By RON DEUTER
IRON RIVER - West Iron County, with senior quarterback Andrew Peterson rushing for 164 yards and three touchdowns, ran through Traverse City St. Francis in the second half en route to a 21-7 victory in a MHSAA Division 7 pre-district playoff game Friday night at Nelson Field.
Theresa Proudfit/The Daily News Photos
West Iron County’s Joe Pisoni (14) hauls in a throw next to Traverse City St. Francis’ Lance Anderson (23)?in Friday’s Division 7 pre-district at Nelson Field.
A penalty-filled, scoreless, defensive struggle in the first half, the Wykons gained 272 of their 324 rushing yards in the second to advance to next week's district final.
The Wykons will host either defending state champion Ishpeming or Mancelona, who battle this afternoon in Marquette County.
"I'm proud of these guys and the way they came after them," said Wykons coach Mike Berutti, his team improving to 10-0. "They had some fight."
Peterson ran for 142 yards on six carries in the second half. An up-the-gut push from his own half-yard line that exploded for 62 yards on the Wykons' first possession of the second half broke the levee for West Iron County's ground game.
Alec Schmelebeck, who totaled 101 of his 131 yards after the break, followed Peterson's burst with a 15-yard scamper. Chasz Jonet then added a 14-yard trip before Peterson finished the drive with a five-yard score for the game's first points.
The Wykons, with the ground attack in full throttle from that point, would go on to score on each of their next two possessions.
Peterson broke loose for a 73-yard touchdown as West Iron went up 14-0 late in the third. A 38-yard run by Schmelebeck set up the Wykons' third scoring drive, which Peterson finished with a one-yard plunge into the end zone and a 21-0 Wykon lead at the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
"Our line took control," Berutti said. "St. Francis was bringing the house, those backers were coming. We were picking up the stunts and our backs were lowering their shoulders. They did it the way they were supposed to do it, and that's what was great to see."
The Wykons' fate could have just as easily been reversed in the opening minutes of the second half. A game of field position in the first half, St. Francis got a 50-yard kick return down to the Wykons' 31 yard line to open the second for what was the best starting spot for either team up until that point.
But West Iron's defense stood its ground, forcing the Gladiators back six yards before forcing a punt. The punt died inside the one, leaving the Wykons 99 and half yards to go before Peterson snuck through the middle for the game-changing run.
"We get stuck down there, and to pop out a long run, it really gave us some confidence," Berutti said.
West Iron County's defense locked down in the second half. The Gladiators wound up with most of their second-half yardage thanks to a successful passing drive in the game's final minutes.
Before that, the Wykons made just one mistake, allowing quarterback Joe Studzinski to escape for a 57-yard run. Aside from that, West Iron gave up less than five yards rushing in the second half.
"I like the way we came off the football, both sides tonight," Berutti said. "We got caught a couple times on the counter (in the first half). But the kids listened. They did their job first, helped out second, flew to the football, and they wrapped. And those backs are big. You don't normally see backs that big in the U.P."
Peterson helped lead the charge on defense as well, coming up with two sacks. Joe Pisoni had two interceptions, and the Wykons stopped the Gladiators three times on fourth down in the game.
Back-up quarterback Parker Guss led the Gladiators on its only scoring drive, an 80-yard march late in the fourth. He converted a fourth and eight to Michigan State-bound Byron Bullough, hit Joe Trucco for a 32-yard gain and then found Bullough again for a 26 yard play down to the one before taking it in himself for the score.
West Iron County appeared to take a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter when Peterson zipped a swing pass out to Ryan Rogers, who made a man miss before bolting 46 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. But a clip away from the play negated the touchdown. Another penalty pushed the Wykons even farther back before Peterson was picked off by Bullough.
St. Francis answered with its most sustained drive of the half, picking up three first downs and crossing midfield before Pisoni came up with his first interception of the night.
Penalties helped to slow both teams in the first half. St. Francis, taking a couple of unnecessary flags for personal fouls wound up with nine penalties for 85 yards. The Wykons were whistled seven times for 60 yards in the contest.
Trav City St. Francis 0 0 0 7 - 7
West Iron County 0 0 14 7 - 21
WIC - Andrew Peterson 5 run (Ryan Rogers kick), 6:51.
WIC - Peterson 73 run (Rogers kick), 2:19.
WIC - Peterson 1 run (Rogers kick), 9:00.
SF - Parker Guss 1 run (Jimmy Smith kick), 1:54.
Total yards - TC St. Francis 266 (152 run, 114 pass); West Iron County 400 (324 run, 76 pass).
Rushing leaders - SF: Joe Studzinski 4-64, Byron Bullough 15-54; WIC: Peterson 9-164, Alec Schmelebeck 22-131, Chasz Jonet 7-32.
Receiving leaders - SF: Bullough 3-50, Joe Trucco 2-41; WIC: Ryan Rogers 2-48.
Passing - SF: Studzinski 2-5-19-0-1, Guss 5-12-93-0-1, Bullough 0-1-0-1-0; WIC: Peterson 3-9-76-0-2.
Interceptions - SF: Adam Armour, Bullough; WIC:Pisoni (2).
Sacks - SF: None; WIC: Peterson (2).
Penalties - SF: 9-85; WIC: 7-60.