TOLEDO – Cedar Pointe is closed for the season but for lovers of roller coasters becoming a fan of the Toledo Whitmer football fan might hold you over until the amusement park opens again next spring.
All season long the Panther games have been an up and down experience and Saturday night was no different as the Panthers came from behind to take a 51-37 win over Wadsworth.
As the teams left the field at halftime, it did not look too promising for the Panthers. They had failed to establish that they could run against the solid Wadsworth defense and, under such circumstances, the ten point Grizzlies’ ten-point halftime lead looked like a hundred. However, the Panthers have not given up all season and Whitmer head coach Joe Palka made sure during his halftime instructions that his young men did not forget this.
“We just keep playing until the final gun goes off and, more often than not, we've been on top. We were down 10 at halftime and that's how much we were down in both our playoff wins last year. Our kids keep battling back all the time. We're so used to it. They just make the plays they need to when it counts.”
The game’s first quarter was a case of teams trading goals. Defense was at a premium.
The Panthers scored first when Anthony Allen (13 carries, 82 yards) ran off tackle and scampered 16 yards into the Grizzlies’ end zone. The Panther goal came on their possession but when Allen took the ball from quarterback Donnie Dottei on his way to the game’s first TD, it would be the last time that he did so in the first half.
“There was nothing wrong with Anthony. Circumstances made it necessary for us to some things differently. Eventually we were able to get him back into the offense and he made a huge contribution,” said coach Palka.
Subsequent to Whitmer’s opening salvo, Wadsworth answered quickly. It took the Grizzlies only three minutes to take the ball 51 yards as the workhorse running back Dru Jones (29 carries, 174 yards) scored the first of his two touchdowns.
The first quarter ended with the Panthers scoring their second touchdown. This time the Panthers went through the air to put points on the board as quarterback Donnie Dottei found his University of Michigan bound tight end, Kevin Koger open in the end zone and threw a perfect pass into Koger’s hands.
In the second quarter the Grizzlies demonstrated the offensive firepower that allowed them to defeat nine opponents this season. Beginning with a 25-yard Wes Reed field goal and then two touchdowns, one on a Bart Randolph one-yard plunge and the other on a touchdown strike from quarterback Scott Saylor to Dru Jones the Grizzlies took a 27-14 lead into the warmth of the locker room at halftime.
As much as the second quarter belonged to Wadsworth, the third quarter belonged to Whitmer. Although the Panthers still trailed 30-28 as the third quarter ended, their ability to move the ball at will began to take its toll and set up the heroics and the 23 points that the Panthers scored in the fourth quarter.
“(Whitmer) just has great athletes,” said Wadsworth coach Greg Dennison. “They just simply wore us down. They have too many good athletes for us to stay with them.”
In the fourth quarter the Grizzlies held a brief 37-36 lead but the final ten minutes of the game was all Whitmer and when the final gun sounded the Panthers had a deceptively easy 51-37 win. Scoring for the Panthers in the final frame, was Anthony Allen on a 6-yard romp, Dottei on a one-yard sneak, and Julian Nash (16-75 yards) on another 6-yard run.
Palka, who was unusually calm following such an exciting win, identified this as one of his most unusual victories but one that he never felt his team could not win.
“My guys just keep on playing and finding a way to get it done. They will not quit.”