CALUMET — With a belly slide in the end zone, the Calumet Copper Kings ended a slide of their own Friday.
Calumet put itself into the win column at Agassiz Field, holding off a second-half Ironwood rally to defeat the Red Devils 26-14 in both teams’ final WestPAC games of the season.
“I’m just proud everyone kept believing in what we do around here,” Calumet coach John Croze said.
The Kings (1-7, 1-5 WestPAC) have been beset by injuries throughout the season, with six seniors alone out for the season and a few others having missed the bulk of 2013. They started getting a few back in limited roles and their understudies started stepping into the part Friday.
“We’re playing with the level of intensity we’re accustomed to, and when you do that, the ball starts bouncing your way a little,” Croze said.
Calumet got four touchdown runs from sophomore Robert Erkkila, three coming in the first half as the Kings marched to a 20-0 lead.
Ironwood, after a moribund first two quarters, scored on their first two drives of the second half and stopped Calumet inside the 10-yard line twice. However, turnovers did in the Red Devils (0-8, 0-6), who will have one more chance to get a W next Friday against Gogebic.
“We’ll play three quarters and not play the fourth or we’ll play a half and not the other half, that’s just the way we’ve been,” Ironwood coach Dan Niemi said.
Calumet had success throughout the evening in the return game, and it set them up near midfield for their second drive. Seven plays later, Calumet found the end zone when Erkkila gained the left edge from 16 yards out.
The score was particular cause for celebration because it was Calumet’s first points since Erkkila caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from now-sidelined quarterback Tyler Loukus early in the second quarter of their Week 4 game against Houghton, a total of 183 minutes and 59 seconds of gameplay.
After an Ironwood three-and-out, Calumet returned the ball inside the red zone. It was called back to about midfield because of an illegal block, but it didn’t slow the Kings down. They scored seven plays later when Erkkila took an option pitch around the right side.
Ironwood moved the ball for the first time on its next drive, but Evan Billeck nabbed the first of his two interceptions to set up Calumet’s longest effort of the night. On the 11th play, Erkkila faked a reverse and went around the left for a 19-yard score.
Niemi said the Red Devils adjusted at halftime to create more space on the interior, and it worked well. Ironwood moved down the field efficiently after taking the second-half kickoff, as quarterback Adam Mackey scored on a two-yard keeper to end a nine-play, 89-yard drive.
After Calumet failed to move the ball on its first drive, the Red Devils rolled again, with Jacob Digiorgio making an excellent falling catch on a 9-yard fade pass to tighten the deficit to 20-14 with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
Calumet’s attempts to gain breathing space were met with a lost fumble at the Ironwood 5 and a turnover on downs at the Ironwood 7 on back-to-back drives.
After Denver Sharrow took the ball 28 yards to the 35, Ironwood appeared to be underway on a potential game-tying or -winning drive, but two plays later, Sharrow never got a handle on an option pitch from Mackey. Calumet fell on it, and three plays later, Erkkila iced the win on a 37-yard run.
“We started to force it instead of trying to let things happen,” Niemi said.
The Red Devils got 115 rush yards from Sharrow, as well as 55 from Mackey.
Niemi said his team must learn to play four quarters of football.
“The closest game was the Hancock game, and that went to overtime,” he said.
Erkkila finished with a day to remember: 165 rushing yards on 18 carries, four of them TDs.
“Robbie took the carries into the end zone, but that was about 11 guys playing football together to get it in the end zone,” Croze said.
Calumet had success throughout the backfield, with junior Kaden Kangas running for 99 yards and senior Braden Anderson adding 66.
Ironwood was led defensively by Adam Mackey and Brody Stefonich. Both had 12 total tackles with Mackey having seven solo tackles and five assists, while Stefonich had four solos and eight assists. Jon Clemens had 10 total tackles and Taylor Killam had nine, while Jake DiGiorgio had eight tackles.
Ironwood 0 0 14 0 — 14
Calumet 14 6 0 6 — 26
Cal — Robert Erkkila 16 run (Erkkila run), 5;50
Cal — Erkkila 3 run (run failed), 1:15
Cal — Erkkila 19 run (run failed), 3:46
Iwd — Adam Mackey 2 run (Denver Sharrow run), 8:18
Iwd — Jake DiGiorgio 9 pass from Mackey (run failed), 1:02
Cal — Erkkila 38 run (kick blocked), 1:33
First downs 13 13
Rushes-yards 43-236 50-343
Passing 3-10-2-52 3-12-0-27
Total yards 288 370
Penalties 4-40 8-73
Fumbles/loss 3-1 1-1
Rushing — Ironwood, Denver Sharrow 7-102, Brody Stefonich 13-58, Adam Mackey 15-50, Shane Buckley 8-26. Calumet, Robert Erkkila 18-161, Kaden Kangas 15-100, Braden Anderson 10-67, Samuel Kariniemi 5-19, Paul Torrola 2-minus 4.
Passing — Ironwood, Mackey 3-10-2-52. Calumet, Kariniemi 3-12-0-27.
Receiving — Ironwood, Zach Combs 1-28, Stefonich 1-15, DiGiorgio 1-9. Calumet, Jacob Pieti 1-11, Erkkila 1-14, Eric Lasanen 3-12-0-27.