If the scores weren’t enough to catch Jerry Bell’s attention, watching video of the guy responsible for lighting up the scoreboard at Parma’s Byers Field the past two Saturdays certainly grabbed the focus of Whitmer’s head football coach.
That guy is Mentor’s 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, whose seventh-ranked Cardinals (12-1) are unbeaten, third-ranked Whitmer’s next Division I playoff opponent in today’s state semifinals.
“The quarterback is something else,” Bell said of Trubisky. “He throws the ball on a dime, whether he’s sitting back there in the pocket, or he’s getting rushed and is flushed out of the pocket. I think he likes to throw the ball on the run.
“And, he’s an unbelievable runner. He’s very patient and sets up his blocks very well. When you think something’s not there, he makes something happen.”
Who is Mitch Trubisky?
In Northeast Ohio, you don’t have to ask. Not anymore.
For folks in Northwest Ohio not so familiar, Trubisky, who has committed to the University of North Carolina, will likely be named Ohio’s Mr. Football next week.
Trubisky was already pretty well known in the metropolitan Cleveland area before this season began, and after the past two Saturdays the versatile pass-run quarterback now has a bit of legend attached to his name in that corner of the state.
Mentor had opened the 2012 D-I playoffs with a 45-35 win over Warren Harding, but looked to be ready to call it a season with 14 minutes remaining in its second-round game versus Lakewood St. Edward in Parma.
St. Ed — the 2010 D-I state champion, fresh off beating rival and top-ranked 2011 state champion Cleveland St. Ignatius — held a seemingly commanding 56-35 lead over Trubisky’s Cardinals.
Fourteen minutes later, however, it was St. Ed’s seniors lamenting their final high school football game.
Trubisky led Mentor to 28 unanswered points in those final 14 minutes, rallying the Cards to a 63-56 victory against the previously unbeaten Eagles. Trubisky’s final line was 36-of-48 passing for 478 yards and four touchdowns, plus 25 rushes for 98 yards and two TDs.
A week later Mentor had a regional final against St. Ignatius, once again at Byers Field. The Wildcats had handed Mentor its only loss during the regular-season, 48-21 in Week 3.
Led by Trubisky’s passing and running output, Mentor prevailed 57-56 on his two-point conversion pass in the third overtime. The Cardinals’ gun-slinger was 25-of-40 passing for 410 yards and two TDs, and added 140 yards and four more scores on 35 rushes.
Of course, Trubisky didn’t do it alone. All four of his TD passes against St. Ed went to Brandon Fritts, who has 67 catches for 1,188 yards and 17 TDs this season.
Another Cardinal receiver, Conner Krizancic, has 71 catches for 985 yards and 10 scores. Two other Mentor players have 36 receptions for 598 yards each, and a combined 12 TDs.
As for Trubisky, he enters the Whitmer game 237-of-355 passing for 3,712 yards and 39 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games. On the ground, he has 171 attempts for 797 yards and 16 TDs.
“Honestly, I see a lot of resemblance from when I watched Ben Roethlisberger in high school when we played Findlay,” Bell said of Trubisky. “The kid finds a way to make plays, and he’s got some good receivers he can throw to.
“Obviously, we have to play great defense knowing they’re very explosive. We thought Massillon was explosive, but when you see this kid, it doesn’t matter how many times you hit him, he keeps coming back for more. “They’re playing with so much confidence after those two comeback wins. It’s going to be a huge challenge for our secondary, and our linebackers and D-line are going to have to get after him.”
Facing Mentor and Trubisky will be the biggest challenge of the season for a Panthers defense that has been downright stingy through 13 weeks.
Whitmer foes have rushed 407 times for just 876 yards (2.2 yards per carry), and completed 138 of 272 passes for 1,738 yards. The 2,614 total yards equates to 201 per game for a Panther defense, which is allowing just 9.2 points per game.
After blanking Avon Lake 28-0 in their playoff opener, the Panthers topped Hudson 39-28 in the regional semifinals. Last Saturday, after spotting Massillon Washington a touchdown in the opening minute, Whitmer rolled to a 49-16 victory at Mansfield.
If the Panthers (38-3 since 2010) are to avoid a state semifinal loss for the third straight season, they are going to have to contain Trubisky.
The first line of defense is a Whitmer pass rush that must also remain conscious of Trubisky running skill. Leading the that wave are senior tackles Marquise Moore (68 tackles, 10 sacks) and JoeNathan Mays (73 tackles, 14 for losses).
At the next level, the Panthers’ experienced linebacking corps will be tested two ways — providing a run-stop presence while also being able to drift back into coverage.
Leading the team in tackles are Whitmer’s three senior linebackers — Jack Linch (145 tackles), Nate Holley (133 tackles, five interceptions), and Devin Thomas (113 tackles).
The group that will be most exposed to the spotlight is the Panther secondary, led by junior safety Marcus Elliott (64 tackles, team-high seven INTs).
Whitmer has outgained its 13 foes 396-201 per game in total offense, and outscored them 42.8 to 9.2 per game. Mentor has outgained its 13 opponents 506-327 in per-game yardage, and outscored them 47.4 to 25.1 per contest.
The Panther offense has been led by senior quarterback Nick Holley, who is 115-of-183 passing for 1,587 yards and 21 TDs, and he leads Whitmer in rushing with 1,734 yards on 208 carries, including 19 TDs.
Senior backs Tre Sterritt (121 carries, 822 yards, 16 TDs) and Me’Gail Frisch (137 carries, 723 yards, 14 TDs) add to the Panther run game, and the top Whitmer receivers have been Chris Boykin (37 catches, 517 yards, 10 TDs) and Nate Holley (18 catches, 357 yards, 3 TDs).
“We’re going to have to keep the ball out of the hands of their offense,” Bells said. “We’re going to have to move the chains offensively. We have to win the turnover battle, and we’ve got to limit the big plays. And, at the end of the night, we have to finish the game off. Everyone else has kind of let them back into the game.
“Last week we put a complete game together, and I think we’re playing with a lot confidence and heart and desire right now.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.