By RON DEUTER
IRON MOUNTAIN - The playoffs begin this week for Iron Mountain when the Mountaineers visit Escanaba Friday night.
Holding a 4-3 record with two games to play, there is no more margin of error for the Mountaineers and their hopes of automatically qualifying for the MHSAA postseason.
"It's a playoff game, that's the fact of the matter," Mountaineers coach Robin Marttila said. "You can't get to 6-3 until you get to 5-3.
We want to win six games to get into the playoffs. So. we're looking at it as a playoff game."
Escanaba, which hasn't played Iron Mountain since 1977, is in even more dire a situation. The Eskymos, at 3-4, will need help to make the playoffs. But another loss ends any chance of playing at the end of the month.
"Escanaba is in the same boat," Marttila said. "I know they want to win out and give themselves a chance to make the playoffs."
The Eskymos defeated Gladstone 37-25 last week, but dropped four of the five before that. A 42-17 loss to Menominee is the team's only Great Northern Conference loss. Escanaba knocked off Marquette 31-22, and has yet to face Kingsford.
"They are a spread team, who will give us some challenges," Marttila said. "Quarterback Dave Falish, he's a really good football player, an All-U.P. type kid with his running and throwing ability."
Falish scored four touchdowns in last week's win over Gladstone. He rushed for three scores, and returned an interception 93 yards for another.
"To stop Escanaba, we have to stop him," Marttila said. "He's the priority."
Marttila said the Eskymos are bigger than the Mountaineers on the line.
"It's something we can't control, but something we have to deal with," he said. "It's going to be a dogfight. That's what we're expecting."
Marttila blamed play-calling, bad execution while crediting Kingsford's defense when assessing the his team's offensive struggles in last week's 10-0 loss to the Flivvers. But he was pleased with the play from first-time starter Gerry Pirkola.
"He did a great job for the simple fact that he put us in a position to be successful," Marttila noted. "I was happy with the way he played. We're looking for him to take another step forward this week because he has to, and our whole team has to."
Friday's game marks the first of a home and home agreement between the schools. Whether the series continues beyond that remains to be seen. Escanaba won the last seven straight against Iron Mountain when the teams were playing on a yearly basis back in the 1970s. Iron Mountain's last win was a 7-6 decision in 1970.
"We're just hoping to get to a fifth win on Friday night," Marttila said.