By STEVE BROWNLEE
For The Daily News
ISHPEMING - The question seemed like a difficult one to ponder for the Ishpeming football team in a 36-0 demolition of Iron Mountain on Friday night: What was the best part of your game?
Adelle Whitefoot/The Mining Journal Photo
Iron Mountain quarterback Craig Qualley (4) sits back in the pocket as he looks down the field during the first quarter against Ishpeming Friday.
The answer was amazingly simple.
"Defense, definitely," said senior running back and linebacker Bobby Zhulkie, who rushed for a game-high 85 yards, all but one of those coming in the first half.
"It's got to be the defense," echoed senior quarterback Alex Briones, who also mans the linebacker position on defense.
They've taken to heart the philosophy espoused by 22nd-year head coach Jeff Olson, who led a large number of these players to the MHSAA Division 7 championship in Detroit last November.
"It's the defense that we always base our game around," Olson said.
The numbers in the opening game of the season bore out the Hematites' pride on D - they allowed the usually powerful Mountaineers just 10 total yards, holding the visitors to minus-7 yards in the first half on no first downs.
"Give Ishpeming credit, they have a great football team," IM coach Robin Marttila said. "They outmatched us in every phase of the game. "We were just trying to work on some things in our game."
Olson understood that sentiment.
"We have a lot of kids returning, so we're probably a little ahead of them," the Ishpeming coach said. "I could see they were working on their offensive base."
It was probably one reason IM didn't go to the air to try to get back in the game after falling behind 30-0 at halftime.
Another was the ball-hawking Ishpeming defenders. Briones came up with an interception with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the first quarter, setting up a short 10-yard drive that made it 16-0 shortly before the period was over.
And Briones' teammates nearly had several other interceptions, not to mention a trio of sacks of Mountaineers senior QB Craig Qualley.
Two sacks were by Ishpeming seniors Derek DeCaire and Mitch Laurin, while the third was marred by a five-yard facemask penalty that as a spot foul still turned it into a play of minus-four yards.
That gave all the breathing room any offense could ask for, and Briones and Zhulkie took advantage. Briones scored his team's first and last TDs while Zhulkie had Nos. 2 and 3.
Though the quarterback actually ran the ball 10 times while putting it up in the air on only eight occasions, the Hematites' passing game was incredibly efficient - Briones completed six passes to six different receivers for a total of 140 yards.
That included a 14-yard TD strike to junior Marcus Antilla late in the second quarter, which had to be regarded as the play of the game.
With less than a minute left before halftime, Ishpeming faced 4th-and-5 inside the IM 20. Briones took the snap and scrambled right as he was chased to the sideline. He pulled up near the junction of the line of scrimmage and the sideline, turned himself 90 degrees like a baseball infielder and threw across his body to Antilla, who was free by at least 20 yards in the middle of the end zone.
After the final TD midway through the third quarter turned on a running clock, IM earned its only two first downs on an 11-play drive that stalled just short of midfield.
That and the Mountaineers' only possession of the fourth quarter featured their best plays of the night - junior punter Daniel Wellman hitting back-to-back punts of 54 and 68 yards. The first punt, with a backing breeze that barely moved the flag, hit several yards into the end zone on the fly.
Iron Mountain 0 0 0 0 - 0
Ishpeming 16 14 6 0 - 36
Ish - Alex Briones, 6 run (Bobby Zhulkie run), 6:15
Ish - Zhulkie, 3 run (Tyrus Millimaki run), 2:51
ish - Zhulkie, 1 run (run failed), 7:33
Ish - Marcus Antilla, 14 pass from Briones (Adam Prisk run), 0:30
Ish - Briones, 9 run (run failed), 5:30
First downs - Iron Mountain, 2; Ishpeming, 14
Rushes-yards - Iron Mountain, 26-4 (James Christiansen, 12-28); Ishpeming, 38-211 (Zhulkie, 11-85)
Comp-Att-Int-Yards - Iron Mountain, Craig Qualley, 1-5-1-6; Ishpeming, Briones, 6-8-0-140