By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – Jason Mensing already has a lifetime of memories at Adrian College. But there’s room for one more.
The Whiteford football coach is an Adrian College graduate who grew up on the campus and on the football sidelines as his father, Henry, coached football for the Bulldogs and was a longtime athletic director at the Lenawee County college.
On Saturday, Mensing will return “home” when his 11-1 Bobcats look to make the Mensing family another good memory at Adrian College as Whiteford takes on the 12-0 Hudson Tigers in the Division 8 semifinal. It’s Mensing’s first time ever coaching a high school football game at the school where he played college football.
“It’s certainly a homecoming,” Mensing said. “I have a lot of great memories at Adrian College. People always asked me if I was a Michigan fan or Michigan State and I’d tell them I was an Adrian College fan. My Saturday college football experiences were always at Adrian College.”
Mensing never played at the current Adrian College football stadium, but his father played a big role in its construction.
Whiteford will have its handful Saturday as the Bobcats look to deconstruct the Tigers, who have been ranked atop the Division 8 rankings for most of the season. It’s the highest-scoring offense in Division 8 in Whiteford against the lowest-scoring defense, Hudson.
“They’ve only allowed 14 points in seven weeks, so it’s going to be a challenge to score against them,” Mensing said. “They are very physical, have some talented kids and are well-coached. We’re certainly going to have to be at our best.”
The Bobcats are playing as well as any Whiteford team has since the 2017 team won the Division 8 state title under Mensing. A core group of five seniors, a three-year junior quarterback and an ultra-talented sophomore class has the Bobcats eyeing a return to Ford Field for another crack at a state title.
The seniors are two-way tackle Noah Bauman, tight end Jack Andrews, end Ty Ruddy, linebacker Levi Hillard and running back Cole Giesige, who is among the statewide leaders in scoring with 29 touchdowns on the season.
The quarterback in junior Shea Ruddy, who has passed for more than 1,000 yards and led the Bobcats in rushing each of the last three games. The sophomore class includes leading tackler Jake Iott, an inside linebacker, and fullback Drew Knaggs, who is a workhorse fullback in Whiteford’s staple double-wing offense.
“It’s a typical Whiteford team,” said Hudson coach Dan Rogers. “They get downhill and are very physical. Plus, they can spread it out on you. We’re going to have to play well. They can do so many different things. They run at you and try and run over you, but they can pass too. You have to be mindful of that all times.”
Hudson’s defense is led by Payton Rogers, the son of the head coach. He’s the top tackler on the team and a fierce competitor. Hudson has seven shutouts in 12 games this season, one shy of the school record.
Offensively, Nick Kopin has rushed for 1,397 yards but is hardly the only backfield threat. Brendan Akers has 856 yards on 179 attempts and Bronson Marry has 509 yards. Ambrose Horwath is the leading receiving threat for Hudson, having caught 19 of the 31 completed passes Hudson has had this season. He has 308 yards and five touchdowns.
The Tigers split their quarterback duties among Anthony Arredondo and Kannon Marry. Arredondo appears to be more of a passing threat with 25 completions for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Marry has complete just 6 of 12 passes. Both are juniors.
In the regional final win over White Pigeon, the Tigers alternated quarterbacks on every play. Hudson huddles up after every play, breaks the huddle and sprints to the line of scrimmage. It gives the defense little time to adjust for formations.
“What they are doing is very unique,” Mensing said. “They key for us is being in the right formation defensively.”
This is Hudson’s first semifinal appearance since 2011. They are 4-3 all-time in semifinal appearances and 1-3 in state championship games.
Whiteford and Hudson have never met on the football field.
“It’s a good time to be the first,” Rogers said.