IRONWOOD — A Red Devils-Gremlins matchup on Friday the 13th could not have been more fitting. Unfortunately for Ironwood (0-3), it seemed as though they were the ones that were on the receiving end of the bad luck, resulting in a 29-14 loss to Houghton (2-1) in the West-PAC opener at home.
Despite having 291 total yards of offense to Houghton’s 189, it was four turnovers with poor timing that burned the Red Devils.
The Red Devils’ defense kept Ironwood in the game to stay within striking distance at the end, holding tough against the 55 Houghton rushes, none of which were longer than 16 yards. In fact, of the 57 total plays from Houghton, only five were more than 10 yards.
“Our intensity picked up in this game a lot,” said Ironwood coach Dan Niemi. “We had a lot of questions coming into this one. We have just three seniors and the learning curve is very tough. But we’re starting to get confidence and we’re getting to the ball much better. If we had minimized our mistakes, we probably would have been up by eight at the half.”
Instead, the Devils found themselves going into halftime down 14-0, behind a pair of short yardage touchdown runs from junior QB Benjamin Collaer.
The first one came on Houghton’s long opening drive, a 14-play, 73-yard grind that chewed up 6:52 of the first quarter. Ironwood almost broke the drive, forcing the Gremlins into a fourth-and-five play from the Red Devils’ 35-yard line, but a Collaer run got just enough for a fresh set of downs. Collaer’s touchdown came on a 3-yard run up the middle.
Ironwood’s first turn with the ball looked just as promising as they traveled for a 7 play, 70-yard drive which included a 32 reception by Jared Sobolewski from quarterback Adam Mackey. Unfortunately, the Red Devils came away empty handed as Collaer picked off a Mackey pass at the Houghton 4-yard line.
Ironwood forced Houghton to punt four plays later and began its drive from its own 36-yard line. After a botched handoff on the first play, another Mackey pass was picked off by Justin Ruotsala that was returned to the Ironwood 9-yard line.
Two plays later and Collaer would cash in with another score, putting Houghton up 14-0 that would hold until halftime.
“He’s a very good player,” Houghton coach Karl Borree said of his quarterback after the game. “He’s very physical and he is a great leader. He’s an unselfish team player. What more can you ask than that?”
It looked as though Ironwood would be in for a tough second half as well when Denver Sharrow fumbled the ball at the Red Devils’ 17-yard line just two plays into the third quarter.
Houghton moved the ball to Ironwood’s 1-yard line, where it looked as though the short drive might stall, as Ironwood forced a fourth down with the ball about six inches from the goal line. Collaer took the ball on a sneak and went into the end zone untouched to put Houghton up 22-0 at the 11:11 mark.
Ironwood finally turned the turnover tables on Houghton later on in the quarter as Mackey recovered a Thomas Schmidt fumble on the Houghton 15-yard line with 2:24 left in the quarter. Four plays later, Mackey converted on a 1-yard run to put the Red Devils on the board. The extra point run by Brody Stefonich failed.
Stefonich’s ensuing kickoff was an onside attempt that failed to go the required 10 yards and instead gave Houghton good starting position, from the Ironwood 42-yard line.
The Gremlins drove the ball to the 12-yard line, where Ironwood’s defense again held strong, forcing a fourth-and-eight. Instead of attempting a field goal, Houghton opted to go for it. The gamble paid off, as Collaer threw a touchdown strike to Sam Bethancourt that put Houghton up 29-6.
“Once we got inside the 30, there was no doubt that we were going to go for it,” said Borree. “I give our kids credit. They played hard tonight against a very tough team. Ironwood tested our meddle. They are well coached and the team just coming and coming at us. I was very proud of the way we held up.”
Ironwood’s final score came with 5:57 left in the fourth, behind a five play. 65-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Stefonich that put the Red Devils within two scores, 29-14. .
Ironwood would have the ball with 3:10 remaining from their own 31-yard line, but after four incomplete passes, Houghton ran out the rest of the clock.
Niemi said that he was pleased with how their team hung tough against Houghton, which made the jump to MHSAA Class B this season.
“Our kids handled it very well,” he said. “I’m very proud of them and the work they have been putting in is really starting to show.”
The Red Devils’ week four matchup will be another tough test as they host unbeaten West Iron County (3-0) on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Ironwood 0 0 6 8 — 14
Houghton 8 6 8 7 — 29
HOU – Benjamin Collaer 3 run (B. Collaer run), 5:03
HOU – B. Collaer 8 run (pass failed), 10:24
HOU – B. Collaer 1 run (B. Collaer pass to Jepsen), 7:40
IWD – Adam Mackey 1 run (run failed), :22
HOU – Sam Bethancourt 12 reception from Collaer (Justin Ruotsala kick), 7:50
IWD – Brody Stefonich 4 run (Mackey run), 5:57
First Downs 15 11
Rushes/Yards 55-164 34-210
Comp-Att-Int 2-9-0 3-10-2
Passing 25 81
Total Yards 189 291
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-2
Penalties-Yards 2-10 4-30
Rushing – Houghton, Thomas Schmidt 23-75, B. Collaer 22-89. Ironwood, Mackey 9-26, Stefonich 9-61, Denver Sharrow 8-56, Zach Combs 2-24, Shane Buckley 6-43.
Passing – Houghton, B. Collaer 2-9-25-0. Ironwood, Mackey 3-10-81-2.
Receiving – Houghton, Bethancourt 2-25. Ironwood, Sobolewski 2-58, Stefonich 1-23.