The marketing slogan for Central Catholic High School hangs boldly from the press box of Gallagher Stadium facing Cherry Street.
And, as the Irish faithful departed from Friday night's City League football showdown with Whitmer there, they had to be lamenting The One (point) that separated their team from a homecoming victory in a 21-20 loss before a sellout crowd of 6,500.
The Panthers (7-1, 5-0 CL) tied the game when they got a 51-yard touchdown run from junior Jody Webb around left end with 10:54 remaining and went ahead on an extra-point kick from Jared Kenczewicz.
Whitmer then survived Central's go-ahead bid when Patrick Wesolowski's 30-yard field-goal attempt with 7:14 to play drifted wide right.
“That was very nerve-racking because normally in the past Central has punched those through,” Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. “He's a great kicker, and we were fortunate it went wide. When we play Central, it can go either way, and we were just fortunate enough today to be on the winning side.”
Following Central's last score of the night — a 32-yard TD run from workhorse senior running back Calebb Goings with 1:08 left in the third quarter — Wesolowski missed the subsequent PAT to keep the score at 20-14.
“There's a lot of things throughout the game that this came down to,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “Those will be the two things that people will try to say stick out. But — offense, defense, special teams — we did this together.
“We won seven games in a row together, and we'll bounce back. Our kids' effort tonight was amazing. People got to witness a classic high school football game.”
Whitmer's win clinched its second straight City League championship, the final CL title before the Panthers depart the league next year along with Central, Clay, St. Francis de Sales, and St. John's Jesuit.
The Irish (7-1, 4-1), who entered as Ohio's sixth-ranked Division II team, did have one last chance to retake the lead but were halted by the Panther defense.
On his 39th and final carry of the night, Goings (217 rushing yards) had the Irish in a third-and-8 situation at the Whitmer 36. But quarterback Joey Schneider's deep pass intended for Josh Stump sailed long, and Schneider was then tackled three yards short of a first down with under a minute left.
“I talked at halftime about getting him a rest,” Dempsey said of Goings, “and I think, if he could have, he would've hit me.
“I know when a kid wants the ball and, when he's that good, you ride him.”
Whitmer, which outgained the Irish 379-301 in total offense, thrived behind the 1-2 backfield punch of Webb (20 carries, 177 yards) and sophomore Tre Sterritt (12 carries, 125 yards).
“We're finally getting smart enough to put them in the backfield together all the time,” Palka said. “They both block for each other, and they run extremely hard. I couldn't be happier with those two right now.”
The Panthers turned a Central turnover on the game's opening kickoff into a quick 7-0 lead.
One play after Irish returner Ryan Hanenkrath lost a fumble at his 37, Sterritt scored on a 31-yard cutback run around right end 44 seconds into the game.
Limited to a single first down on its first four possessions, Central marched 70 yards in 10 plays to gain a 7-7 tie 1:37 before halftime. Key were three completions totaling 58 yards by Schneider. His third-and-11 pass was a pinpoint 22-yarder to Stump in the back left corner of the end zone.
Whitmer covered 73 yards on seven plays to open the third quarter, scoring on quarterback Alex Palicki's 28-yard pass to Webb at the 9:26 mark.
“Football games are going to go back and forth,” Webb said, “but you've just got to keep your head in the game and keep working hard. You never know what's going to come out at the end.
“It's a team effort, and it was all because my teammates helping me and Tre get it done on the ground and get the passing game going.”
Central answered later in the third quarter to tie the game on Schneider's 29-yard TD pass to Stump with 3:46 left in that period.
Central's Jar'Vell Jones intercepted a Palicki pass at the Whitmer 37 to set up Goings' go-ahead TD.
Schneider was 5-of-8 passing for 97 yards, Palicki 5-of-15 for 52 yards.
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.
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