By RON DEUTER
IRON RIVER - Heading into this week's MHSAA Division 7 district final showdown of 10-0 West Iron County and 10-0 Ishpeming, it's safe to say the Wykons have done their homework.
Whether it translates into a win against the defending Division 7 state champions remains to be seen.
Having anticipated the possibility of meeting the Hematites early in the postseason, Wykons coach Mike Berutti said his crew has been spying.
"We've had people watching them," he said. "We figured we'd face, and face them early."
West Iron County had five tapes on Ishpeming. They watched the playoff game with Mancelona and had scouts at the Negaunee and Gwinn games.
"Their defense (base 5-2) is outstanding," Berutti noted of the Hematites, which allowed just 64 points in 10 games. "Coach Jeff Olson does a great job. Teams have a hard time picking up two yards on them. Their defensive line come off hard and low, makes piles and the two inside linebackers (Alex Briones, Bobby Zhulkie) are outstanding football players. They get to the ball and make plays. Their defense really sticks out."
And as for the offense, which has been held below 40 points just once in the past eight games?
"Offensively, Briones is the real deal," Berutti said. "He can run. He can throw. He's got size. He's got speed. He's got moves. We definitely have to somehow contain him. He's going to get his yards. We just can't let him have big chunks of yards."
Briones, a three-year starter at QB, threw for 246 yards with five touchdowns in last week's 50-0 dismantling of Mancelona. Named the U.P. Large School Offensive Player of the Year, Briones passed for more than 1,000 yards this season with 13 touchdowns. He also ran for more than 800 yards with 13 more scores.
"Some of (him throwing more this year) is dictated by being a three-year starter at quarterback," Berutti said. "They have some nice receivers. Coach Olson realizes, too, that at some point in time you're going to have to throw the ball. It would be nice if they didn't throw the ball and we could just focus on the run but we're going to have to play the full game."
Friday's game kicks off at 6 p.m. from Nelson Field.
"We just have to come out and, hopefully, play mistake free and realize on any given night something can happen," Berutti said. "I don't know how good we are and we'll find out. But we've been playing real good on our offensive and defensive line. That's going to be a key."
Coach Berutti's Wykons feature two U.P. "Dream Team" players and three All-U.P. Large School selections.
Offensive tackle Andy Ridolphi (6-2, 265 senior) and defensive end Andrew Peterson (6-2, 205 senior) - the WestPac Defensive Player of the Year - are the All-Class gridders.
Offensive tackle Bryson Heimerl (6-3, 300 senior), defensive back Colton Pangrazzi (5-10, 165 senior) and punter Ryan Rogers (6-2, 170 senior) are the other WIC honorees.
"Our backs are big, they're over 200 pounds, and that wears a team down defensively when they're constantly tackling kids that size," Berutti said. "We're going to be ready to play."
West Iron County lost to Ishpeming 44-14 in the 2011 playoffs. But Coach Olson knows this game will be different.
"They started six sophomores then, so we knew (West Iron) would be good this year," Olson told the Mining Journal.
"They have everything. They're big, strong, quick and athletic. They're playing with a lot of confidence and emotion right now. It's going to be a great matchup."