DETROIT – Pewamo-Westphalia’s trip to Ford Field this weekend was booked in large part because of a record-breaking rusher and a defense that held 10 of its opponents to single-digit scoring.
However, neither was quite enough to get the Pirates their first state title on Saturday.
After taking a 16-6 lead into halftime, third-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia was shutout by No. 2-ranked Ishpeming in the second half and fell, 22-16, in the Division 7 state championship.
“Nobody has pushed us around like that up front,” Pirates coach Jeremy Miller said. “The problem we had offensively, in the second half, is that we didn’t have the ball. We could not get off the field defensively and they just kept grinding on us.
“Nobody has been able to do that to us. You look at them and they’re not biggest, but they keep their pad level low and keep driving. I think it’s a textbook way you want your offensive line to play.”
In the first half, it was Miller’s offensive line that was opening up holes and paving the way for junior tailback Jared Smith, who had 19 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown in the game’s first 24 minutes. But the second half was dominated by the Hematites’ (13-0) big men and 6-foot-5 quarterback Ozzy Corp.
Starting the third quarter, Corp led his offense down the field on the opening drive. The senior ran the ball eight times and completed two passes for 25 yards before capping the 12-play, 60-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Following a Jimmy Lehman interception on Pewamo-Westphalia’s following possession, Corp finished a 15-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give his team a 22-16 lead with with just under four minutes to play. The dual-threat quarterback rushed for 59 yards on the game-winning drive and finished with a team-high 132 rushing yards.
“The worst part is how we lost,” said Smith, who finished his junior year with 3,243 rushing yards and 53 rushing touchdowns, which are both single-season state records. “We got stopped at the 1-yard line (first drive of game) — that hasn’t happened all year, I had a fumble that just killed our drive and we had an interception. We just had too many big mistakes to win this game.”
Saturday was the first state finals appearance for the Pirates (13-1) since 2011’s loss to Saginaw Nouvel. The top-5 clash was also a rematch of the 2012 state semifinals, which was a game Ishpeming won 8-7.
Pewamo-Westphalia has seen nothing but success in Miller’s three years as coach — scoring two regional titles and one district championship — and, next season, the Pirates will return 37 players from this year’s 48-man roster. However, despite what the future may hold, even the underclassmen realize they let a great opportunity slip away.
“I don’t like to think that I have two more years,” said Lehman, who threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Bryce Thelen in the second quarter. “I always like to think this is my last season; I could always get hurt, I could have a season-ending injury one of these years…
“I wish we could have got this W here for our seniors.”
Smith finished with 149 yards rushing on 27 carries.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.