CANTON — For the first 14 weeks, a convoy of defenses turned to the same tried-and-true strategy to slow Whitmer.
Stop the run, make the Panthers one-dimensional.
“What we try to do to other opponents,” Whitmer coach Jerry Bell said.
The only difference Saturday night? The plan worked.
For once, the Panthers’ churning ground game went missing in their 20-12 loss to Cincinnati Moeller in the Division II state championship game.
A Whitmer offense that averaged 276 rushing yards per game and had piled up fewer than 37 points only once since early September was largely silenced. The Panthers had only 65 rushing yards on 24 carries through three quarters and finished with 108.
Senior quarterback Nick Holley, who came in with nearly 2,000 rushing yards, ran for 92 yards on 23 carries. Tre Sterritt, who had 904 rushing yards, added 14 yards on four carries.
“I knew coming into this game we had to win up front, and we did not,” Bell said. “We couldn’t establish the run, couldn’t get our counter going. They kept all their guys in the box and did a great job with the game plan. Their outside linebackers kept folding in and taking the counter away. At the end of the day, we did not win the one-on-one battle on the O-line and D-line.”
Holley at times beat the Crusaders over the top. The Panthers pushed ahead 6-0 when Holley induced the safety to bite on a fake handoff and found an open Michael Dzikowski for a 37-yard touchdown. And Holley found his brother, Nate, for a 20-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
But too often the Panthers could not make Moeller pay. Holley was under duress and out of rhythm.
“We weren’t clicking on the offense,” Holley said. “As an offense, you’ve got to get a rhythm down. Everybody’s got to be working together. You’ve got one gear that’s not working ... we just weren’t together.”
DOWN GOES NO. 1: Moeller burnished its reputation as a giant slayer.
The Crusaders won their fourth game over a team ranked in the USA Today Super 25, adding Whitmer to a roster of prey that previously included Louisville Trinity, Gilman School (Md.), and Cincinnati Colerain.
Whitmer, meanwhile, exited the race for a mythical national championship about as quickly as it entered it.
After escaping notice beyond Ohio for most of the fall, Whitmer rocketed this week from unranked to 12th in the USA Today poll and climbed to sixth in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
BACK ON TOP: The Godfather of Moeller football was on hand for his old flock’s return to glory.
Gerry Faust became a punchline for his futile five-year run reign at Notre Dame. But before that, he built the Crusaders program from scratch into the class of the state.
Faust left to coach the Fighting Irish after guiding Moeller to a fifth state title in six seasons in 1980. His Crusaders teams went 178–23–2 in 19 years.
Faust, 77, who lives in Fairlawn, Ohio, addressed the Moeller team before the game, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
CROWD SURFING: OHSAA announced a crowd of 8,834 for a total attendance across the six state championship games of 43,991. The state finals combined attendance record is 65,663, set in 2001 — boosted by a crowd of 19,129 for the Division I state title game between Cleveland St. Ignatius and Cincinnati St. Xavier.
Contact David Briggs at:
419-724-6084, or on