By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – Two teams that have dominated opponents this season will square off Friday night in the Division 8 District final in Reading.
The host Rangers take on the defending Division 8 state champions, the Whiteford Bobcats. Both teams are 10-0. Reading has scored 519 points and allowed 88. Whiteford has scored 536 and allowed just 80.
The offenses for both teams have been outstanding all season. The Bobcats have forced a running clock in nine of its 10 games, including last week in the District semifinal against No. 1 ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian.
“Nobody is going to stop them,” Reading coach Rick Bailey said about the Bobcats. “But, you hope to contain them some. You do that by doing your part on offense, extending drives and controlling the football.”
Bailey was impressed with what he saw on film of the Bobcats.
“They have big-play capability with their run game and passing game,” he said.
The Bobcats are averaging 53.6 points per game and 415.3 yards of offense a game. The bulk of that – 327.9 yards – have come via the ground game. Logan Murphy (92-1,104), Zack Bertz (39-570) and Hunter Lake (33-462) and D’Ondre Shaw (47-398) lead the Bobcat rushing attack that has produced 52 of Whiteford’s 72 touchdowns.
The Bobcat running backs run behind a line of seniors Nicholas Donnelly at center, Bryce Wing and Ian Slick at guards and Bradyn Clark-Gilmore and Nathan Bauman at tight end. Junior Josh Hagan has started all 10 games at tackle and freshman Noah Bauman has started all games at the other tackle.
Ty Eitniear is completing 63.6% of his passes for 874 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception. That came in Week 3 against Summerfield.
Record-setting receiver Bradyn Clark-Gilmore averages more than 30 yards a catch and has nine touchdown receptions this season.
Bobcat coach Jason Mensing said this week’s focus in practice has been fine-tuning that high-powered offense.
“We’re not installing anything new,” Mensing said. “Every other week you are growing your package and doing a little more and giving teams different looks, but at this point, were focused on refining things.”
Reading’s offense is just as high-powered. Speedy running back Ethan LoPresto has gained 1,954 yards on 154 carries and scored 25 touchdowns. Ranger quarterback Alex Price is 48-for-77 passing for 752 yards.
“LoPresto has a special talent,” Bailey said. “He runs hard and is very fast.”
“LoPresto is as talented of a back as we’ve seen all year,” Mensing said. “He ranks up there with (Alec) Muck, (Dylan) Amos and (Izaak) Angel and some of the other good backs we’ve seen this year.”
The seventh-year Bobcat coach said Reading has been impressive.
“They are extremely well-coached and give you a lot of different looks,” Mensing said. “They will challenge you defensively and they play physical.”
Bailey called this year’s Rangers one of his best teams in his 31 years of coaching. Several of his seniors are three-year starters brought up to the varsity as sophomores. They started the season 0-5 but won three straight games to close out the season. The team is 21-4 since that 0-5 start in 2016.
“They had a nice sophomore year,” Bailey said. “The wins and losses didn’t show it, but they were competitive in every game. I think they realized they were going to be something special.”
Reading went 8-3 last season, losing in the Division 7 District final to Cassopolis. Reading’s last District championship came in 2008, the same year the Rangers went to the state semifinal.
Whiteford has won 24 straight games and is trying to make a deep playoff run for the fourth consecutive seasons. Whiteford went to the semifinals in 2015 and made the state championship game each of the past two seasons. In 2016, Whiteford lost to Muskegon Catholic Central at Ford Field and last year beat Saginaw Nouvel to win the first state football championship in school history.
Mensing said the team and community is geared up for this week’s game – and a chance to bring home another trophy.
“Everyone is excited,” Mensing said. “Everyone knows it’s a great challenge. That’s what they signed up for.”