By DOUG DONNELLY
HOWELL, Mich. – Whiteford’s offense has received plenty of attention this season – and rightly so. But head coach Jason Mensing had plenty of praise for the Whiteford defense Saturday after the Bobcats beat Mendon, 50-21, to advance to Friday’s Division 8 state championship game.
“The defense played fantastic, as they have all year,” Mensing said. “They gave us some short fields to work with.”
The Bobcats forced five Mendon turnovers on the Howell High School turf, led 30-0 at one point and forced a running clock near the end of the third quarter. Twice Whiteford stopped Mendon on fourth down conversion attempts, each time setting up key offensive drives.
“Our defense has made plays all season,” Mensing said. “Today, they made some big stops for us.”
Logan Murphy, Ethan Inman and Matthew Taylor recovered fumbles and Ty Eitniear and Brayden Clark-Gilmore intercepted passes. Eli Shelton had eight tackles and Zack Bertz and Inman recording seven each.
When the Bobcat defense came up with big plays, the offense usually turned them into points. Whiteford passed the 6,000-yard mark of total offense for the season and added 50 points to the 645 points it had scoring coming into the game as it inches closer to 700 for the season. That’s a historic number.
“There good,” said Mendon coach Robert Kretschman. “They are physical. They get on you. They block well. They have a good, physical back with a lot of formations. They are a good football team.”
Whiteford took the opening kickoff and marched 77-yards in just five plays. Logan Murphy – who gained 67 of those yards – scored from 20 yards out to put the Bobcats on the board.
The Bobcats forced a three-and-out, and took just three plays to score again, this time on a 28-yard pass from Thomas Eitniear to Brayden Clark-Gilmore and Whiteford led 14-0.
The lead was 30-0 with 3:14 left in the first half as Zack Bertz scored on runs of 20 yards and 1-yard and caught a 16-yard TD pass from Eitniear.
Mensing said Whiteford was able to keep Mendon’s defense off-balance with a string of different formations. Murphy had more than 100 yards by halftime and now has just under 1,750 yards for the season – a Whiteford single season record.
“There were a few things that we hadn’t shown through the course of the season,” Mensing said. “When we ran our first play it was a look they hadn’t seen. We could see they were a little off-balance with it, so we stuck with it.
“We knew they were a little bit on their heels. We just continued to try and keep them off balance.”
Mendon was able to find the end zone before halftime on a two-yard run by Wyatt Cool. It’s final drive of the first half stalled at the Whiteford 1-yard line with 15 seconds left in the half when Murphy recovered a Hornet fumble.
Whiteford scored on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Eitniear to Matthew Taylor in the third quarter. The touchdown came on a deep fourth-and-5 pass.
Eitniear, who has 17 TD passes on the season, said Whiteford’s mix of run and pass plays kept the Hornets defense on its toes.
“We came out with some outside plays, then hit them with some pop passes over the middle,” Eitniear said. “All the plays were to set up the inside plays.”
Mendon put together another drive to make the score 44-14 midway through the fourth quarter. But, its onside kick went right to Ty Eitniear – the younger brother of the Bobcat QB – who picked it up on the run and went 50 yards for the final TD of the game for Whiteford.
Cool, who finished with 93 yards on 23 carries, finished the scoring with a 22-yard TD run with 5:11 left in the game. Mendon had 59 yards of passing and 265 yards of total offense.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, added 365 yards to its season total, including 111 passing yards by Eitniear and 254 rushing yards as a team. The 50 points scored against Mendon is the most allowed by the Hornets since 1977. Mendon had given up just 78 points all season entering Saturday.
“Whiteford is a heck of a football team and they are well-coached,” said Kretschman. “They did a lot of things to us early. We got behind and it’s hard to recover against a good team like that. We just didn’t characteristic Mendon football.
“I thought our kids played well. We didn’t give up. We kept fighting.”
The 13-0 Bobcats will play Saginaw Nouvel Catholic (13-0) at 10 a.m. Friday at Ford Field in Detroit. It’s Whiteford’s second straight appearance in the state championship game. The Bobcats lost last year to Muskegon Catholic Central in the finals.
“It’s an awesome feeling – all the hard work,” Whiteford quarterback Thomas Eitniear said. “We’ve really come together as a team and as a family … Words can’t describe it.”
Bertz said the Bobcats are excited to playing for the state title.
“There’s no other feeling like it,” Bertz said. “All of these guys are my best friends. This is so much fun.”
PHOTO BY CARI HAYES
Brayden Clark-Gilmore races to the end zone for Whiteford in the first quarter of Saturday’s 50-21 Bobcat win over Mendon in the Division 8 semifinals.