MANSFIELD — Freezing temperatures and a determined Mentor defense could not contain undefeated Whitmer on Saturday night during a Division I state semifinal at Arlin Field.
Whitmer played with urgency, and senior quarterback Nick Holley was the masterful maestro in leading the Panthers to a resounding 62-34 drubbing of Mentor to remain undefeated en route to earning a spot in the state championship game.
Whitmer will face Cincinnati Moeller in the D-I state championship contest on Saturday at Canton's Fawcett Stadium.
First-year coach Jerry Bell has guided the Panthers to the state title game a year after Whitmer fell in the semifinals.
"It’s great that we have the monkey off our back finally," Bell said. "We'd gotten here several times already. Now it's time for us to finish what we've started."
Holley rushed for 249 yards on 27 carries, including touchdown runs of 20 and 48 yards. He also completed 7 of 11 passes for 150 yards, including touchdown tosses of 20 and 10 yards to lead the No. 3 Panthers (14-0) past the Cardinals (12-2).
"We were determined, and we came out determined," Holley said. "Honestly, we came out with something to prove because we came out as the underdogs.
"We've got another one to go."
Whitmer running back Tre Reditt-Sterritt rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries, including touchdown runs of 10, 12, and one yards.
"This means a lot," Reditt-Sterritt said. "We came out and got it done this year. For this senior class, this is a dream come true."
The Panthers defense came away with three turnovers, including an interception apiece by Tylor Schneider and Marcus Elliott. Jacob LaPoint also recovered a fumble.
Holley directed the Panthers on an impressive nine-play, 79-yard scoring drive with the game's opening possession.
The Panthers senior signal-caller handled the brunt of the drive by tucking the football and showing plenty of running skills. He carried six times for 60 yards on the drive, including a drive-completing 20-yard touchdown scamper around the right end with 7:45 to play in the first quarter. Michael Baldwin's extra-point try sailed wide right and the Panthers led 6-0.
But Mentor quickly responded with a scoring drive of its own to take a 7-6 lead after Cardinals quarterback Mitch Trubisky connected with Connor Krizancic for a 30-yard TD completion with 5:12 left in the first quarter.
Mentor placekicker Mike Muzic made good on his extra-point try to give the Cardinals a 7-6 advantage.
However, Mentor didn't hold on to the lead for long before Whitmer put together its second scoring drive in the opening quarter to regain the lead when Me'Gail Frisch scored on a 15-yard touchdown run coming off of an inside handoff from Holley. After Baldwin made the extra-point, the Panthers led 13-7 with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
It looked like Whitmer was going to take that lead into halftime after both teams went most of the second quarter with drives coming to a halt and the defenses beginning to buckle down.
However, Mentor's offense began to get back on track late in the second quarter and was in position to at least tie the score after Trubisky scrambled 29 yards before getting knocked out of bounds at the Whitmer 3-yard line with two minutes left in the half.
But the Cardinals' possession inside the Panthers' 5-yard line went no further after Panthers defensive lineman Jacob LaPoint came through moments later with the most significant defensive play of the game.
Trubisky had trouble handling the snap, and LaPoint rushed in to pull the loose ball out of the air before racing 94 yards for an apparent touchdown that brought the Whitmer crowd to its feet in the freezing temperatures. LaPoint's TD was overturned after a Panther was called for a personal foul during the return.
The penalty only delayed Whitmer from going up 20-7 after Nick Holley found Nathan Holley for a 20-yard touchdown cmpletion with 1:07 left in the first half.
Mentor proved a minute was more than enough time remaining to strike one final time before the break as Trubisky drove the Cardinals down field in 54 seconds and made the halftime score 20-13. Trubisky teamed with Krizancic for a 20-yard TD pass with 13 seconds left in the first half.
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.