Eagles Pull Out 15-14 Win Over Panthers, Claim Share Of Silver Title
By N3 Sports Team
Hesperia Homecoming is always a big event and this year was no exception. But beyond the festivities there was some important business to take care of on the field. Both teams needed a win to lock up a share of the Silver title
Last year saw a resurrection of Panther power on the gridiron when Hesperia rode a season long winning streak into the playoffs for the first time since 2002 before being crushed by a Saugatuck team.
Now they wanted back in, another shot at advancing
in the post season and they would need this win since a battle with the undefeated and #1 team in D-8 Crusaders of Muskegon Catholic Central was looming on the schedule for next week.
Kent City came in looking to inch their way to a playoff spot as well. The Eagles had dispatched Morley the week before and a win would get them closer to their first playoff game since 2001 when they advanced past the preliminary round with a tight 16-14 win over…….the Panthers.
Side note: The Panther Press Box folks were the congenial hosts they always are and with tacos on the menu it proved to be a most pleasant epicurean experience for the hungry N3 Sports team.
Hesperia received the opening kickoff taking it to the 29 where they started their drive with a 16 yard gainer by Gage Balkema. The hosts moved the ball into Eagle territory but the drive stalled after a penalty and a stop for a loss combined with a pair of incomplete passes turned it over.
The Eagles put together a drive of their own but after pushing into Panther turf a couple of key stops by Connor VanBuskirk Brandon Goins and Triston Rubin forced a punt that pinned Hesperia inside their 10.
The teams exchanged possessions and a missed field goal attempt by the eagles gave Hesperia the ball on their 20. The offense moved the ball to midfield before Cody Bowers picked off a Brendan McAree pass with 2:27 left in the half. The Panther defense rose to the occasion as Brandon Goins hit the eagles with a 5 yard loss on a running play then a crushing tackle on the next play caused a fumble that was scooped up by Roy Bolan and the Panthers took over on the 28. Four plays later Gerritt Yates punched it in and after a 2 point conversion Hesperia went to the locker room with an 8-0 lead at intermission.
The 2nd half kickoff led to a fumble by KC and Hesperia started on the 36 of the Eagles but a 15 yard personal foul took them back and unable to move the ball they were forced to punt. The Eagles got a push on the play and blocked the kick and recovered on the 42.
Kent City moved the ball inside the ten and scored on 4th and goal with a pass from John Meek to Cody Bowers.
Hesperia answered four plays later when Gerritt Yates busted through and sprinted 42 yards to put Hesperia up 14-8 after a failed conversion run.
Kent City began grinding out the yardage again pushing inside Panther territory as the third quarter came to an end. The Panther faithful were nervous as the Eagles continued to march getting to the 15 yard line behind the running of Colton Atwood and an o-line that was beginning to take charge of the trenches.
Kent City pounded forward but on 4th and short a huge stop gave the Panthers the ball deep in their own territory at the 5. Two plays went nowhere then MacAree shoveled it to Balkema who rambled for a first down but it was nullified by a hold and it was 3rd and 11.
Yates got the call and spun around the corner. He got within a yard and the Panthers went for it on 4th failing to cover and giving KC the ball on the 15. Atwood hit the middle for 2 yards then a keeper by Meek gave them 3 more. On 3rd another qb keep was stuffed and it was yet another crucial 4tb down at the Panther 10.
With 4:05 on the clock and the Eagles sitting4th and 5 from the Hesperia 10, Meek floated a pass to Kameron Dombrowski for the TD and after the conversion kick by Hulices Ruiz it was 15-14 Eagles.
Yates took the kickoff to the 30 and the Panthers found themselves 70 yards away with just under 4 minutes to play.
A broken play yielded 5 on McAree’s scramble. Kanin Witte went around end to the 45 and Yates powered for 8 as the o-line fired up and opened some holes.
With time running out and facing a 4th and 5 the Panthers tried a pass but the Eagle defense applied heavy pressure and the attempt fell incomplete. The Eagles took over and with less than a minute, secured the win and made the Panther road to playoffs a bit rougher.
“This was a tough one tonight,” said Panther Head Coach Doug Bolles. “My kids played hard, never quit just came up a little short. Give Coach Crane and the Eagles credit, they came to play and they deserve the win tonight.”
“Another solid effort from junior Kanin Witte. He had a tough time rushing tonight but he just battled all night long, he's a gamer, a real coachable kid with tremendous athletic talents.
“Offensive tackle Tanner Grell has been one of our leaders up front all season and tonight we got most of our yardage running behind him.”
“We'll lick our wounds and come to fight another day, hopefully learning from this loss and finding a way to get it done the next time we're in a similar situation. We're definitely not where we want to be at this point of the season, but we're young with only 4 seniors, so our future looks bright.”