It’s not just John Schwartz’ .864 career winning percentage or his 255 victories while at the helm of the Mendon football team that’s extremely impressive. The way in which he gets reserves quality minutes, instructs them to play hard and be productive while trying to stay out of the end zone in most second halves is a testament to his coaching ability.
The Hornets once again did their heavy lifting in the first two quarters, forcing a running clock en route to a 58-0 homecoming victory Friday over White Pigeon. Mendon completed the St. Joseph Valley slate 3-0 for the program’s 26th league championship and 15th since Schwartz arrived.
Division 8’s No. 2-ranked outfit jumped on the injury-depleted Chiefs with touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to close out the first quarter. Elijah Klepper scored on a 48-yard run before hauling in a 46-yard pass from quarterback Jordan Medich minutes later for a 14-0 advantage.
Kaleb McCarroll hit a hole up the middle for a 16-yard TD, Danny Cleveland found the end zone from two yards out and Medich ran for an 18-yard score in the second quarter. After Medich’s four-yard touchdown run early in the third frame to give Mendon a 41-0 lead, Schwartz made sweeping substitutions.
Then began the truly tricky part of coaching.
“It’s nice to get those kids in,” he said. “It’s just frustrating to try to get them into the right place at the right time. It’s a lot of work. You really get tired after games like this. You’re getting the right people in, making sure you’re not scoring but having them play hard. You want them to keep playing hard [or else] that’s how you get hurt.”
Sometimes scoring just can’t be helped. Brandon Bray crossed the goal line from three yards out, Robert Riley kicked a 21-yard field goal when the Hornets could have tried for a TD and Klepper capped an incredible night with an interception returned 48 yards for a TD in the closing seconds.
“He can do that,” Schwartz said of Klepper’s all-around performance, which included two tackles and a fumble recovery from the linebacker position. “He hurt his thigh early in the year in the Cass game. We didn’t dress him [for two weeks]. He’s actually our backup tailback. He can play; that kid can play. He’s smart and you haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s a big, big part of our offense.”
Click here for our video interview with Elijah Klepper.
Klepper, a junior, turned 17 on Thursday, had a big first half Friday and watched his girlfriend be honored as Homecoming Queen at halftime. He finished with a team-high 97 yards on just four carries.
“White Pigeon did play really well in the beginning,” Klepper said. “They stuck us hard and we couldn’t move the ball very well. But this team is really good. We’re so tight-knit and we’re a great family.”
Medich completed 8 of 12 passing attempts for 122 yards and added 47 rushing yards on six takes. Cleveland posted 81 yards on six carries, Brandon Bray picked up 49 yards on six runs and McCarroll finished with 10 carries for 73 yards.
Mendon wracked up 469 yards of total offense and held the Chiefs to 67. White Pigeon (4-3, 2-1 SJV) was in trouble offensively from the start when senior running back Chas Rathburn went down with a right knee injury. He didn’t return to the game, and White Pigeon coach Joseph Morsaw wasn’t sure how serious the injury was immediately following the contest.
“It’s kind of hard to tell,” he said. “He didn’t hear a pop. It might just be one of those little things that he can play with it or not play with it. We’ll find out this week.”
There’s a litany of other medical checkups also required for the Chiefs after a physical encounter with Mendon. Junior quarterback Dylan Hochstetler took a shot to the chin that might have resulted in a fracture. He played through the pain and didn’t appear to have concussion symptoms, but he complained of “clicking” in his jaw.
Wide receiver/safety Donavon Gremore (junior) was hit hard in the ribs and was sidelined for a good portion of the game.
“It was actually almost all of our skilled players that we need here,” Morsaw said. “We had this happen last year and it was almost like a triage unit and that’s pretty much what we were doing tonight. We had kids getting reps all week but not the kind of reps our first team was getting, so that killed us.”
Hochstetler and Matt Eger combined for 4-of-15 passing for 21 yards and two picks. Cahil Krajniak rushed 12 times for 31 yards and Eger ran twice for 16 yards.
“They hit us every year we play them,” Schwartz said of White Pigeon’s toughness. “They give us a good effort and that’s really good for us.”
But for now, the Mendon machine appears unstoppable. The Hornets have outscored their seven opponents 360-13 this season. In 12 games last fall, and with a veteran QB running the show, Mendon scored 390 total points.
“We’re a lot better team than last year for sure,” Klepper said. “I just wanted to win the last SJV title. It means so much to our school to win that. The last time we lost it was ’06, so we wanted to end it strong.”
“The SJV is over and we won the last one,” Schwartz said.