MENDON — Mendon football coach John Schwartz undoubtedly cares about every young man on the roster. He just skips the warm and fuzzy part.
“You play like that next Saturday and you’re going to lose,” he said minutes after the Hornets’ 13-0 victory Saturday over co-No. 6 Climax-Scotts in a Division 8 district finals game.”
He’s right, and the team concurred. But even without a stellar offensive effort in extremely windy conditions, the Hornets did just enough against a determined Panthers defense. Mendon’s own defensive display afforded the offense time to figure things out and set up a regional rematch with Muskegon Catholic Central, which has shared the No. 6 spot with Climax-Scotts since the end of the regular season.
The Crusaders, which beat Mendon 28-6 last year, are 9-2 after losing their first two games of the year against Class A’s Muskegon Mona Shores and Grand Rapids Catholic Central. They crushed Fowler 42-0 Saturday for a district title.
“They are probably in the top couple teams in the state of Michigan,” Schwartz said. “We’re wishing we were in Division 7 or 6 right now. But you know what? They’re coming down here and we’re going to play hard and we’ll play better than we did last year, that’s for sure.”
Video interview with John Schwartz
Though it looked like the second-ranked Hornets (11-0) were going to pile up points just as they had all season after on opening possession yielded a five-yard touchdown run by Kaleb McCarroll, Mendon came up empty on several other marches to the red zone.
A clock-draining drive in the third quarter spilled over into the fourth but ended with an errant pass on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Senior linebacker Derek Zagon and Co. went to work and shut down Climax-Scotts (9-2) moments later on three consecutive play, forcing the Panthers to punt straight into a powerful wind. The kick traveled just 17 yards.
Mendon took over at the opponent’s 27-yard line. After a sack backed the Hornets up to the 38, McCarroll ripped off runs of 16 and 18 yards. Elijah Klepper did the rest on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line with 7:41 to play in the game.
It was the program’s eighth shutout of the year, but clearly the biggest scare of the season for a team that has outscored its opponents by just over 46 points per game this fall. As expected Climax-Scotts coach Kevin Langs had his group ready to play.
“They were physical and then we got ourselves caught because they took the ball down with the wind,” Langs said. “We were into the wind and had a tough time throwing and a tough time punting, so we couldn’t get out of our end. The defense didn’t allow us to sustain a drive either, so you give them credit. But you’ve got to give Climax-Scotts a little bit of credit, too.”
There was a ray of hope for the Panthers, which mustered only 86 yards of total offense, when Mendon quarterback Robert Riley and receiver Kyle Wiswell couldn’t connect early in the fourth quarter with a 6-0 lead.
“I’m thinking we just need to catch a break offensively,” Langs said. “If we can catch one break down here and it goes 7-6 and we hang on … but it doesn’t.”
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Riley completed 3 of 7 passing attempts for 45 yards for Mendon, which abandoned its throwing attack for two quarters when it fought the wind. McCarroll finished with 143 rushing yards on 32 carries and Klepper pounded out 83 hard yards on 18 takes. Zagon led the way with eight tackles, followed by Josh Hawkins (five), Wiswell (three) and Hunter Stienbarger (three).
“There are some kids we’re a little disappointed in,” Schwartz said. “They know; they watch film. We’re going to get better.”