HANCOCK - Only one team was going to emerge from Friday's game at McAfee Field with its playoff chances intact.
West Iron County made sure it would be the team, never letting the Hancock offense get any traction in a 17-7 WestPAC victory.
The Wykons, at 4-4 (3-3 WestPAC) held the Bulldogs to just 88 total yards and four first downs, though they needed a late 89-yard drive to finally close the door after a Hancock defensive touchdown.
Hancock’s Evan Huhta sacks West Iron County quarterback Andrew Peterson from behind during the third quarter Friday at McAfee Field in Hancock. Huhta had an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery Friday, but Hancock lost 17-7. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"It means a lot. These last two weeks, the way things have been going, the ball bouncing the wrong way, injuries piling up, we needed this mentally more than anything. As far as a chance to get to 5-4, that's more important than probably anything," WIC coach Mike Berutti said.
Evan Huhta's 60-yard interception return earlier in the fourth quarter cut the Wykon lead to three, and Berutti's team was backed up on its own 11-yard line, having turned it over on its last two drives. However, West Iron's Alec Schmelebeck busted a 71-yard run on the first play of the drive to flip the momentum. Six plays later, Andrew Peterson crossed the plane for his second 1-yard touchdown sneak of the game and the clinching score with 2:08 left.
"We've been running a formation, bringing that guy across, running a toss into the boundary, toss into the boundary, so we did the same motion, so we hit them with a trap coming back to the wide side of the field. We were setting them up for that one," Berutti said of Schmelebeck's run, which accounted for 71 of his 123 yards on 17 carries.
West Iron 7 0 3 7 - 17
Hancock 0 0 0 7 - 7
WIC - Andrew Peterson, 1-yard run (Ryan Rogers kick), :00
WIC - Rogers, 32-yard field goal
HAN - Evan Huhta, 60-yard interception return (Brian Kass kick), 8:31
WIC - Peterson, 1-yard run (Rogers kick), 2:08
First downs - West Iron 16, Hancock 4; Total offense - West Iron 370 (217 rush, 153 pass) Hancock 88 (24 rush, 64 pass); Rushing - HAN, Ross Michaels 19-38, Riley Engman 3-1, Tanner Kearly 1-(minus-15); WIC - Alec Schmelebeck 17-123, No. 50 4-28, Ron Varney 6-24, Peterson, 13-22, 2 TDs, Adam Newby 6-20, Rogers 1-(minus-4); Passing - HAN, Kearly 3-12-64, 1 INT; WIC, Peterson 9-17-153, 2 INTs; Receiving - HAN, Michaels 2-50; Carl Leukema 1-14; WIC, Joe Pisoni 4-66, Rogers 3-60, Schmelebeck 1-16, Newby 1-11.
Otherwise, West Iron starred on defense, keeping Hancock's first-class tailback Ross Michaels to 38 yards on 19 carries and 50 yards on two screen passes. The rest of the Hancock offense managed exactly zero yards.
"The blocking wasn't there at all. We had a great game plan, but when you don't block and you don't go hard, that's what happens," Hancock coach Matt Walter said. "We're one block away, every time. It takes one person to miss a block to blow it up for us."
West Iron got in gear on its second drive, with Andrew Peterson completing three passes, two on third down, to move the chains. He got the reward, scoring from a yard out on the last play of the first quarter to give the Wykons an early lead.
Hancock played bend-but-don't-break defense throughout the second quarter to keep West Iron off the board, managing to maintain the narrow deficit despite running just 18 first-half plays to the Wykons' 34.
The Wykons made their lead double digits after Ryan Rogers hit a 32-yard field goal late in the third quarter. Now trailing by 10 and having run four straight unsuccessful drives in the second half, morale sagged on the home sideline until a Chassell connection gave Hancock its spark: Michaels blitzed Peterson on a dropback, forcing a hurried throw right into the arms of the towering defensive lineman Huhta, who rumbled in untouched.
Just two plays later, Huhta, a senior playing in his last home game, fell on a West Iron fumble.
"Last week, he joked about how he missed a touchdown pass there, but he got one and he deserves everything he got today," Walter said.
Huhta had the game of his life, but Hancock's offense couldn't make a happy ending. A botched option pitch made second-and-6 a third-and-17, and after an incomplete pass, Hancock elected to punt. Brian Kass pinned the Wykons deep, but Hancock didn't get the ball back until it was too late.
The Wykons dodged those nervous moments to give themselves a shot for at least a winning season, if not more, next Friday at home against the 1-7 Bark River-Harris Broncos. For Hancock (3-5, 1-4 WestPAC), all there is to play for is next week's Copper Bowl at Houghton.
"What I was more nervous about was how our kids were going to react to this, but they stood up and that's what I've been looking for out of them all year and they showed it tonight," Berutti said.