|Photos by Molly Brown|
The DeWitt Panthers have played a lot of great games over the years, but perhaps none as exciting at the 2012 Division 3 District Championship game at Linden.
The Panthers had a few wobbles through the 2012 season. Week one, the Panthers debuted a new quarterback in sophomore Jacob Johnson taking over Coach Rob Zimmerman’s offensive scheme. The Panthers beat Mt. Pleasant, a Division 3 state finalist the previous year and their all-state running back Michael Tweh 38-14. Week two at Lansing Everett, Johnson broke his thumb in the second quarter when he hit the helmet of a Viking defender on a follow through on a pass. The Vikings routed the Panthers 38-10 on their way to an undefeated regular season. Jacob Heath took over at quarterback as the Panthers started the defense of their seventh straight Capital Area Activities Conference Red Division and DeWitt snuck past Ionia 10-7 and Haslett 28-27, beat St. Johns 34-20, Owosso 21-10 and Fowlerville 44-14 for a successful Conference Championship. The wheels fell off at Portland as the Raiders thumped DeWitt 37-7 on their march to the Division 5 state finals.
Week Nine, the Panthers got themselves back on track as Johnson returned with three touchdown passes and led DeWitt to an exciting 21-20 victory over undefeated Fruitport. The Trojans missed an extra point late in the game to tie, then missed a field goal on the last play of the game.
DeWitt drew Lapeer West (6-3) in a pre-district game at DeWitt. The game was back and forth for the entire game. Nate Trevino had tied the game on an exciting 49 yard TD early in the third quarter. Lapeer West scored with just over two minutes to go on a Monta Strangler 17 yard touchdown run. Johnson then led DeWitt on a masterful time saving 15 play, 70 yard drive and he scored on a seven yard touchdown run with just under 30 seconds to play. In overtime, Kyle Haskell's defense held Lapeer West out of the end zone and Johnson scored on a 10 yard run on the first play to give the Panthers the win.
Your reward for late win over then undefeated Fruitport, an overtime win over Lapeer West with a last-minute drive to tie in regulation in the first round of the playoffs? You face Denny Hopkins' 5th ranked Linen Eagles at Linden’s Cranston Field with their all-state quarterback Shane Brown leading a high powered offense. The Eagles entered the contest at 9-1, defeating Fenton in week one 17-15. Their only loss was in week five to Lapeer West 13-10. Other than those two games, the Eagles scored less than 40 points only once and ripped through the last four weeks of the Flint Metro League by a combined score of 132-6.
In the pre-district, Linden disposed of Lansing Waverly 55-13.
DeWitt traveled to Linden for the game. A large Linden crowed tailgated before the game and both sets of stands were full. It was a cold night with temperatures in the low 30s and a biting north wind. Linden kicked off and started on defense and held the Panthers to a three-and-out, and the Panthers returned the favor and held Linden to a three-and-out. On the punt, Mitch Juhl of Linden attempted a rugby style punt and the Panther’s Mitchell Tarn broke through the line and blocked the punt, giving the Panthers great field position at the Linden 47.Coach Zimmerman then showed a little razzle-dazzle when Jacob Johnson passed to Ryan Anderson in the right flat who then promptly pulled up and, with two Eagles on him, spun and launched a left handed sky rocket down field to a wide open Christopher Ruby at the 15 yard line who took it in for the first score of the night.
Linden answered with a five play 65 yard drive when Brown hit Patrick Ryan for a 10 yard touchdown to tie the game at 7. Linden then controlled most of the rest of the first half on offense. On their next possession they drove 70 yards in seven plays with Brown again connecting with Ryan on a 9 yard pass. Linden scored once more before the half, driving 80 yards in 16 plays with Cameron Cook kicking a 24 yard field goal, giving the Eagles a comfortable 17-7 lead a the half. Linden used a short passing game directed nicely by Brown and a tough run game by Juhl to keep the Panther defense on the field. DeWitt did get close enough late in the second quarter for Cameron West to attempt a 43 yard field goal, but the wind helped push the ball just to the left.
The second half started as the first half finished with Linden's short passing game and effective running by Juhl to control the ball, but the Panther defense showed determination by not allowing the Eagles to score in the second half. The Eagles had time consuming drives of 10 and 15 plays that ate most of the third quarter and into the fourth, but both times the Panther defense rose to the occasion deep in their own territory to stop the drives. Meanwhile the Panthers could not get a rhythm going offensively and had two three-and-out series.
Finally, with eight minutes to go in the game with the score still 17-7 in favor of Linden, the Panther offense started to click and drove 62 yards in six plays. Nate Trevino got the drive going with a 19 yard run and Johnson had a key 10 yard run on a third and 7. From the left hash, Johnson found Justice Shenkel in the right corner of the end zone for a beautiful 30 yard pass for the score. After West’s extra point, the Panthers were only down by 3. Linden was able to muster a few first downs but not able to run out the clock. The Panther defense once again found their heart and stopped Linden inside Panther territory and forced them to punt.
