St. Francis de Sales could ill afford to make mistakes in a clash with powerhouse Whitmer at the Glass Bowl Saturday night where the Panthers pounced on the Knights’ errors.
In the first Three Rivers Athletic Conference game for both teams, the Panthers jumped out to a 20-0 lead at the half on the strength of two turnovers that they converted into touchdowns. Whitmer never looked back in a 34-0 shutout of the Knights.
Whitmer (4-0, 1-0 TRAC) came in ranked sixth in the Division I state poll and has now outscored its opponents 180-6. The Panthers have posted three straight shutouts.
St. Francis (1-3, 0-1) missed two early field goals to stay close.
However, the Panthers led just 7-0 near the midpoint of the second quarter when they cashed in with two touchdowns after forcing back-to-back turnovers.
“We emphasize every day in practice getting turnovers,” Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. “When you can convert them into points you have a good chance to win the game.”
One play after Whitmer’s Leroy Alexander recovered a Knight fumble, Jody Webb sprinted in from 28 yards out to make it 14-0 with 6:59 left in the second quarter.
“We knew we had to come out and force some turnovers and make big plays,” Alexander said.
Whitmer senior Mikael Eaton then came up with a terrific diving interception to end the Knights’ next drive.
Webb then capped a 59-yard drive with an 11-yard TD run with 2:36 left in the second. The key play on the drive was a 32-yard long pass from Tyler Palka to Nigel Hayes. The extra point was missed but the Panthers led by 20.
“Turnovers build momentum. Once we get the momentum going we should get a touchdown somewhere,” Webb said.
Webb finished with 111 yards on 20 carries and scored on runs of 28 and 11 yards.
Up 20-0 at the half, Whitmer then mounted a 13-play drive that took 6:22 off the clock to take a 27-0 lead. Palka connected with Alonzo Lucas on a 10-yard TD pass.
“For us to eat clock and put the next touchdown on the board was huge,” Palka said.
Alexander finished with 100 yards on five carries (20.0). He scored on a 67-yard scamper for Whitmer’s final points.
St. Francis opened the game with an impressive nine-play drive that featured long runs by senior Jarrod Jefferson, who paced his team with 52 rushing yards. But a 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Webb.
“We practice special teams a lot and that will win a lot of games. It paid off,” he said.
Whitmer then marched 70 yards on 11 plays to go up 7-0, scoring on Palka’s four-yard keeper. The drive took 4:30 and included a fourth down conversion by Webb.
St. Francis countered with another long drive but Michael McGowan’s 28-yard attempt sailed just left.
Whitmer had 194 yards of offense in the first half. St. Francis had 128 in the game.
“The TRAC is supposed to be a competitive conference so it’s good to come away with a win, especially against a good team like St. Francis,” Webb said. “Hopefully we can build on this one.”
The Panthers host St. John’s Jesuit in a showdown next weekend.
“I knew St. Francis would be a big, physical challenge,” Palka said. “We played well defensively and offensively. Jody had a big night and we played well on special teams. Now we have to turn our attention to St. John’s.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade