BY MIKE DUNN
Special to the Record-Eagle
MANCELONA — The unbeaten Mancelona Ironmen scored on four straight possessions Friday to break open a close game and post a 36-8 victory over previously undefeated Pickford.
The host Ironmen improved to 6-0 while winning their 23rd straight regular-season contest. They clinched the playoffs for the third straight time and the sixth time in seven years and they also moved a step closer to hosting a playoff game for the second year in a row.
"This was a huge tonight because it helps us host again for the playoffs," said smiling senior two-way starter Dalton Sulz afterward. "This was all about the playoffs tonight. We knew we needed this one because they're a good team and you get your points by beating good teams.
"After they scored on our defense I got everybody together and told them straight up we better get pumped and start playing. And we did after that."
The game was tied 8-8 with 1:31 left in the first half when the Ironmen moved 69 yards in seven plays to go on top 14-8 just 11 seconds before intermission. Junior fullback Logan Borst, who bashed and crashed his way to 118 yards on 13 carries, scored on a 23-yard trap play straight up the gut, eluding one tackler near the 10-yard line before scoring.
Mancelona then employed its ground-and-pound attack to score on consecutive, time-chewing drives of 58, 66 and 47 yards in the second half to put the game away.
"We started executing and doing a better job of making our blocks," Mancelona head coach Dan Derrer said. "We made a few adjustments at halftime, stayed on our blocks and good things started happening."
Speedy senior halfback Trevor Ackler, who led the Ironmen ground assault with 136 yards on 16 carries, capped the initial drive of the third quarter with a 27-yard sweep around left end, motoring behind the blocks of tight end Kevin Schepperley and Sulz, the pulling guard.
Senior Wyatt Derrer, who came a yard short of the century mark in 19 carries, tallied on a 31-yard run around left end and a 17-yard run off right tackle to finish off the next two drives.
"Our O-line did a great job tonight," Ackler said. "This was one of the biggest games of the year for us. We knew (Pickford) would be tough and we had to beat them up front to win. The whole line was awesome. The holes were there for us to go through every time."
It was also an efficient win for Mancelona, which only drew two penalties in the game.
The Ironmen went on top 8-0 early in the second quarter when Derrer bulled his way over from a yard out to cap a nine-play, 52-yard march that featured a key 11-yard completion for a first down from junior quarterback Jake Winstead, starting his first varsity game, to Borst out of the backfield.
Ackler added the conversion run.
Pickford responded with its lone scoring drive of the night later in the quarter with quarterback Jared Hatfield going the final 5 yards on a scramble around left end. Hatfield scrambled again on the conversion attempt, avoiding a sack and rolling to his right before finding Austin Bruning in the end zone to knot the score at 8 with 1:31 remaining in the half.
Mancelona came right back with its 69-yard scoring march capped by Borst's 23-yard tally and the Ironmen controlled play from that point on.
"Their touchdown just before the half was a big momentum swing," acknowledged Pickford coach Josh Rader. "Not only did we give up the touchdown but then we had to kick off to them to start the second half and they went down and scored again to put us in a bigger hole.
"They were definitely the better team tonight," he added. "They're well-coached and they did a good job up front."
Coach Derrer said getting the sixth win to assure a playoff spot is nice but the team has bigger goals than that this year.
"We don't want to just make the playoffs, our goal is to have a run in the playoffs this year," he said. "We took another step tonight but we still have a long way to go. We have to keep getting better."
Defensive end Dakota Orman had nine tackles and a sack to lead the Ironmen. Sulz had seven tackles with two tackles for loss from his linebacker post.
Kevin Schepperley and Brandon Scott each had six tackles and Scott also had three sacks.
Senior starting quarterback Kyle Schepperley was sidelined with an ankle injury but is expected to return to the lineup before the end of the regular season.