By Corey Rhodes
THREE RIVERS — After a turnaround season in 2012, the Three Rivers football program was in a hurry to prove it could build on recent successes.
During Thursday night’s season opener, the Wildcats wasted very little time doing exactly that.
Sparked by big plays on both sides of the ball, Three Rivers opened up its campaign with a 60-0 win over visiting rival Comstock.
“It felt like the whole team came together to play for each other,” said senior quarterback Alex Cottingham. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great way to start out the season.”
Three Rivers opened up the scoring on its first drive of the game, when senior tailback Ray King punched in a 2-yard run and Kyle Boody knocked in the extra point to put the Wildcats up 7-0. King was the key cog on that drive, rushing the ball six times for 42 yards.
It was an important start for King, who will be relied on to be a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. He finished the game with 11 carries for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Last year I didn’t get a lot of playing time,” said King, ”…but this year I know what I’ve got to do to take our team all the way.”
After recovering a Comstock football on the ensuing Colts’ possession, Three Rivers added to its lead by continuing to control the line of scrimmage. Cottingham capped off the Wildcats’ second possession with a 2-yard touchdown run. Cottingham added a 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and also threw a 56-yard touchdown to senior Kyle Walczak.
“I couldn’t be any happier with the offensive line,” said Cottingham. “They made big holes for us so we could run the ball wherever we wanted to.”
Mistakes quickly began to put the game out of reach for Comstock, which botched a snap on its first punt attempt of the game, and later failed on a fake punt attempt. That went along with two fumbles lost in the first half.
“Things got a little bit away from us early, then it really started to snowball with mistakes,” said Comstock coach Bob Cole. “We’ve got a young team. They’re learning.”
With a heavy lead in hand, Three Rivers broke the game open early in the second quarter when Cottingham hit junior running back Bailey Miholer-Wortinger on a bubble screen. What looked to be a moderate gain turned into a haymaker of sorts, as Miholer-Wortinger worked his way through countless defenders en route to a 60-yard score.
On the very next Comstock possession, the Three Rivers defense added to the fireworks, as junior defensive back Zak Zagon intercepted a pass and returned it 84 yards down to the Comstock 2-yard line. An outstretched Zagon appeared to sneak inside the endzone pylon, but was ruled out of bounds just shy of the endzone.
With a comfortable second-half lead and a running clock, Three Rivers turned to running back by committee, as King, Mike James, Todd Parker and Milholer-Wortinger all got time at tailback. The trio was effective, leading the way as Three Rivers ran at will in a shortened second half.
If the Wildcats intend on making the running game a priority this season, Thursday night perhaps demonstrated that they have enough capable legs to do so.
“I think everybody, even the spread schools…once you can establish the run it makes it easier to throw,” said Three Rivers coach JJ Wagner. “But Ray’s a good back, Bailey’s a good back. We’re pretty fortunate to have them both.”
The Wildcats will hope to carry the momentum into their week two opponent, which is a Plainwell team that Wagner described as “very physical.”
Even so, with one game in the books, Three Rivers is on the right path towards proving that 2012 wasn’t a fluke.
“To win is always awesome, we played as a team I feel like,” said Zagon. “We can always get better from here in the season. I feel like we’re going to be good.”