ASHLAND, Ohio — Whitmer played with hunger and plenty of passion against Twinsburg in Saturday night's Division I football regional semifinal.
The Panthers jumped ahead early and never looked back on the way to a decisive 35-14 victory at Ashland Community Stadium.
Whitmer built a 28-0 lead in the first half on the strength of a productive running game, an opportunistic special teams, and a stifling defense. The all-around team effort put the Panthers into a regional final Saturday against St. John's Jesuit.
“This was a great day, how we did it coming out so strong,” said Whitmer quarterback Alex Palicki, who passed for 97 yards and rushed for 86, including a five-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers rushed for 279 yards on 48 carries, including 139 yards on 19 carries by Jody Webb. The Panthers' playmaker scored touchdowns on runs of 66 and 25 yards during the first half to help build a sizable lead over the Tigers (10-2).
“We made some mistakes, and they made some plays,” Twinsburg coach Mark Solis said. “They've got some dudes that we don't have.
“They're a really good football team.”
The Panthers (11-1) struck first and often to gain the early advantage.
Webb put the Panthers in front 7-0 when he burned the Tigers defense with his first TD run with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter.
Then the Panthers defense quickly got into the act.
The defense produced the second score when cornerback Scott Pfeifer, who has been playing with a broken left hand for half the season, recovered a Tigers fumble and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown to give Whitmer a 14-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the opening quarter.
“I saw the football on the ground, and I knew I had to make a play,” Pfeifer said. “It's probably the best moment of the season. I scooped it up with the one hand and knew I had to make a play.”
Yet, Whitmer wasn't done surprising Twinsburg.
The Panthers caught the Tigers off guard when they recovered a loose football on an apparent onside kick following Pfeifer's defensive TD. The Panthers successfully recovered the loose ball near midfield.
The Panthers took possession and made the most of it. They put the football back in Webb's hands and allowed his feet to do the rest. Webb made it 21-0 when he scored his second TD of the night with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter.
The Panthers produced a fourth score before halftime shortly after taking over possession near midfield after the Tigers gambled and were stopped on a fourth-down play midway through the second quarter.
Palicki found Nigel Hayes for a 22-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 28-0 lead with 6:34 left in the half.
“I just knew if I threw it up and gave him a chance to catch it, he'd come down with it,” Palicki said.
A week after having a tough time defeating Massillon Washington 28-24, the Panthers made it look easy against Twinsburg.
The Panthers defense, led by linemen Robert Ulis, Chris Wormley, and Nick LaPoint, flirted with recording their third shutout of the season. They had the Tigers offense under wraps for much of the night.
However, the Tigers managed to avoid being blanked for the first time this season. London Carter took a short pass from Aaron Macer and raced 23 yards for a touchdown with just over five minutes left in the first half.
The Tigers also scored late in the fourth quarter when Deveraux McCall returned a kickoff 50 yards for a touchdown.
Macer was held to 30 yards on 12 carries and completed only four of 14 passes for 47 yards.
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302.