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For three quarters, the battle between St. John's Jesuit and Whitmer was being determined by field position and defense.
Then the Titans' Hunter Lent took over.
Lent broke off touchdown runs of 83 and 46 yards in the final period to break the backs of the Panthers and lead St. John's to a 28-17 victory.
What made Lent's fourth-quarter production so surprising was that he had only one carry in the first half and had just four rushing yards entering the final period.
The reason? Between back problems that have limited his availability in recent weeks, and his role as a team leader on defense, St. John's coach Doug Pearson has to pick the right spot to use the 5-11, 195-pound senior.
'Hunter is a tremendous player, and he plays so hard for us defensively,' Pearson said. 'He's also a great special teamer. We try to keep him as fresh as we can, but we had to use him in the fourth because we needed a spark. And he provided that for us.'
St. John's improved to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the City League, while Whitmer fell from the ranks of the unbeaten in league action at 3-4 and 3-1.
With 6:54 left in the contest Whitmer had used a seven-yard TD run by Julian Nash to cut the Titans' lead to 14-10. The Panthers kicked off and St. John's was pinned on its 17 when Lent took a handoff, cut back through the line, then cut again down the far sideline to outrun the defense for an 83-yard scoring scamper.
'He made a critical play when they really needed it,' Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. 'We were in a standard blitz, and he found the seam. The credit goes to him.'
The Titans forced Whitmer into a three-and-out on the next possession, and on a second-down play Lent broke free down the near sideline and raced 46 yards for his third touchdown of the day. He finished with a game-high 141 rushing yards on just
'Coach came up to me at halftime and said, How's your back?'?' Lent said. 'He told me I was going to get some touches in the second half, and I thought it turned out pretty nicely.'
The first half focused on field position. St. John's used it to score 14 points, and Whitmer scored only three because it was pinned deep on its side of the field most of the half.
St. John's fumbled a handoff late in the first quarter, and the Panthers' Shane Brown recovered at the Titans' 35. Six plays later Austin Sweeney booted a 30-yard field goal.
But the Titans quickly turned the field position around and scored the game's first touchdown. Sean Beach took the kickoff and returned it to his 45, and a 31-yard pass from Walt Anderson to Mike White set up the score, which came on P.J. Wimberly's six-yard option run.
Late in the half Whitmer was pinned inside its 5, and after a punt St. John's took over on the Panthers 33.
The Titans were able to pound the ball to the 1 and, on a fourth-and-goal play, Lent sliced through the defense for the score.
'I thought our punter, Mike Noward, did a great job pinning them down in the first half,' Pearson said. 'But in the second half they reversed it on us.'
The difference was that Whitmer never took advantage of its good field position, as two dropped passes on fourth-down plays snuffed potential scoring drives.
'Our defense kept them pinned down in the third quarter, but we didn't get any points out of it,' Palka said. '[The dropped passes] were unfortunate. But we had other opportunities. We needed to convert better throughout the game.'
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.