It was far from perfect, but the Whitmer Panthers will take it just the same.
Shaking off a couple first-half turnovers, and some other miscues in offensive execution, the third-ranked Panthers had enough firepower to blank Avon Lake 28-0 in a first-round Division I playoff football game Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
“This was good for us,” first-year Whitmer head coach Jerry Bell said. “We overcame adversity and came away with a W. That’s just going to make us one day better.
“We sputtered all night on offense. We just had poor execution at times. Our red-zone performance wasn’t where we expected it to be. But, give credit to Avon Lake. They played extremely hard defensively, and they created some turnovers.”
Senior quarterback Nick Holley completed 19 of 28 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown, plus rushed 18 times for 75 yards and another score to help Whitmer move to 11-0 on the season.
“Our coaches saw [the Shoremen] were going to try to stop the run, so we threw the ball,” Holley said. “The wide receivers did a great job of running routes, getting open and catching the ball. All I did is put it where it needed to be.
“It’s just one more step toward a state championship.”
The Panther defense stood tall all game long, yielding just 158 total yards, nine first downs, and forcing four Avon Lake turnovers. Whitmer recorded its third shutout of the season, and has surrendered just 75 points in 11 games.
“We played lights out,” third-year Whitmer starting linebacker Jack Linch said. “We had a good scheme coming in, and our players played their hearts out.
“It was our last game at home for the seniors, and this was a great way to go out.”
Whitmer advances to a regional semifinal matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday against Hudson (8-2) at a site to be determined today. The Explorers advanced with a 38-6 win at Canton GlenOak on Saturday night.
The Whitmer offense, which could do no wrong in last week’s 42-0 win at Central Catholic for the Three Rivers Athletic Conference title, stumbled a bit and led just 10-0 against the unranked Shoremen at halftime.
The Panthers had two drives end on lost fumbles — by running back Tre Sterritt (seven rushes, 35 yards) and Holley — and were limited to 40 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Holley’s first completion, a 36-yarder to Chris Boykin, led to Whitmer’s first points, a 31-yard field goal by Michael Baldwin 4 minutes, 27 seconds into the game.
After their next two drives ended after just two plays because of the fumbles, the Panthers marched 70 yards on 10 plays.
Holley was 5-of-7 passing for 61 of those 70 yards, and running back Me’Gail Frisch (eight carries, 29 yards) rammed in from the 2 on fourth-and-goal to put Whitmer up 10-0 with 7:54 left in the half.
Whitmer scored on its first second-half possession, moving 61 yards before settling for a 26-yard field goal from Baldwin for a 13-0 lead with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers then found the end zone late in the third quarter, when Holley went 4 for 5 for all 51 yards in the drive. It was capped on his 25-yard strike to a diving Keith Howell in the end zone with six seconds left in the period.
Holley then ran over a Shoremen defender on his way to a two-point conversion carry, and Whitmer owned a 21-0 lead.
The final TD came on a broken play. Holley bolted 40 yards on a keeper around right end with 8:38 remaining.
Whitmer totaled 406 yards in offense despite its occasional hiccups, with Nate Holley catching five passes for 100 yards, and Howell adding five receptions for 77 yards.
“The thing I was worried about wasn’t their ability to score,” veteran Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz said of Whitmer, “it was the quality of their defense. That’s the toughest defense, by far, that we’ve faced this year. When you play good defense, you can go pretty darn far in the playoffs.”
Avon Lake quarterback David Winkel was 11-of-27 passing for 117 yards, and was intercepted three times. Wyatt Ohm led the Shoremen ground game with 32 yards on 18 carries.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.