After a month at home, Bobcats go on road for semifinal contest

By DOUG DONNELLY

OTTAWA LAKE – The last time the Whiteford Bobcats went on the road for a football game the weather was still in the 60s, the trees still had leaves on them, and kids were still deciding what to be for Halloween.

That was October 7 and the Bobcats beat Kalamazoo Loy Norrix 66-7 in Week 7 of the regular season as quarterback Shea Ruddy broke the school record with five touchdown passes in the game.

The Bobcats are set to go on the road again this weekend when they put their 12-0 record on the line against Clarkston Everest Collegiate in the Division 8 semifinal at Woodhaven High School. Whiteford is the home team by virtue of having more playoff points than any other Division 8 school, but the game is being played at a neutral site because it’s the semifinal round.

“We are excited to be traveling for the Semi-Final Game,” Whiteford head coach Todd Thieken said. “We kind of figured after beating Loy Norrix we would be home throughout the playoffs. Traveling now means we have achieved our goals and won the first three games of the playoffs.

“The kids all season have adjusted to many different changes, and I don’t see this as being an issue for them. The approach has always been to get ready and play football.”

The Bobcats are in the semifinals for the second year in a row and fifth time since 2015. This time it’s about a 40-mile trip for the Bobcats who are facing a Mountaineer team they have played twice before in the playoffs. Both times Everest had to come to Whiteford. This time it’s a neutral site.

“The good thing is its about 45 minutes closer,” said Everest Collegiate head coach Michael Pruchnicki.

The area isn’t unfamiliar to Pruchnicki, who is the son of former Flat Rock head coach Joe Pruchnicki. He continues to build an outstanding program at Everest Collegiate, where he got the program off the ground in 2013. He’s now 80 wins in and has had the Mountaineers in the playoffs every season.

The Mountaineers present a spread offense look but they run out of it about half of the time. They graduated many of the key components of the offense that got them into the regional final against Whiteford last season.

“We are fairly young,” Pruchnicki said. “We had a lot of guys to replace. We’ve played pretty well.”

Sophomore Patrick Cooper is the Mountaineer quarterback and sophomore Jimmy Nedwick is the team’s top rusher.

Everest Collegiate plays in the Catholic High School League-Intersectional 2, where they finished second behind Marine City Cardinal Mooney. They lost to Mooney in the regular season but came back to beat them in the playoffs. Collegiate’s other losses were to Montrose (27-0) and New Lothrop (55-0).

Pruchnicki compared Whiteford to New Lothrop.

“We have to try and find ways to stop their run,” he said. “There doesn’t appear to be anyone that has been able to do that so far.”

 Thieken said the Bobcats have a challenge in front of them.

“They are a really good football team,” he said. “They are very sound offensively and defensively. Their quarterback is a very good player and will post a challenge for us to defend”

Whiteford has been ranked No. 1 all season in Division 8. The Bobcat offensive line of center Kyle Gray, guards Brayden Luse and Shane Suchora and tackles Jack Iott and Owen Knaggs has pushed most of Whiteford’s opponents around to the tune of 325 yards rushing a game and 7.4 yards per carry.

Hunter DeBarr and Jake Iott both are 1,000-yard rushers for the Bobcats. Ruddy, who will be making his 12th playoff start at quarterback, has more than 1,100 yards passing and 600 yards rushing.

Iott is the school record holder for tackles in a season with 180 and has 10 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

“They are physical,” Pruchnicki said. “That’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Whiteford (12-0) vs. Everest Collegiate (9-3)

Division 8 semifinal

Game: 1 p.m. Saturday

Location: Woodhaven High School

Whiteford playoff history: The Bobcats have won 29 all-time playoff games in 23 years of qualifying. This is the fifth time the Bobcats are in the semifinals since 2015.

Everest Collegiate playoff history: The Mountaineers have made the playoffs every season they have had football, which the program started in 2013. They reached the semifinals in 2020 by beating Summerfield.

Series: Whiteford leads 2-0.

Whiteford statistical leaders: Jake Iott 128 rushes for 1,061 yards, 21 touchdowns and 34 two-point conversions, 180 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five fumble recoveries; Hunter DeBarr 124 rushes for 1,061 yards and 9 touchdowns, 16 receptions for 361 yards and seven touchdowns; Shea Ruddy 57 completions on 94 passes for 1,120 yards and 19 touchdowns, 69 rushes for 610 yards; Kolby Masserant 18 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns; Ryin Ruddy 14 receptions for 270 yards and eight touchdowns, 103 tackles, 4 interceptions.

Whiteford coach Todd Thieken (1st season, 12-0): “We are going to be prepared to play. I just want to make sure the kids realize what they have achieved and make sure that they enjoy the experience of playing in the semis again.”

Everest Collegiate coach Michael Pruchnicki (10th season, 80-26): “It’s a pretty typical team like we’ve had. We have kids who work hard, have good chemistry and play as a team. We’re a little bit of a young team. We are more balanced. We are playing well as a team.”

Up next: The Whiteford-Everest winner will play the Iron Mountain vs. Ubly winner at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25 at Ford Field in Detroit in the Division 8 state championship game.

Here are some additional Notes/Stats/Rosters to get you ready for Saturday’s Semifinal game:

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