ISHPEMING, Mich. (WJMN) – After a heartbreaking defeat at Bark River – Harris to close out the regular season, Ishpeming’s Preston Gauthier was left wondering if he would get another opportunity to put on his Hematite jersey and strap up his blue helmet ever again.

“Everybody in the locker room thought that might have been the last game of the year,” said Preston Gauthier, a senior running back and linebacker for the Hematites. “That’s never fun to know that might be the last battle that you guys play together.”

Sitting with a 4-5 record, a postseason birth at best was 50/50. After anxiously awaiting their fate, the Hematites got some good news. They were chosen as one of eighteen U.P. teams to participate in the MHSAA playoff tournament.

“Hearing that we have a least one more game left, it was a big jolt of excitement for everyone on the team and to have one more shot to prove ourselves, it’s a big deal.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Cody Kugler, the head coach for Ishpeming. “It’s an opportunity the coaching staff and myself wanted too when I took this program over two years ago we wanted to get back to the playoffs, we wanted to get back on track of that Hematite tradition.”

The road back to the postseason for the Ishpeming football team wasn’t a smooth one. The Hematites fought their way through waves of adversity but never wavered.

“When we get kicked in the face, we’ll fight back,” said Preston Gauthier, a senior running back and linebacker for the Hematites. “We’ll keep our heads down, we’ll keep moving forward and not matter what even if there might be some bads we’ll look at the goods and always try to improve on them.”

“Going through adversity whether it’s traveling to Wisconsin, or younger players playing up on the varsity, it’s been a great experience. It’s been a great team to hold that experience and excel.”

Gauthier’s play this season has been key to the Hematite’s resurgence.

“It is a team game,’ said Kulger. “It’s eleven players doing their job at the same time to get to that goal. Whether it be to move to ball forward or to score on offense. I think he tries to take as many physical reps when he’s back there in practice, and as many mental reps when backups are in taking reps to try and get that science down to a tee to move the ball forward whether its three yards and a cloud of dust, or whether it’s breaking it off for a big play. He’s capable of doing both and on top of making the defensive calls. He’s practically, he’s practically involved in every play as a linebacker.”

“I just got to thank my O-line for that because without them I’m not who I am,” said Gauthier. “I’m not the flashiest player but like coach says just put your head down and keep running your feet. I mean, I stick by that and without my coaches I’m not where I am today.”

With records thrown out the window and a new set of confidence, Gauthier and the Hematites have their eyes set on making some noise in the playoffs. They’ll get things started against Iron Mountain, a team Ishpeming fell to, 28-8, earlier this year.

“We know we’re a really good team and we have a lot of confidence,” said Gauthier. “First game against Iron Mountain that’s a really big game. They’re a really good team but from our first outing with them I know we have a really good shot. We do have key injuries but you put that aside and I think we can make a run in the playoffs, and have a really good chance to make it far.”

Gauthier looks to the past for inspiration but hopes to help write the next chapter for Hematite football.

“Being a kid and being able to witness those state championship in 2015 and 2012, you know, thinking that one day I was going to be out there and possibly living those moments it’s kind of surreal,” said Gauthier. “To be in those footsteps that those past Hematites have been in it’s really kind of an honor and a blessing.”

“He does things right all the time.” said Kugler. “It’s what we ask of our program, ask of our seniors, ask of everybody. Especially to leave the program better than when they found it. He’s done that, and to have him for all four years as me being a coach it’s been a fantastic ride to see him grow and mature into the football player that he currently is.”

The Hematites and Mountaineers will kick off Friday night at 6ct/7et in Iron Mountain.