IM rallies from 21-point deficit against Evart

On a day that featured both sunshine and snow flurries, Iron Mountain running back Luke Wolfe (11) can’t be stopped as he lunges for the end zone during the Mountaineers’ nail-biting 34-33 victory over Evart on Saturday at Mountaineer Stadium. (Dennis Mansfield/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Moments after his team’s remarkable comeback from 21 points down to win the MHSAA Regional 29 championship, Iron Mountain senior standout Bradon Farragh was approached by an elderly woman.

“You don’t know me, but you made me cry,” the lady said.

And that was the feeling among many after the Mountaineers erased a 27-6 second-quarter deficit to eke out a 34-33 victory over a formidable Evart team to advance to the Division 8 semifinals.

Farragh looked to the sky and flashed a beaming smile when asked what the win meant to him.

“It means everything, it means the world,” the fullback/linebacker said. “I couldn’t be happier right now. I had a blast; it was a great game.”

Iron Mountain receiver Bradon Walstrom (24) draws a defensive interference penalty against Evart defender Marcel White (2) when reaching back for a throw from Mountaineer quarterback Joe Colavecchi during the MHSAA Division 8 Regional 29 playoff contest at Mountaineer Stadium on Saturday. (Dennis Mansfield/Daily News photo)

While a number of Mountaineers made crucial plays in the comeback, Farragh came up with the biggest three in the fourth quarter. With 6:24 left in the game, the 5-foot-10 200-pounder blasted in from the 1-yard line to pull his team within one point. He then added the 2-point conversion run that moved IM in front for the first time all afternoon at 34-27.

And then, with the game and the regional on the line with 27.7 seconds left, Farragh helped stop Evart senior running back Cole Hopkins about six inches from the goal line as the Mountaineers held out the Wildcats from a possible 2-point conversion to seal the dramatic win.

“We let them drive on us (in the first half), but we knew we were better than that,” Farragh said. “We came out in the second half ready to go and we took it to them. We knew we could do it and we did it.”

“It was just a great high school football game right to the bitter end,” IM coach Robin Marttila said. “We got down in the first half, didn’t play very well. (Evart) is a good team, but we just kept fighting.

“We made one more play than them, period. It comes down to one play, you either win or lose, and that’s what makes it so special.”

Iron Mountain defensive lineman Connor Owens (54) breaks through the line and tries to corral Evart quarterback Preston Wallace (12) during fourth quarter action Saturday at Mountaineer Stadium. (Dennis Mansfield/Daily News photo)

About 45 minutes before Marttila uttered those words, the Mountaineers (11-1) looked dead in the water. The team from Osceola County, about 45 miles northwest of Mount Pleasant, had dominated the first half, taking a 27-6 lead with 59 seconds left before halftime.

The Wildcats so controlled the first quarter that they limited the Mountaineers to just two offensive plays while running 27 themselves en route to taking a 14-6 lead after 12 minutes.

Fortunately for the Mountaineers, junior Matthew Colavecchi returned a kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown that kept IM from falling into a gully.

The Wildcats’ no-huddle offense, which featured motion on every play and several playmakers, including Hopkins (88 yards rushing and four touchdowns), quarterback Preston Wallace (19 of 25 passing for 103 yards and two touchdowns), totaled 286 yards in the first half.

“That’s their system and they’re really good at it,” Marttila said. “It’s hard to simulate that (in practice). You can talk about it, you can watch film, but it’s just hard to simulate that.”

The Iron Mountain varsity football team celebrates being handed the Division 8 Regional 29 championship trophy after topping the visiting Evart Wildcats in a thrilling 34-33 clash on Saturday at Mountaineer Stadium. (Dennis Mansfield photo)

Down by 21 points in the waning seconds of the opening half, the Mountaineers marched 77 yards on six plays to pull within 27-14 on a 11-yard strike from Joe Colavecchi to Oskar Kangas and a 2-point conversion run by Luke Wolfe

The play seemed to change the momentum and provided a spark for the Mountaineers as they went to regroup at halftime.

“I thought it was a big momentum change,” Marttila said. “(Then) we talked at halftime that we wanted to put a score on the board (early in the third quarter) and then all the sudden the pressure’s back on them.”

While Iron Mountain’s first drive of the second half stalled, the Mountaineers held the Wildcats (10-2) on fourth down on their own 43. Iron Mountain needed just three plays to pull within 27-21 on a 44-yard option pass from Wolfe to Matthew Colavecchi and an extra point from Farragh.

A game that seemed so out of reach for the Mountaineers was now back on the table.

“We never played (an offensive) team like this,” Farragh said. “We had a good game plan all week, our coaches set us up for greatness, but we just didn’t execute in the first half. In the second half, we came out and executed and we took it to them.”

While the Mountaineer offense started to click, the defense needed to continue to stop the high-powered Wildcats and Marttila’s crew did. Sophomore defensive end Alec Haferkorn played a key role in the second-half rebound with 14 solo tackles, a couple of which stopped potential long runs by Evart.

“My job was to not let anyone get outside me and keep it contained,” Haferkorn said, “so I think I did a pretty good job of that.”

On its next possession, Evart turned the ball over on a fumbled lateral pass. Iron Mountain took over at the Wildcat 24-yard line and three plays later, Wolfe sprung to the left and was untouched on his way to a 9-yard score. The Mountaineers attempted 2-point conversion failed, but they had pulled to within 27-26 with 13.5 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Iron Mountain defense forced its first punt of the game on the ensuing possession and Matthew Colavecchi made a big play again, returning the kick from deep in his territory to the Evart 41. On the next play, junior running back Bradon Walstrom broke free for an 18-yard run down to the Evart 21 and the Mountaineers were back in business.

By that point, the Wildcats’ defense could not stop the Iron Mountain running game, which featured a heavy dose to the left offensive side. Wolfe ran for 5 yards, Farragh ran for 5 and 6 yards and Wolfe pushed the ball to the 1-yard line on a 6-yard gain.

Then, with 6:24 to play, Farragh scored and added the 2-point run (also to the left side) to give IM its first lead.

“We have to thank our line,” Farragh said. “Our line did everything for us. I just followed them and Luke Wolfe. They made great blocks. I can’t thank them enough.”

Evart was not done, however. The Wildcats took over at their 20-yard line with 6:18 to play and proceeded to move the ball 76 yards on 14 plays, including a 35-yard connection from Wallace to junior receiver Dakobe White that Wolfe prevented from being a touchdown with a tackle by the jersey.

Still, the Wildcats finished off their potential game-winning drive on a 4-yard pass from Wallace to Hopkins with just under 30 second to play.

Then Evart decided to eschew the extra-point kick for a chance at the win. After Iron Mountain called a timeout, the Wildcats handed the ball to Hopkins, who was stopped just shy of the goal line, sending the Mountaineer defense sprinting off the field in jubilation.

One play later, the regional trophy belonged to the Mountaineers.

“The kids believed and they got it done,” Marttila said. “We’ve talked all year long about handling adversity and we did enough to win. That’s just a credit to our kids.”

And to fans like the elderly lady who was so touched by the comeback, Marttila said, “We have tremendous support in this community. We are blessed to play football in Iron Mountain and we don’t take that for granted.”

The Mountaineers and their fans will head to Petoskey on Saturday for a contest against Ubly (12-0) for a berth in the D8 state final. The Bearcats, who advanced by walloping Fowler 49-7, have been dominant against their schedule. No team has come within 34 points of Ubly this season and the Bearcats have scored more than 40 points in every game.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have won 11 straight games.

The semifinal is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Petoskey High School.


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