IRONWOOD — Many high school football teams in Michigan measure a successful regular season by whether or not they make the MHSAA playoffs.
The Gogebic Miners qualified for the Division 8 football playoffs on a cold Friday night by defeating Ironwood, 35-16, in their regular-season finale at Longyear Field.
It was the second straight year Gogebic finished with a 6-3 record and earned a playoff berth. Coach Mark Mazzon said he could not recall the last time a team he coached from Bessemer or Bessemer/Wakefield-Marenisco qualified for the playoffs for two consecutive years.
"It feels very nice and I'm proud of the kids," Mazzon said. "It means a lot because it hasn't been done for many years. We had a good off-season, which was a key and good two-a-day practices where we worked hard and came together. We won our first three games and got confidence. So I'm very proud of us making the playoffs again."
Senior captain Ben Zielinski said reaching the playoffs meant a lot to the players, too.
"It feels real good because there were a lot of lows here 4-5 years ago," Zielinski said. "Now to be part of it and to bring us back is great. It's been a team thing to get to the playoffs. This game was like a playoff game because five wins would not have got us into the playoffs."
The Miners were a team of unknowns at the start of the season as they had to replace 19 of their 22 starting positions as well as all-conference punter Eric Lane. Five of those players were selected to the Division 8 All-U.P. team in 2012.
"A lot of people thought this team would not amount to anything and that's why I'm so proud of them," Mazzon said.
To start the game, Gogebic held Ironwood to a three-and-out and took over on their own 15-yard line after a Red Devil punt. The Miners ran Paul Buerger between the tackles four straight times and then faked it to him and ran Jess Mazzon on a cross-play over left tackle. Mazzon found an opening and quickly hit the hole and sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown. The swing gate two-point conversion play to Paul Buerger gave Gogebic an 8-0 lead with 8:23 remaining.
Ironwood responded by running fullback Brody Stefonich and Adam Mackey tossed a 16-yard pass to Jake DiGiorgio as the Devils reached the Miner 20-yard line. But Nick Cossi's hit on the option play caused a fumble Gogebic recovered.
"Our defense as a team came on this season," coach Mazzon said. "Paul Buerger and Kevin Lane were keys at defensive ends."
After Buerger ran 23-yards up the middle. Mazzon scored the second of his four touchdowns on a five-yard scamper with 9:16 left in the second quarter.
Mazzon was at it again when he ran off-tackle to the left four straight times and then rushed off-tackle to the right for a two-yard score in the south end zone. Gogebic held a 20-0 advantage at the half.
In the third quarter, Ironwood ran option left and fumbled again. Zielinski recovered and Buerger quickly scored from 11-yards out. Buerger also ran in the two-point conversion to give the Miners a 28-0 advantage at the 8:25 mark.
Later in the quarter, Zielinski hooked up on a 36-yard TD pass as Mazzon came across the middle. Zielinski's PAT kick made it 35-0 and running clock kicked in.
Late in the fourth quarter, Ironwood got on the board as Stefonich pounded the middle for a 24-yard score and Shane Buckley scored off the option from 10 yards out.
Ironwood coach Dan Niemi called upon his team all year to put together four good quarters and the Red Devils were never able to do it. The result was an 0-9 record.
"We just didn't put it together," Niemi said. "We'd put it together for awhile and then go stale. You can't spot teams 20 points. But the kids worked hard and a lot of kids are saying the preparation for next season starts tomorrow. Next year should be the return of the Red Devil.
"We lose four seniors (Adam Mackey, Dylan Neil, Zac Turner and Taylor Killiam). They will be better people for going through all this adversity. All four will be successful in whatever they go into."
Gogebic and its fans can find out who, where and when they will be playing in the playoffs by watching the MHSAA Selection Sunday television show. It will be on the Fox Sports Detroit, which is on channel 36 locally The show starts at 6 p.m. CDT.
Gogebic's likely opponents will be L'Anse or Crystal Falls Forest Park and it will likely be on the road.
Gogebic 8 12 15 0 — 35
Ironwood 0 0 0 16 — 16
Gog — Jess Mazzon 58 run (Paul Buerger run), 8:23
Gog — Mazzon 5 run (run failed), 9:16
Gog — Mazzon 2 run (pass failed), 1:02
Gog — Paul Buerger 11 run (Buerger run), 8:25
Gog — Mazzon 36 pass from Ben Zielinski (Zielinski kick), 5:51
Iwd — Brody Stefonich 24 run (Adam Mackey run), 2:10
Iwd — Shane Buckley 10 run (Stefonich run), 11.9
First downs 12 12
Rushes-yards 39-278 36-124
Comp-Att-Int 4-5-0 7-13-0
Passing yards 92 115
Total yards 370 239
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-2
Penalties 6-40 5-35
Rushing — Gogebic, Paul Buerger 12-69, Jess Mazzon 12-110, Trent Quade 5-53, Ben Zielinski 2-11, Collin Gagnon 3-23, Lance Berwald 4-12, Luke Zielinski 1-0. Ironwood, Adam Mackey 7-minus 4, Denver Sharrow 7-minus 5, Brody Stefonich 13-94, Shane Buckley 7-27, Zach Combs 2-12.
Passing — Gogebic, Ben Zielinski 4-5-0-92, Ironwood, Adam Mackey 7-13-0-115.
Receiving — Gogebic, Jess Mazzon 1-36, Kevin Lane 1-27, Collin Gagnon 1-23, Max France 1-6. Ironwood — Jared Sobolewski 1-20, Brody Stefonich 1-7, Jake DiGiorgio 4-83.Zack Combs 1-5.