West Iron falls short

Nouvel hangs on in D8 state semi

West Iron County wide receiver Caden Pellizzer scores on a 37-yard touchdown reception against Saginaw Nouvel in the first quarter of the Division 8 state semifinal on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, in Marquette, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

MARQUETTE – Saginaw Nouvel held off West Iron County 17-14 in the Division 8 state semifinal on Friday.

The Panthers (13-0) got a winning 21-yard field goal from kicker Jacob Burr early in the third quarter.

It was Burr’s first field goal of the season, putting the Panthers in next week’s state final at 10 a.m. EST on Friday.

Saginaw Nouvel plays the winner of Mendon (12-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Ford Field.

Burr’s field goal was set up by an 83-yard kickoff return to the Wykons’ 2 yard line at the start of the second half. West Iron’s defense held the Panthers to the fourth-down field goal with 10:04 left in the third quarter.

West Iron County running back Austin Persson is swallowed up by the Saginaw Nouvel defense during the second half of a Division 8 state semifinal on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, in Marquette, Mich. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

It was the only score in the second half. Both teams punted after every drive of the third quarter as the game turned into a tense defensive stalemate.

“Both defenses kind of took over. We couldn’t get our quarterback (Neil Tomasoski) out,” West Iron County head coach Mike Berutti said. “We had some open receivers and we just couldn’t get that open receiver and get that big play to make that difference to get down the field to score and win this football game.”

The Panthers averaged 45 points a game through the first 10 games of the season before putting up 54 points against Lincoln Alcona last week. The Wykons’ defense put Saginaw Nouvel in a place it hadn’t been all year.

“Our defense really tightened up in the second half,” Saginaw Nouvel head coach Michael Boyd said. “They played a tremendous second half of football. We struggled offensively — something we don’t do. We certainly struggled tonight.”

But the Panthers’ defense found ways to come up big in the second half, holding the Wykons scoreless after conceding 14 points in the first half.

“Our defense just stiffened and started to make some plays. Our linebackers started to make better reads. Our interior started to make better reads,” Boyd said.” What they had going in the first half, coach would probably agree, we kind of took away from them in the second half. We did just enough offensively to hang in there and win but the defense is the story of the game.”

West Iron had four drives in the second half – two ended with punts and the other two ended with turnover on downs. West Iron’s last possession of the year ended on a fourth-and-3 stopped short of the line to gain.

West Iron started the game with production on offense and defense. The Wykons’ second possession ended with a 37-yard pass to Caden Pellizzer. The defender slipped, leaving him wide open at the 15 to score before other closing defenders got to him.

The Panthers tied the game with a 6-yard run by quarterback Tate Hausbeck. Alexander Wrobel took the handoff but fumbled – Hausbeck scooped up the ball and edged across the goal line with 4:47 left in the first.

Failing to recover the fumble was one of a few Wykons’ shortcomings. West Iron missed a 30-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The Panthers took the ball and fumbled soon after.

West Iron took possession at the Panthers’ 28, but quarterback Tomasoski threw an interception on a third-and-6 from the 14. The pass was intercepted near the goal line and returned to the 18.

“Offensively first half we moved the ball but didn’t finish drives,” Berutti said. “We ended up missing a field goal, throwing an interception inside their 20 and turning it over on downs. We capitalize on one of those and we’re playing overtime right now. Tough pill to swallow. Hats off to my guys. They played hard, left it on the field. Can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Boyd said the Panthers’ defense has found ways to come up big in key situations throughout the season.

“The thing about our defense is this: it’s been this way all year. When we’ve been in tough situations and things aren’t going right, somebody steps up and makes a play,” Boyd said. “Kenny (Kujawa) didn’t make some plays on the edge and then all of a sudden he made a couple plays on the edge. Big plays in big situations. It’s just the character of our kids rising in the occasion.”

West Iron took the lead with a 2-yard run by running back Jayce Brockhagen at 8:45 of the second quarter.

The Panthers answered with 1:02 remaining in the first half on a 12-yard pass from Hausbeck to Kujawa.

West Iron finished the game with 197 total yards, including 155 rushing and 42 passing.

Brockhagen led the Wykons with 71 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Quarterback Neil Tomasoski was 2 of 11 for 42 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Boyd was the quarterback for Saginaw Saints Peter & Paul in 1977 when he lost to the Wykons in a Class C state semifinal.

Peter & Paul merged with two other teams to form Saginaw Nouvel – the team he now coaches. Boyd recognized parallels between the Wykons of old and today.

“That was a great football team they had back then,” Boyd said. “It reminds me a little bit like these guys – just tough, tough football players is what I remember from ’77.”

Berutti said he was proud of his team’s performance.

“That we belonged. We belong here,” Berutti said. “We played good enough football that we belonged in the state semifinal game. We showed that. We came up just a little bit short.

“I’m proud of my guys. They represented their school and their community well, the Upper Peninsula. We just needed that one break and we didn’t get it.”

Saginaw Nouvel 7 7 3 0 – 17

West Iron County 7 7 0 0 – 14

First Quarter

WIC – Caden Pellizzer, 37-yard pass from Neil Tomasoski (Tomasoski kick), 8:45

SN – Tate Hausbeck, 6-yard run (Jacob Burr kick), 4:47

Second Quarter

WIC – Jayce Brockhagen, 2-yard run (Tomasoski kick), 3:14

SN – Kenneth Kujawa, 12-yard pass from Hausbeck (Burr kick), 1:02

Third Quarter

SN – Burr, 21-yard field goal, 10:04