By DOUG DONNELLY
Whiteford must be getting used to playing at home.
The Bobcats will play its 16th home game since the start of the 2016 season Saturday when it hosts Clarkston Everest Collegiate in the Division 8, Region 4 championship game. It will be third home playoff game this year and sixth over the last two seasons.
“We love playing in front of our home crowd,” sixth-year Bobcat coach Jason Mensing said. “We know the fans will be here and they’ll be excited to see some playoff football.”
The 11-0 Bobcats have won three consecutive district championships and are trying to become the first team in Tri-County Conference history to reach the semifinals three consecutive seasons.
Mensing said Everest Collegiate will be a good test for the Bobcats. The Mountaineers come into the game 9-2 and fresh off a shutout in the District finals.
“We are excited for the opportunity to play in another regional championship,” Mensing said. “Everest is very well coached and will put pressure on us with their spread option attack. Our No. 1 goal will need to be a good tackling team in space and control the clock.”
Everest Collegiate head coach Michael Pruchnicki said he’s excited for the type of atmosphere that is sure to greet his 15-player squad when it reaches the Whiteford stadium, which is uniquely tucked into the woods on the south end of the school’s campus.
“I’m excited for our kids to get a chance to play in that type of atmosphere,” he said. “We don’t typically get to play in an environment like that, so we are looking forward to it.”
The Mountaineers are in their fifth year of having their own varsity football program and they have made the playoffs every single season. Prior to that, they were part of a cooperative program with Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, a school well-known to Bobcat fans come playoff time.
“Our kids played with them for a number of years, until we had enough for our own varsity team,” said Pruchnicki, who is the only varsity coach the Mountaineers have had. He is 36-15 in five seasons.
The Mountaineers are led by athletic quarterback Grant Burgess, a first-team All-State quarterback on the 2016 Associated Press Division 7-8 list. He’s thrown for 1,362 yards and rushed for 644 yards in this, his third season as the Everest Collegiate starting QB.
Running back Josh Legg leads the team with 737 yards rushing. He’s added 147 yards on 11 catches. Nino Mastromatteo (31 receptions, 537 yards), Simon Fenske (27-401) and Giovanni Mastromatteo (13-195) are other top receiving threats.
Fenske has made four field goals and 33 of his 37 extra-point attempts this season and averages more than 40 yards a kick on kickoffs and 30.7 yards on his 16 punts. He’s also the team scoring leader.
For Whiteford, Thomas Eitniear will be making his 39th career start at quarterback for the Bobcats. A seasoned veteran, Eitniear changes the Bobcat record book every time he touches the ball. He is the Bobcat career leader in passing and total offense and has more rushing yards than any quarterback in Bobcat history. He’s also been the starting QB in all 34 Bobcat wins over the last three seasons, including 16 straight home field wins.
Logan Murphy is moving up the Bobcat single season rushing charts with more than 1,400 yards and Brayden Clark-Gilmore tied a single season Bobcat record with his ninth touchdown reception last week in Whiteford’s 36-20 District final win over Summerfield. It was the closest win of the season for the Bobcats, who are 15 points shy of scoring 600 points on the season.
The winner of Saturday’s contest plays the winner of Climax-Scotts vs. Mendon. That game, at Mendon, also kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday. The semifinals will be played on a neutral field.