MANSFIELD, Ohio -- In its quest for a Division I state football championship, Whitmer's second step was getting past its recent playoff nemesis Saturday night at Arlin Field in Mansfield.
The second-ranked Panthers (12-0) did just that, breaking things open after a tight first half to romp 37-6 over Canton McKinley in a regional semifinal.
The win moves Whitmer to a Region 2 final next Saturday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined against Wadsworth (11-1), which advanced with a 42-21 victory over Hudson on Saturday night.
The Panthers defeated Wadsworth 51-37 in a first-round playoff game in 2007. McKinley had beaten Whitmer 49-7 in a Region 2 final in 2006 and 34-13 in a first-round game in 2009.
"It's great to be back in the regional championship game," Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. "I thought getting past Canton McKinley was going to be a huge hurdle, and I didn't take it for granted. This was a great win against a great program."
Ahead of McKinley just 7-0 at halftime, the Panthers began taking control of the game from the opening drive of the third quarter.
Whitmer marched 70 yards on nine plays (all runs) and were aided by two Bulldog penalties totaling 23 yards.
"We told the guys at halftime that we just had to play the full 48 [minutes], and we had to take no plays off," Palka said. "We had to stay disciplined and keep fighting every single play.
"We made a couple adjustments in our blocking scheme to get the run game going on that first drive of the second half. We just felt we had to hit some inside seams because they were starting to spread things out. That touchdown to go up by 14 was really big."
Jody Webb (20 carries, 96 yards), who had given Whitmer its first-half lead on a one-yard plunge with 4:55 left in the first quarter, ran about 40 yards to cover the final eight on his second TD.
Webb started a sweep to the left, saw no openings, stopped cold, and then reversed all the way around the right end on his eight-yard score, which put Whitmer up 14-0 with 8:43 left in the third quarter.
"We just had to come out and play our game," Webb said. "During halftime we had to go back and look at some things -- what was going on with their defense and what was stopping us. We just had to get it together."
McKinley's third turnover of the game -- a fumble by quarterback Tyler Foster that was recovered by Panther defensive lineman Marquise Moore at the Bulldogs' 24 -- set up Whitmer's third TD.
On the next play, quarterback Tyler Palka (8-of-12 passing, 92 yards) fired a 24-yard strike to Alonzo Lucas in the left corner of the end zone, making it 21-0 with 3:42 left in the third.
Michael Baldwin upped Whitmer's edge to 24-0 on a 39-yard field goal 49 seconds into the final quarter, and the Panthers added a pair of TDs down the stretch after McKinley's only TD of the game.
LeRoy Alexander (eight carries, 46 yards) tallied on a 41-yard run, and backup quarterback Tyler Smith ran five yards for the final score.
The Bulldogs (9-3), who only got beyond Whitmer's 35-yard line once in the game, scored on a 22-yard pass from Tyler Foster to Zach Sweat with 8:26 remaining in the game.
"We prepared all week with the defensive schemes, and I guess we're pretty good," Wormley. "The main thing was getting pressure, sending people off the edge and blitzing. I think that really helped.
"We just stayed focused and mentally tough. It's great feeling to be in the regional final again. We'll be back at it on Monday and hopefully it'll be the same outcome."
Whitmer topped McKinley 262-159 in total offense.
Running back Da'Veon Holloway was the Bulldogs' top producer with 83 yards on 22 rushes, but he had just two of those yards after halftime.
Foster, under heavy pass-rush pressure throughout, was sacked eight times in the game and completed just 5-of-15 passes for 59 yards.
"We felt we had to pressure [Foster] because that's what we do best," coach Palka said. "They have too many good athletes, and if they got open space we thought we'd have a hard time with them. So, we weren't going to mess around. Once our defense started playing well, we started feeding off that, and our pressure and tackling got more intense."
Whitmer has reached its third Region 2 final in six seasons under Palka. Last year the Panthers advanced to the D-I state semifinals before falling 23-13 against eventual state champion Lakewood St. Edward.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.