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Published: Sunday, 11/12/2006

Koger rescues Whitmer

Whitmer's Kevin Koger, left, catches the game-winning TD pass against Massillon Washington. Whitmer's Kevin Koger, left, catches the game-winning TD pass against Massillon Washington.

PARMA, Ohio - When the Whitmer Panthers needed the biggest play of their 2006 football season last night, they had the right guy in mind to make it - junior Kevin Koger.

The 6-4, 220-pound tight end caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Donnie Dottei with 8:22 remaining to give Whitmer (9-3) a 14-10 victory over Massillon Washington in a second-round Division I playoff game at Parma's Byers Field.

"It's got to be, if not the biggest, one of the biggest wins in school history," first-year Whitmer head coach Joe Palka said. "We're just fired up. Our kids are unbelievable."

The Panthers called a timeout preceding the fourth-and-14 play, and it was enough time to decide that Koger was the only option.

"Yes it was," Palka said when asked if the play was changed during the timeout. "Our coaches said, 'Let's go to the big guy. Let's go to the guy who makes plays.' We went to Kevin and he came through."

Dottei's fade pass to the right sideline was short, but Koger adjusted, coming back to snatch the ball just over the goal line in front of 5-9, 145-pound Tiger cornerback Kevin Massey.

"I just ran and saw the ball in the air," Koger said. "The wind knocked it down, so I had to come back for it. My coach always taught me to come back for it. So, coach [Ken] Winters, thank you. I caught it, and I owe it all to him."

That play enabled the Panthers,the eighth-seeded team in Region 2, to earn a regional championship matchup Saturday against Canton McKinley (11-1).

Whitmer quarterback Donnie Dottei is tackled by Massillon Washington's Emery Saunders after gaining a first down. Whitmer quarterback Donnie Dottei is tackled by Massillon Washington's Emery Saunders after gaining a first down.

Just as in last week's come-from-behind 21-17 win over top-seeded and previously unbeaten Fremont Ross, Whitmer trailed by 10 points at halftime.

And, also like last week, the Panthers got a big break in their comeback.

Last week it was linebacker David Donovan's 55-yard fumble return, and last night it was a high snap that sailed over Tiger punter Rob Naylor's head for a 45-yard loss back to his 16.

"Obviously we needed something positive to happen," Palka said. "That got us down there where we didn't have to drive the field, and we were able to score on two plays. Then, we were close enough where anything could happen."

Dottei (23 carries, 113 yards) first ran for nine yards, then hammered his way in from the 7 with 8:13 left in the third quarter to get Whitmer within 10-7.

On its game-winning 77-yard TD drive, Whitmer got 39 yards on the ground from the 6-2, 190-pound Dottei, plus his two completions totaling 41 yards to Koger.

Enjoying good field position on its opening drive, Washington capitalized quickly for a 7-0 lead.

Three plays after a 26-yard punt by Whitmer's Tre Caris went out of bounds at the Panther 47, Tiger tailback K.J. Herring went over right tackle, cut toward the right sideline and streaked 37 yards for the touchdown just

2:06 into the game.

That play was set up by a 15-yard completion from quarterback Bobby Huth to Bryan Sheegog on a third-and-15 play from the Tigers' 48.

The Tigers added a 14-play, 70-yard march to set up Steve Schott's 27-yard field goal 3:55 before halftime.

Washington had a shot at winning in the closing minutes, moving for a first down to the Panther 20 on J.T. Turner's 37-yard run down the right sideline.

But Koger dumped Brian Gamble for an eight-yard loss on a screen-pass reception on second down, and Huth's last two passes fell incomplete to give Whitmer the ball back with 1:28 to play.

Dottei, who accounted for 154 of Whitmer's 192 total yards, took a knee three times to seal the win.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.

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