By DOUG DONNELLY
ALLEN PARK – Levi Hillard made an impact on Friday’s playoff game at just the right time.
The Whiteford junior was part of a huge fourth quarter for the Bobcats, who twice came back from 14-point deficits to defeat Detroit Leadership Academy 46-34 and set up a district final against rival Summerfield.
Hillard caught a 52-yard pass – Whiteford’s only completion of the game – to set up Whiteford’s first fourth-quarter touchdown, then intercepted a pass to set up another as the Bobcats beat the Cougars for their fifth straight win.
“I was just reading the quarterback,” Hillard said of the interception. “When he rolled out, I was looking at his eyes. He threw it right to me. They ran that play earlier. I took advantage of it. I was just so happy I caught it and helped us secure the win.”
The defensive stop was huge for Whiteford who had traded touchdowns all night with the Cougars. On their very next offensive play, Bobcat quarterback Shea Ruddy caught a great block from Cole Giesige and ran 71 yards down the sideline for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter and a 12-point Bobcat lead with less than five minutes left.
“We just played our hearts out,” Hillard said.
The Bobcats fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before Giesige put the Bobcats on the board with a 34-yards touchdown that allowed the young Whiteford team to catch their breath. But, Leadership came right back when outstanding athlete Jaheim Stokes completed a 27-yard touchdown to Michael Lee and the Cougars were back up 14, 20-6.
The Bobcats, however, put together a great second quarter with senior running back Devon Shaw scoring three touchdowns and giving Whiteford a 30-28 lead at the half.
The two teams were scoreless in the third quarter, but Leadership grabbed a 34-30 lead with 11:06 left in the game on a 2-yard touchdown by Stokes.
Whiteford scored quickly, however, as Ruddy covered 11 yards on a run with 9:40 left to give the Bobcats a 38-34 lead. Hillard set up that score with the long pass play.
The Bobcat defense stiffened on Leadership’s next two possessions and Whiteford pulled out the win.
“We had some big issues in our first two possessions of the game,” Bobcat coach Jason Mensing said. “But our kids kept playing hard and they played very physical and I think those are the reasons we were able to win the game.
Shaw continued his late-season work load with 24 carries for 174 yards. Ruddy had 147 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Giesige had 39 yards rushing. Noah Bauman had 11 tackles on defense for Whiteford and Hillard 10.
Mensing said the Bobcats evolving offense, which mainly is run out of a no-huddle, helped wear down the Cougars.
“We’re running some up-tempo stuff offensively,” Mensing said. “I think that makes a difference. When you are running tempo you have the ability to get back into a game quicker and make big plays.”
Stokes led all rushers with 201 yards and also had 91 yards passing for the Cougars.