Before Friday night’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference football showdown against visiting Whitmer, Central Catholic senior quarterback DeShone Kizer already had a state championship under his belt and a college scholarship lined up with Notre Dame.
He did not, however, have a defining individual moment to his high school football career.
Now he has one.
It came 3 minutes, 39 seconds into the third quarter, and it ultimately gave his Fighting Irish a 21-14 victory on a rainy night in front of a crowd of more than 7,000 at Gallagher Stadium.
The 6-foot-5, 218-pound standout made the highlight-reel play from his 21-yard line, first scrambling out of the grasp of would-be tacklers before rolling right, then firing a strike 30 yards downfield while leaning backward.
Junior wideout Marcus Winters did the rest, grabbing the ball between two Whitmer defenders and streaking toward the end zone on the game-winning, 79-yard TD.
“We were trying to find a gap in their zone,” Kizer said. “They dropped eight [in coverage], and I had to make something happen on my feet. I thought I was going to try to get to a first down [running].
“But Marcus and I spend a lot of time at practice messing around and figuring out what he should do when I’m on the run. His guy was in front of him, and he knew to take off, and I put the ball where it needed to be.”
Kizer — who shook off a slow start to finish 10-for-22 passing for 185 yards and all three Irish TDs — helped end Whitmer’s four-game winning streak against Central.
Other help came from senior running back/linebacker Paul Moses, who rushed 17 times for 151 yards and was an integral part of a stingy Central defense.
In what had to seem like a flashback to last year’s 42-0 loss to the Panthers, Central (4-0, 1-0 TRAC) — the 2012 D-II state champion now ranked No. 2 in D-III — watched Whitmer bolt out to a quick 14-0 lead before the midway point of the first quarter.
The Panthers (1-3, 0-1), Division I state runners-up last year, scored on their first play from scrimmage.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Winzeler found a completely uncovered Chris Boykin down the right sideline on a 69-yard TD strike, and the Panthers led 7-0 just 1:51 into the game.
After a Central punt, the Panthers struck again.
This time Winzeler hit a wide-open Luke Speweike over the middle for a 51-yard completion to the Irish 22.
Two plays later, Winzeler’s pass went through the hands of Casino Stacker but found Boykin, who turned the fortuitous play into a 15-yard TD catch with 6:32 left in the first quarter.
“I haven’t let that game [42-0 loss] enter my mind since last year, but that was déjà vu,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “They came out and did some things and were ready to go from the kickoff.”
But Winzeler’s final 10 passes fell incomplete as he finished 3 of 13 for 135 yards with two TDs and one interception.
“They made some great adjustments and hustled to save some plays,” Dempsey said of his defense. “They sprint to the football, and their effort is second to none. What they did after [14-0 deficit] was pretty impressive.”
Unlike the 2012 meeting, Central captured the momentum and rallied to a 14-14 halftime tie.
Kizer, who had completed just one of his first seven passes, hit on seven of his next nine in three successive scoring drives.
His 30-yarder to Dayton Copeland-Lee set up an 11-yard TD pass to Jermiah Braswell three plays later, and the Irish trailed 14-7 with four minutes left in the half.
The next Irish drive, which began on their 25 with 2:17 left in the half, highlighted Kizer’s leadership.
Boosted by Moses’ 48-yard run to the Whitmer 23, Central got a 17-yard Kizer pass to Copeland-Lee for a first-and-goal at the 7. On fourth down, Kizer found Winters on a three-yard TD pass with just 8.9 seconds left in the half.
“Obviously Kizer’s the real deal,” Whitmer coach Jerry Bell said. “We had him scrambling running for his life a few times, and he just makes the big play.
“Offensively, I thought we had a great game plan coming in. It just came down to [the fact that] they made big plays and we didn’t. We knew we had to get out of the gate right away and get going. I’m proud of the way our guys played. They fought their tails off against a very talented football team.”
Central topped Whitmer 402-306 in total offense. Panthers running back Jamal Bell carried 19 times for 134 yards.
Whitmer’s deepest penetration of the second half was to the Irish 12, where Talal Farhan attempted and missed a 29-yard field goal.