By Tino Abarca
Special to JoeInsider.com
HOWELL —Rainey, cold and sleek conditions awaited the Mendon football team Saturday in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 8 state semifinals at Howell High School. Unfortunately, so did Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s juggernaut of an offense.
In a matchup between undefeated squads, the Bobcats were unfazed by the inclement conditions and all but cemented their spot in next week’s state championship game at Ford Field by halftime, beating Mendon 50-21 to return to the big stage.
The Hornets’ struggles were evident early on, as they failed to slow down the Bobcat offense, and showed difficulty holding on to the ball. In the first half alone, Mendon fumbled the ball five times, losing two of those. That led to a plethora of opportunities for the Bobcats, who lost to Muskegon Catholic Central in last year’s championship game, to capitalize – which they did.
“We just got behind the ball early,” Mendon head coach Bobby Kretschman said. “It’s hard to recover against a good team like that. All the turnovers and things like that, we just didn’t play characteristic Mendon football.”
Whiteford running back Zack Bertz shined in his semifinal outing, scoring three total touchdowns on 52 yards in just the first half. Bertz finished the contest with 71 all-purpose yards. Quarterback Tom Eitniear passed for 106 yards and threw for three touchdowns. Logan Murphy did most of the heavy lifting with 152 yards on 15 carries.
Mendon fullback Wyatt Cool rushed for 93 yards and tacked on two touchdowns in his final game for the Hornets. He capped off the night’s scoring with a 22-yard rush.
“He is [a leader],” said Kretschman of Cool. “He had some good runs today. He ran hard.”
Despite Cool’s effort, not many other facets of the Hornets’ offense clicked throughout the game. Credit goes to Whiteford’s defense, which forced five turnovers.
“They’re good,” said Kretschman. They’re just physical. They get on you and they block really well.”
Scoring 60 points last week against Clarkston Everest Collegiate, Whiteford’s balanced attack never slowed down enough for Kretschman and his squad to mount a comeback.
The Bobcats found the end zone on a 15-yard Logan Murphy run and 28-yard pass from Eitniear to Braydyn Clark Gilmore in the first quarter. Bertz rushed for two scores and caught a TD pass in the second period. Matt Taylor hauled in a 36-yard TD pass in the third quarter and Ty Eitniear returned a kickoff 50 yards for a score in the fourth.
Whiteford outgunned Mendon 360-241 and forced a total of five Mendon turnovers.
“They’re a very good football team, I wish them well in the final. I’d love to see them go on and win the whole thing,” said Kretschman.
Cool ran hard despite a seeming insurmountable 36-7 halftime deficit. Austin Rensi, who scored a 5-yard rushing touchdown, finished with 77 yards on the ground for Mendon.
Cool said, “to be good runner you got to want the ball. You got to want the ball… we just weren’t our normal selves today.”
“Even though things weren’t going our way, we never gave up. Kept on driving. We’ve had tough games before… today just wasn’t our day,” said Cool.
Mendon played the semifinal game with five seniors and faced injury trouble, including the absence of starting center Kaden Frye, who broke his leg against Climax-Scotts. But Kretschman took the time after the loss to show how much those outgoing players meant to him and the program.
With Mendon huddled together, disappointed, in the shadows of Whiteford’s celebration, Kretschman made it a special moment for his seniors. He gave each one a hug and then sent them off to their families.
“I’m proud of these kids, I’m proud of these seniors,” said Kretschman. “This is a great season for a program. Didn’t end the way we wanted it to today, but Whiteford is a heck of a football team.”
Gilmore and Ty Eitnear both had interceptions for the Bobcats, while Abba Risley led the squad with nine tackles. Mikki Feister paced the Hornets with 12 tackles and Cool finished with eight. Sam Cleveland added a sack and six tackles defensively for Mendon. Corbin Weinberg and Hunter Lovell recovered fumbles.