IRON MOUNTAIN - Iron Mountain's seniors went out winners.
Led by senior quarterback CJ Qualley's two rushing touchdowns and one passing strike, the Mountaineers defeated Norway 21-6 in the season finale for both teams Friday night at Mountaineer Stadium.
"I'm happy we got a win for our senior class," Mountaineers coach Robin Marttila said. "There's eight seniors here who gave it all they had all year, and that's all we ask for each season."
The Mountaineers finished the season 4-5 (3-3 Mid-Peninsula Conference), out of the postseason for the first time since 1998. Norway wound up 3-6 (2-4 MPC).
The formula for success for the Mountaineers here Friday was possession, made possible by the sure-handed effort of sophomore fullback Justin Rock who totaled 132 yards on 31 carries. He also caught a Qualley pass for a 21-yard score.
"I couldn't be happier for Rock," Marttila said. "He hasn't had a lot of reps, but he hung on to the ball every time. That's a great night for him. We're looking for big things from him in the future."
Rock was thrust into the No. 1 role with senior James Christiansen bothered by a bad ankle sprain. Christiansen, who didn't practice all week after leaving in the second half against Escanaba last week, limped into action and produced a gutsy performance at linebacker.
"James Christiansen was obviously hobbled," Marttila said. "And he played his butt off, played a great defensive game on one leg. Being his last game, we wanted to to get him on the field, and we needed him on defense."
Christiansen made two solo stops and assisted on six others against a Norway squad that was limited to 18 offensive plays after the first quarter.
Christiansen also made one final appearance on offense, coming out to his usual place in the backfield for the final play of the game as Iron Mountain lined up in victory formation and took a knee on first and goal from the Norway three.
Marttila inserted all seven of his seniors in for the final knee down, putting Evan Hoarn, Blake Menza, Christiansen and Qualley in the backfield with Joe Axberg and Grant Bales on the line and Jack Merrill at tight end. Senior Nate Markell did not dress.
"It was the last play, and I wanted all my seniors out there," Marttila said. "They went out on a good note."
That final Mountaineers' drive began from their own 15 on the final play of the third quarter and wound up totaling 97 yards after IM was forced to retreat 15 on a penalty early in the possession.
Qualley, also clearly not 100-percent, padded his rushing stats on the 12-plus minute march, constantly exploiting the Knights up the gut for five to seven yards a clip. Taking a number of punishing hits, he ran for a hard-earned 87 yards on 17 trips.
"CJ Qualley, what can you say about him?" Marttila said. "He's a tough kid. He took a big hit early (had to miss a play) and stuck with it."
Qualley made a game-changing play early in the second quarter. Iron Mountain, up just 7-6 at that point, faced a fourth and 17 from their own 28 yard line. Lined up to punt, Qualley instead took off down the right sideline, gaining 21 yards and a first down on the fake.
"He made a heck of a play on the punt," Marttila said, noting a fake put hadn't been called by the coaches. "That was all Qualley just making a play. Hats off to him. That was a big play in the game."
It was three plays after the fake punt that Qualley zipped a pass out to Rock on the left side to put the Mountaineers up by two scores.
Iron Mountain was stopped just outside the red zone on their first drive of the game, but got the ball right back when Norway fumbled on its first offensive try. Rock carried the Mountaineers inside the five, and Qualley bootlegged around the left side for a two-yard score on fourth and one.
Norway was able to answer with a nice nine-play, 68-yard drive. Jordan Neumann, who ran for 90 yard on 12 trips in his final high school game busted a 29-yarder to get the Knights to the five. Quarterback Taylor Bonetti went around the right side for the five-yard touchdown.
"Norway played hard," Marttila said. "We have a lot of respect for them. They are always scrappy. Jordan Neumann is a good football player."
The Knights could do little on offense after the the half, gaining a total of 36 yards in the third and not touching the ball in the fourth. Their third-quarter drive went down to the IM 15 yard line, but a fourth and two pass from there was slightly under-thrown and dropped in the end zone.
"We ran one offensive play in the first eight minutes of the game," Norway coach Bob Madigan noted. "Our defense hung in there for about three quarters, but we just couldn't get the ball moving very well."
Although no official time of possession was available, Madigan estimated the Iron Mountain held possession for about three fourths of the game.
"They played a good game, and I give Marty credit," he said. "Their offensive line won them the game, and they had a nice little fullback running.
"We came up here and gave it a shot," Madigan said. "We played hard all year. We had some games there where we were clearly overmatched, and it took its toll on us. But the rest of the year we were pretty scrappy."
Norway's seniors included Neumann, Nick Bal, Sam Vanderlin, Austin Grayvold, Don Houle, Zavier Gonzalez, Tyler Skoglund, Isaac Davey, Kasey Siegle, Andrew Carlson, Pat Guffey, Cody Schwamlien and NIck Pearman.
"The kids worked and played hard," Madigan said. "It's tough to see it end like this, but I give them credit. They came back from some pretty hellacious beatings. We suffered some tough injuries. The kids bounced back, finished hard, finished tough, and I was proud of them for giving everything they had."
Norway6000 - 6
Iron Mountain7770 - 21
IM - CJ Qualley 2 run (Qualley kick), 4:05.
N - Taylor Bonetti 5 run (pass failed), 0:00.
IM - Justin Rock 21 pass from Qualley (Qualley kick), 8:09.
IM - Qualley 1 run (Qualley kick), 3:33.
Total yards - Norway 116 (96 run, 20 pass); Iron Mountain 275 (214 run, 61 pass).
Rushing leaders - N: Jordan Neumann 12-90; IM: Rock 31-132; Qualley 17-87.
Receiving leaders - N: Nick Pearman 1-11, Don Houle 1-9; IM: Jacob Thomann 1-21, Cole Rossato 1-19, Rock 1-21.
Passing - N: T. Bonetti 2-5-20-0-0; IM: Qualley 3-4-61-1-0.
First downs - N: 5; IM: 9.
Penalties - N: 2-20; IM: 2-30.