Then for the second week in row, with just under five minutes to play, the Panthers "Re-Lit the Fire". Trevino rushed for 13 yards and caught a swing pass for another nine yards and DeWitt was at mid-field. On a fourth-and-four at the Linden 45, Johnson fired a bullet to Trevino for a four yard and one inch gain. A 29 yard pass to Shenkel gave the Panthers a first down at the Linden 11 yard line. Trevino took it to the five and an incomplete pass and rush for no gain brought in Cameron West. Linden tried to "ice him" with a time out, but West calmly booted the 22 yard field goal tying the score at 17. West then booted the kickoff 9 yards into the end zone and Linden took a knee and we have overtime, overtime, overtime, overtime, overtime, overtime....
DeWitt won the toss and elected to go on defense first. Linden selected the end zone to the south, with a cold 10mph wind to their back. All overtimes were played at the south end of the field.
Overtime One: Linden gained zero yards on their first two plays, two incomplete passes by Brown to Marshal Drake and a rush for no gain. Third down, Brown passed to Drake who took it to the two yard line. After a Linden time out, Linden flooded the left side with receivers and Brown fired a low strike at Juhl. Seemingly from no-where, Shenkel dove and batted the ball away from Juhl's waiting hands. Turnover on downs. The Panthers first play was an option, the same play from the week before when Johnson scored in the overtime against Lapeer West. Johnson kept the ball but was hammered at the six and the ball squirted out and recovered by Linden. Still 17-17.
Overtime Two: The Panthers now had the ball first and on the first play Johnson hit Shenkel for a 10 yard TD pass. West made the extra point. Linden took two plays to score, a six yard run and four yard run by Juhl for the TD. Cook made the extra point. 24-24.
Overtime Three: A Brown 8 yard pass to Drake, one yard loss by Brown and a three yard run by Juhl gave Linden the lead. Cook made the extra-point. DeWitt's offense quickly quieted the large Linden crowd who sensed a victory when Johnson fired a 10 yard pass to Anderson on the first play to score. West made the extra point. 31-31.
Overtime Four: Once again, the Panthers have the ball first and Johnson fired a strike to Anderson on the first play again. West made the extra point. Linden took over and Brown hit Drake for a six yard gain, a one yard loss by Ed Waterhouse and on a third-and-five, Waterhouse scored on a five yard run around the end. Cook made the extra point. 38-38.
Overtime Five: Linden's Juhl rushed for four yards, Waterhouse for two. On third and four the Panther defense again stiffened and stuffed Juhl for no gain. On fourth down, Cook lined up for a 25 yard field goal and it was blocked by Noah Evans who shot the gap and sent the Panthers celebrating. With the Panthers seemingly in control, Lippert rushed for one yard twice and Zimmerman called in the steady West on third down for the field goal. The snap by Lippert was perfect, Anderson set the ball and West hit the ball true, but Juhl ruined the Panther celebration by blocking West's kick and ignited a huge roar from the Linden side. 38-38.
Overtime Six.: Panther offense back out on the field and Johnson fired a strike to Anderson on the first play for the touchdown. West made the extra point. Linden scored on two plays with Juhl rushing for six then four yards. Cook lined up for the extra point (below) and Tarn and Evans broke through the line with Tarn batting the ball away and ignited a wild Panther celebration. The players were jumping up and down, the coaches, the several hundred Panther fans, the coaches in the press box were all hugging and celebrating.
Athletic Director Teri Reyburn then had the privilege of handing out medals to all of the players and the district championship trophy to an excited Coach Zimmerman.
There have been many great football teams over the many years at DeWitt, many great victories and many tough defeats. This may be the greatest victory in Panther history.
Heros? Many. Anyone who wore blue and gold on the field, sideline, cheered on the track or fans and parents braved the low 30* weather to watch the game. The Panther offense who was good when it needed to be. The defense, who weathered the offense of Linden and their all-state quarterback. Five times during regulation the Panthers held Linden inside the red zone (inside the 20). Brown completed 31 of 45 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Juhl rushed 26 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Travis Hull caught 11 passes for 95 yards.
For DeWitt, Jimmy Melton had 13 tackles, Dan Mullaney 11, Ben Zamiara 10, Zachary Deak 10, Evans 13 tackles and a sack and blocked kick, Tarn nine tackles and caused a fumble, recovered a fumble, blocked a punt and extra point, Cameron Cleminson six tackles and a sack. For the offense, Johnson was 15 of 29 for 210 yards and five touchdowns, Anderson had seven catches for 105 yards and three scores, Justice Shenkel had three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, Noah Evans a TD catch for 30 yards, Trevino two catches for 13 yards and that big fouth down catch on the final drive of regulation. Ruby and Andrew Clements each had a catch and Ruby's was for the first score. Trevino had seven carries for 66 yards and Johnson carried it twelve times for 35 yards. And of course, Cameron West made the 22 yard field goal and was a perfect 6 for 6 on extra points with Anderson holding and Trevino snapping on a cold night.
The Panthers went on to defeat St. Johns for the regional championship the following week at DeWitt and then lost to Grand Rapids Christian in the Divison 3 semi-finals.
The drive chart.