Whiteford’s Josh Beck tries to turn the corner against Blissfield’s Caleb Bangerter (65) in Thursday night’s game. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
OTTAWA LAKE — With just 23 players suiting up for Whiteford in Thursday night’s football opener against Blissfield, the Bobcats might ordinarily figure to be at a disadvantage.
But, with the visiting Royals having only 16 players available because of injuries and disciplinary benchings, Whiteford wore down Blissfield and rolled to a 40-12 victory.
The Bobcats led 6-0 at halftime, but broke things open with a 22-point third quarter.
“We felt like we should have had two more scores in the first half, but we weren’t efficient enough offensively,” Whiteford coach Jason Mensing said. “They had some injuries, and they didn’t play as hard to the end because of those injuries. I’m happy our kids kept playing hard to the end, and we got a lot of kids in tonight.”
Sophomore running back/quarterback Jesse Kiefer led Whiteford, carrying 15 times for 155 yards and scoring on runs of 2, 4, and 20 yards.
The Bobcats outgained Blissfield 454 to 169 in total offensive yardage, including 368 yards on 51 rushes.
“Jesse’s a talented kid, and we’ve got three pretty good backs with him, [brother] Cody Kiefer, and Josh Beck, and then John Reditt’s a very good quarterback.”
Blissfield’s chances were diminished greatly just before halftime, when quarterback Luke Cassaubon left the game with a shoulder injury. He rushed 13 times for 37 yards, and was 6 of 10 passing for 44 yards.
The Royals finished with only 13 players, when two more players left the game with injuries.
“Our kids are in really good shape,” Royals coach Adam Schiermyer said. “Our conditioning was there but, unfortunately, we had a couple shoulder injuries and a knee injury tonight.
“We had seven sophomores up, and we had to have some kids step in and take it for what it was. They did, and I’m proud of the way they finished. They didn’t have their tails between their legs. The held their heads up high.
“Whiteford’s a good football team, and it was a really good game for 24 minutes.”
Whiteford capitalized on Blissfield’s personnel depletion, scoring three times in the first 8:29 after halftime.
Kiefer took a pitch left on his four-yard TD, and added a two-point conversion run for a 14-0 lead 2:22 into the third quarter.
“We push through and we grind,” Kiefer said. “That’s our motto, we grind through everything, no matter how hard it is. We executed nicely in the third quarter.”
After a Royals three-and-out, the Bobcats needed just five plays to cover 68 yards, with Reditt (6-of-9 passing, 86 yards) finding Mitch Iott on a nine-yard TD pass with 5:44 left in the third.
Blissfield thren turned the ball over on downs, and Whiteford scored on the next play when Jake Becki bolted through the middle of the line and rumbled 43 yards to make it 28-0 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
Kiefer, from the quarterback position, was rolling out on fourth down when he appeared to be hemmed in by two Royals defenders and the right sideline.
But a couple of tricky moves, including a 360-degree spin, plus a broken tackle, resulted in his 20-yard touchdown run and a 34-0 lead with 6:53 remaining in the game.
“I was surprised,” Kiefer said of his final TD. “I wasn’t really expecting that.
”I just kind of went for it and tried to get the most yards I could, and it happened to be a touchdown.”
Blissfield sandwiched two late touchdowns around Whiteford’s final score, which came on Jacob Shelton’s 14-yard scoring run.
The Royals’ Damon Mosser returned a kickoff 80 yards for Blissfield’s first TD with 6:36 to play, and backup QB Alex Zaciewski ran 15 yards for the Royals’ other score with 41 seconds to go.
In a first half characterized by lengthy drives that mostly went unfinished, the Bobcats’ first possession produced the only points before the break.
Reditt guided his team on a 14-play, 81-yard march that included five first downs, with two key fourth-down conversions.