Whitmer's Micah Merritt, with ball, celebrates with Joe Missler, right, and Mike Pfaff after his second-quarter touchdown. Merritt had three touchdown runs and 95 yards on 16 carries.
Whitmer's Panthers were on the prowl in Friday night's key City League football clash with visiting Rogers, churning out 410 rushing yards en route to a 43-20 victory over Ohio's second-ranked Division II team.
Whitmer (4-0, 1-0 CL) spotted the Rams a 6-0 lead before unleashing its ground attack, utilizing a dominant offensive line performance and equally strong backfield output.
Panther senior quarterback Joe Missler ran 21 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, plus passed for a score for Whitmer, which entered ranked No. 12 in the state in Division I.
Whitmer running back Micah Merritt added 95 yards on 16 rushes, including scoring runs of 1, 8, and 1 yard, and back Teryl Mershon had 90 yards on 11 carries.
"We love our balance on the ground," Whitmer coach Joe Palka said.
"Our offensive line continues to improve. They're playing pretty physical, and the development of our running backs has been big.
"Once we can run the ball between the tackles, everything opens up. That inside ground game really helped us out."
Rogers (3-1, 0-1) struck first when senior quarterback E.J. Tucker found the speedy Damond Powell over the middle on a slant pattern. Powell split the last two defenders and finished the 85-yard touchdown play 4:19 into the game.
But Whitmer responded with three quick TDs to take a 21-6 lead.
On the last play of the first quarter, Merritt, who moved the Panthers 61 yards on six rushes, covered the final yard.
Following a Rogers punt, Merritt closed a quick three-play, 64-yard march with his eight-yard TD 9:44 before halftime.
Rogers looked like it would respond immediately when DerJuan Gambrell ran the ensuing kickoff back 86 yards, putting the Rams at the Panther 7. But Tucker was intercepted on the next play by Scott Pfeifer, and Whitmer then moved 80 yards for its third TD in a span of 5:37.
"We thought we were in trouble there," Palka said, "and to get the ball right back and have them come away with zero points, that was a turning point."
The big play on Whitmer's third TD drive was Missler's 57-yard run around left end. Missler hit Tevin Boykin on a two-yard scoring pass.
"Our offensive line does a great job for us," Missler said. "They work hard in practice all week, and it pays off on Friday nights.
"Rogers has a lot of good athletes, and they did make big plays. But we came back and responded well."
Rogers struck back, with Tucker's 43-yard pass to Powell setting up his own three-yard TD run to get the Rams within 21-12 with 5:05 left in the half.
But Missler's two one-yard TD plunges in the third quarter basically iced things for Whitmer.
"They were just more physical than us all night long," Rogers coach Rick Rios said. "We hit a couple plays early and then kind of shot ourselves in the foot when we had opportunities to score. It probably should have been even at halftime.
"But we were behind the 8-ball coming out for the second half, and we never found an answer for them running the ball down our throat. Their offensive line just whupped us up front. They created lanes for their guys to run through."
Tucker and Powell hooked up on a 15-yard TD connection in the fourth quarter, and Merritt's score capped the scoring for the Panthers, who topped Rogers 476-284 in total offense.
Tucker was 10-of-20 passing for 192 yards, and rushed 15 times for 38 yards. Powell had four catches for 151 yards.
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