By DOUG DONNELLY
DETROIT – Whiteford’s record-breaking football season came to a close Friday with the Bobcats on top of the Division 8 after a 42-21 state championship game win over previously-unbeaten Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central.
The Bobcats finished the season 14-0 – the first team in Monroe County history to go 14-0 in a single season. It’s also the first state title in program history.
“It’s amazing,” said Whiteford’s All-State offensive tackle Lucas Tesznar. “It’s a great feeling.”
The Bobcats grabbed an onside kick to start the game and scored on its second play from scrimmage on a 37-yard run from senior quarterback Thomas Eitniear. It was a perfect start for the Bobcats, who decided about 20 minutes before kickoff to try the onside kick. Eitniear, who does not typically play on the kickoff team, was put on the unit just moments before the team left the locker room and ran onto the Ford Field turf. It was Eitniear who recovered it.
“When you have talented athletes, it makes taking risks a little less risky,” said Whiteford coach Jason Mensing.
The reward ended up being a 20-0 Bobcat lead before the end of the first quarter with Eitniear directing the offense and junior wing back Logan Murphy rushing for two touchdowns in the quarter, the first on a 1-yard plunge and the other on 71-yard draw play where he simply outran the Panther defense.
Eitniear scored again with 7:55 left in the second quarter to give Whiteford a 28-0 lead. Nouvel used its passing game to come back and score on a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tate Hausbeck to Ken Kujawa with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Whiteford didn’t hesitate to take a shot at another first half touchdown, despite getting the ball at its own 27-yard line with just 37 seconds left in the half. Murphy picked up 15 yards on the first play, then Eitniear hit his brother Ty Eitniear for a 14-yard gain with 16 seconds left and another first down. Eitniear found Brayden Clark-Gilmore on a 32-yard gain that put the Bobcats with the ball at the six and 10 ticks left on the clock. After an incompletion, Thomas Eitniear then found the end zone by diving to the pylon on the final play of the half and the Bobcats led 34-7.
“He’s so calm,” Mensing said of Eitniear. “He’s an outstanding kid and completely selfless. It’s never about statistics for him. He wants everyone out there to succeed. He’s been outstanding his entire career. He’s a gifted young man.”
Eitniear finished the game with 129 yards rushing and 143 yards passing. He broke the Bobcat single season passing record with 1,403 yards on the season.
Murphy scored his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, giving Whiteford a 42-7 lead. He finished with 126 yards rushing, giving him a Bobcat-record 1,873 yards rushing on the season.
Both he and Eitniear credited the offensive line, which is made up of five seniors.
“It all starts up front,” Eitniear said. “Sometimes they don’t receive enough credit, but our whole offense is based on that offensive line.”
Whiteford closed the game with 484 yards of total offense, including 341 on the ground. For the season, Whiteford scored 737 points, tied for second in state history, and punted just once on the entire season.
Nouvel got 175 yards of passing from Hausbeck, who completed 11 of his 26 passes. Kujawa had 91 yards of receptions and two touchdowns. Hausbeck was sacked seven times.
Whiteford’s defense gave up two late scores to Nouvel, who came into the game undefeated and making its first state finals appearance since winning the title in 2011. Hunter Lake led the Bobcat defense with six tackles and a first quarter fumble recovery. Ian Slick had two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Mensing, in his sixth year at Whiteford, said the community’s support is a big part of the team’s success. Whiteford’s fans filled its Ford Field side of the stadium.
“There are so many people that go into something like this,” Mensing said. “I’m happy for everyone in the community to get to experience this.”