The Whitmer Panthers may not have all of the bells and whistles on the roster from their back-to-back trips to the Ohio Division I state football semifinals, but the product on the field looks pretty familiar.
Actually, there is one Bell -- new head coach Jerry Bell -- and his Panthers stayed unbeaten Friday night by whistling past visiting St. Francis de Sales in a dominant 47-7 Three Rivers Athletic Conference victory at Memorial Stadium.
Photo gallery: St. Francis vs. Whitmer
"I don't think people have underestimated us," Bell said. "They know we have a good football team. Findlay and Central [picked to finish 1-2 in the TRAC ahead of defending champion Whitmer] have tremendous ball clubs as well.
"We just need to stay focused on playing one week at a time, and we'll take on those challenges when they present themselves."
Panther senior quarterback Nick Holley was 14-of-18 passing for 173 yards and one touchdown, and he rushed 12 times for 94 yards and two scores (8 and 14 yards).
"The defense gave us great [field] position, so it was a big team effort," Holley said. "Offensively, we just had to come out and play hard and do what we were coached to do.
"We just feel like we have something to prove, so we're playing hard. It doesn't bother us at all that we were picked third. That's the way we like it. We want to be the underdogs."
Whitmer topped the Knights 398-144 in total offense and kept them off the scoreboard until 6:19 remained in the game.
Senior running back Tre Sterritt, a backfield fixture on the Panthers' 2010 state semifinal squad, has returned after sitting out last season because of eligibility rules.
He was back in his 1,000-yard form of two years ago, adding 70 yards on 10 carries, including TD runs of 11, 22, and seven yards.
The 10th-ranked Panthers (4-0, 1-0 TRAC), who had displayed their defensive prowess (10 total points allowed) in three nonconference wins coming in, turned a potent offense loose from their initial drive of the game.
Whitmer scored touchdowns on five of its seven first-half possessions against an overmatched Knights defense, and only the halftime clock prevented the Panthers from making it 6-for-7.
A short punt which closed the second possession for St. Francis (1-3, 0-1) left Whitmer just 21 yards from the goal line. Sterritt covered 13 yards on the first play, and Holley ran the final eight on the next play as the Panthers went up 6-0 with 5:50 left in the first quarter.
Short fields continued to be the formula for Whitmer, which covered 40 yards on six plays to make it 13-0 with 2:19 left in the first period. Sterritt's 11-yard TD capped that scoring march.
Sterritt added his 22-yard TD run two minutes into the second quarter, and Holley connected with Chris Boykin (five catches, 79 yards) on a 17-yard TD pass two plays after the Panther defense intercepted Knights quarterback David Nees for the second time in the game.
That came 7:45 before halftime and put Whitmer up 27-0.
An eight-play, 57-yard march resulted in the next Panther score, this time on Sterritt's third TD of the half.
"It feels good to be back in action, to reclaim what I did before, and to prove that I've still got it -- to myself and to my team," Sterritt said. "I want to get their respect and trust back, and let them know they can count on me."
Holley added his second scoring run to cap a 61-yard drive to open the third quarter, and he cleared the path for Frisch on a 13-yard, reverse-of-field TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 47-0.
"We are not as explosive of a football team as we used to be," Bell said of graduating six players who have gone on to Division I college programs. "Last year we had all those guys who, on one play, could score. This is old-school, smash-mouth Whitmer football. We try to establish our will in the run game, and you have to have a great defense in high school football. I think we've got one."
St. Francis moved 75 yards on 14 plays for its only touchdown of the game, that coming on a fourth-and-4 pass from Nees to Andrew Bonfiglio that covered five yards with 6:19 remaining.
"They're a physical football team, and they didn't surprise us with anything they did," first-year Knights coach Chris Hedden said. "We knew what they were going to do. They played physical football, and we didn't have an answer for it."
Nees was 6-of-11 passing for 37 yards and rushed 12 times for 45 yards. Michael Wagner led St. Francis in rushing with 58 yards on 24 carries.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.