Alex Briones is a linebacker at Central Michigan, but if you watch Ishpeming play this fall, you would swear Briones never left town.
Briones is the former Ishpeming quarterback who engineered a couple of monumental upsets, allowing the Hematites to defeat Detroit Loyola for Division 7 state championships in 2012 and ’13.
The look-alike playing quarterback now is senior Ozzy Corp, and the biggest compliment an Ishpeming player can receive is for coach Jeff Olson to compare him to Briones.
“He ranks right there with Alex,” Olson said of Corp. “He’s a smart kid, he’s a big kid. He can run, throw and block — he’s thrown some devastating blocks this year, too. It’s a nice weapon to have.”
Corp, 6-feet-5, 205 pounds, has maintained the level of excellent that Briones established in his days at Ishpeming.
“People thought that once Alex left, they had a sigh of relief,” Olson said. “But Ozzy fit in just like Alex. Now Ozzy’s 10 pounds lighter, but he’s still a physical problem for teams, but he’s been banged up. This was the first game he was at full strength since the first half of the first game.”
Corp certainly looked healthy Friday night when he completed 13 of 19 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in an impressive 22-16 victory over previously unbeaten Negaunee.
If Olson had his druthers, the 19 passes would be spread over three games. He would rather pound the ball instead of throw it, but that wouldn’t work against Negaunee.
“Negaunee is a good football team, definitely,” Olson said. “They made it difficult for us, but I’ll tell you what, we have a great quarterback. We’re a running team, we just want to run the ball, and Negaunee is so big up front. I mean, they have Loyola-type size, and they made it difficult. But Ozzy had a great game throwing the ball.”
This was an important game on several fronts.
It was the first time the Hematites have been tested since beating Iron Mountain, 14-7, in the opener.
And after taking a 16-0 lead, Ishpeming found itself in a tussle when Negaunee rallied to tie. But then Corp connected with Thomas Finegan on a 55-yard TD pass with 9 minutes left.
Although Corp is a terrific player, he doesn’t have to make every big play for Ishpeming to win. Corp needs to play well, but this is more of a group effort than the Hematites have had in a while.
“It’s not a one-man show and not a two-man show, so the good news is we’re a lot more versatile this year,” Olson said. “We completed passes to five different players last night, and that’s great for us. We hardly have five different people catch a pass in a year sometimes. We have the ability to run inside and get some speed to the outside and throw the ball.”
Over the past several years, Olson has created a monster when it comes to local expectations. The people in town have come to expect that the state finals always are part of the schedule.
While Loyola is ranked No. 1 in Division 7, third-ranked Ishpeming likely will have to find a way to get past No. 2 Traverse City St. Francis before it even thinks about facing Loyola.
“I’ll tell you what, Traverse City St. Francis is phenomenal,” Olson said. “It’s going to be a tough road getting there, and we still have to take care of a very good Iron Mountain team in the playoffs to get to Traverse City.
“All you want is a chance, so we’re going to come and compete, I’ll tell you that.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.