis senior running back Sterling Holcomb told an area radio station. "They're not the biggest team we played, but they were very skilled."
Junior running back Bryce Pietrantonio scored Iron Mountain's third TD on a one-yard run up the middle. The Mountaineers then added the two-point conversion on a flea-flicker, senior Colin Visintainer's aerial to Johnson with 8:28 left to play.
St. Francis finished with 141 yards of total offense, including 76 on their final drive. Senior running back Andy Simaz ran 16 times for 81 yards and Endres was 3-of-13 passing for 17 yards with two interceptions.
"The guys hung in there," said Sellers. "We stopped them on their opening drive in the second half which I thought was a big deal.
"We started 2-2 and it was like 'where are we going from here.' The kids responded by winning four in a row and qualified for the playoffs. To go from 2-2 to playing in the regional final, that's a success in my book."
The Mountaineers collected 239 yards of total offense. Johnson gained 97 yards on 16 carries and hit 3-of-4 passes for 50. Evosovich-Hynes rushed for 97 in 23 attempts.
"We knew he (Johnson) was the U.P. (small school) Player of the Year," Sellers said of Johnson. "He's very quick and throws a good ball."