By DOUG DONNELLY
They say flattery is the best compliment.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate head coach Michael Pruchnicki said when he set out nine years ago to build a program, he watched closely what Bobcat head coach Jason Mensing was putting together at Whiteford.
“We’ve had really good kids and good families,” Pruchnicki said. “We’re trying to replicate a lot of the things coach Mensing has done at Whiteford. Our team is growing. We had 15 varsity players when we played at Whiteford in 2017. We have 34 players now and hopefully we can continue that trend.”
Everest Collegiate will bring its squad to Whiteford for the Division 8 regional championship game, to be played at 1 p.m. Saturday. It’s a match-up of the two highest scoring teams left in Division 8 for the right to play in next weekend’s semifinal. The winner will make the semifinals and play either top-ranked Hudson (11-0) or White Pigeon (10-1).
The Mountaineers beat Summerfield in a Regional final last season, then had to forfeit its semifinal appearance due to COVID-19. The Mountaineers opened the season with a loss to Division playoff qualifier Montrose but have been on a tear since. They have scored 447 points this season, the second-most of any Division 8 team behind Whiteford.
The team relies on athletic quarterback Joseph Thibodeau, who runs well and spreads the ball around to multiple receivers. So far this season he has completed 65 of 114 passes for 894 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s rushed for 626 yards and another 12 TDs. Last season he was the team’s top receiver and kicker but moved to quarterback this year.
“He’s done a nice job for us,” Pruchnicki said.
Offensive lineman Noah Beauchamp anchors what Pruchnicki called the best line he’s had at Everest.
“I don’t know if it compares to the line Whiteford has, but it’s been the best we’ve had here,” he said.
Nathan Beggs leads the Mountaineers in rushing with 948 yards on 139 attempts. He’s scored 19 touchdowns and made five 2-point conversions. Johnny Nedwick has added 458 yards on the ground. The top Mountaineer receiver is Nedwick, with 36 catches for 579 yards. The next closest on the team in receptions in Jimmy Nedwick with 10.
Mensing said Everest lines up in multiple formations and likes to run out of the spread.
“They are well coached,” Mensing said. “They are a disciplined team who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Pruchnicki helped start the Mountaineer program, which is now in its ninth season. They have gone 71-22 and made the playoffs every season.
“They have become a powerhouse,” Mensing said. ‘They set the standard in their league.”
Whiteford beat Everest 60-20 in the 2017 Regional final on their way to the Division 8 state championship. This season the Bobcats are the highest scoring team in Division 8, reaching 50 points seven times in 11 games. Their only loss was to Edon Northwest, a 11-1 still alive in the Ohio prep playoffs.
Cole Giesige (1,163 yards) is the top Bobcat rusher and Shea Ruddy (1,110 yards) is a 1,000-yard passer for the second time in his career. Giesige also leads the team in receiving yards (293) and touchdowns (26). In addition to Giesige, the Bobcats have three other runners with at least 500 yards on the ground.
Giesige has 1,796 all-purpose yards counting his rushing, receiving, kickoff returns, punt returns, and interception returns.
“We have to find a way to stop their running game, which is going to be tough,” Pruchnicki said, adding that ball security and getting some big plays on offense are the other keys to the game for his squad.
The Bobcats have had a great season offensively, but the defense has come on strong as well. Whiteford has three shutouts this season and has 20 takeaways, including 11 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. The Bobcats have lost just one fumble all season.
Sophomore middle linebacker Jake Iott leads the Bobcats with 91 tackles. Noah Bauman, a senior two-way tackle who has played four years on the varsity, has 12 tackles for loss and has three fumble recoveries.
“We’re excited for this opportunity and are looking forward to the challenge,” Mensing said. “They are an outstanding football team and we’re going to have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”