It didn't take long for the thrills of Friday night football to kick into gear when Tiffin Columbian and Whitmer met last night.
And just when it looked like the host Panthers were in total command, the Tornadoes took control and delivered a 28-20 come-from-behind victory.
Derek Kneeskern played a pivotal role in Columbian rallying from a 20-7 halftime deficit.
Kneeskern pulled in three touchdown passes from Ethan Kagy, including two after intermission to spark the Tornadoes.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior wideout, who also handles punting and kicking duties for Columbian, caught touchdown passes of 20, 81, and 56 yards - the latter two occurring in the second half of play.
"I'm really tired," Kneeskern said, moments after the final play of the game. "I don't show it, but I'm really exhausted right now."
Columbian coach Steve Gilbert commended Kneeskern and Kagy for sparking the win.
"We've got some kids that can really play, especially those two," Gilbert said.
Columbian's other touchdown - a two-yard run by running back Phil Chavez - came with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, and it gave the Tornadoes a 21-20 lead after Kneeskern booted the extra point. Kagy set up the game-deciding score when he made a leaping interception of a pass thrown by Whitmer's backup quarterback Dalton Robinette in the Panthers' half of the field.
Columbian never allowed Whitmer to retake the lead.
"We were in a situation where we just had to hang tough, and as soon as we got the momentum, they tightened up," Gilbert said.
Whitmer, which entered the season in a rebuilding mode after losing several stellar players to graduation, also lost key starters to injury in the first half. Starting quarterback Joe Missler and running back Julian Nash, who were instrumental in the Panthers jumping out to an early lead over the Tornadoes, left the game with injuries before halftime.
Whitmer coach Joe Palka went to his bench and called on Rob-
inette to step in at quarterback and a number of ballcarriers to fill in for Nash. Robinette provided a spark early by leading Whitmer on a short scoring drive that was set up by a turnover.
After connecting with Joe Mazzurco for a nine-yard completion to put the Panthers at the Tornadoes' 1-yard line, Robinette carried the ball twice, finally breaking the goal line for a touchdown run to give Whitmer a 20-7 advantage with 2:23 remaining in the first half.
Those were the final points the Tornadoes would give up.
"For us to have a chance at the end of the game to still be in it, I was proud of our kids," said Palka, after Whitmer's last-minute 99-yard drive attempt to tie the score came to an end with an incompletion in the end zone by Robinette, who tried to connect on a 28-yard pass to Tevin Boykin as time expired.
Nash gave Whitmer a 7-0 lead when he scored on a 12-yard run midway through the first quarter, and Mike Pfaff caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Missler in the second quarter to make it 14-7.
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