Whitmer's Josh Close scores one of his two touchdowns against Central Catholic. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
At long last — 1,799 days to be exact — Whitmer can again celebrate a Three Rivers Athletic Conference football victory against Central Catholic.
The Panthers snapped Central’s 30-game TRAC winning streak Friday night, taking a 21-14 victory against the host Fighting Irish before an estimated standing-room-only crowd of 8,300 at Gallagher Stadium.
“We said, ‘Why not us, and why not now?’ ” second-year Whitmer head coach Ken Winters said. “The players wanted it. They were hungry, and it showed tonight.
“Walking off after this game as a loser for four years hurt, and it doesn’t hurt for one day, it hurts for an entire year. To come off a winner, it’s a great feeling. It was a team effort. Hat’s off to our coaching staff. They did a great job game-planning. And, hat’s off to the kids. They executed the game plan.”
IN PICTURES: Whitmer 21, Central Catholic 14
VIDEO: Whitmer-Central Catholic
Whitmer (6-0, 3-0 TRAC), Ohio’s sixth-ranked team in this week’s Associated Press Division I poll, scored both of its first-half touchdowns off Central miscues, and got the game-winning score on a 7-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Riley Keller to tight end Josh Close with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
That came after the Irish (5-1, 2-1), ranked No. 2 in D-III, tied the game at 14 on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Troy Durden to Michael Griffin 1:40 into the third.
The Whitmer defense preserved the lead early in the fourth as Central was driving toward a potential tying touchdown, stopping Durden for a 3-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 play from the Panthers’ 6-yard line.
Central’s last loss in conference play came on the same field on Oct. 26, 2012, a 42-0 pounding from Whitmer. That year, the Irish rebounded to win the D-II state championship, and the Panthers finished as D-I state runners-up.
“We had some mistakes in the first half, and some bad fourth-down calls,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “That sums up a lot of it. I can’t complain about the effort, and I can’t complain about a lot of the execution.
“We moved the ball at times tonight, and stopped them at times. It came down to a few plays here and there, and we were on the short end of those tonight.”
Central struck first in the game after a Whitmer punt.
On the first play from scrimmage, Irish receiver Jase Bowen ran a sweep 57 yards to the Whitmer 7, setting up Sean Blue’s touchdown run as the Irish grabbed a 7-0 lead 1:22 into the game.
But the Whitmer defense stiffened, and set up the tying score. Durden lost a fumble at his 28 and, two plays later the Panthers cashed in.
Keller (14-of-23 passing, 182 yards) took a read-option keeper 27 yards to set up Kobe Myers’ 1-yard scoring plunge on the next play, and the game was tied at 7 with 2:43 left in the first.
“It took both sides of the ball and special teams to get this done tonight,” Keller said. “This year there was a little bit more hype, and I think our team had a little more energy this time.
“You have to not worry about the stuff going on around you, and just worry about the game plan and execute at a high level. I saw the team lose the last four years, and I didn’t like the one last year. I told coach Winters I’m never losing to them again. Our seniors deserved this one.”
Another Irish miscue paved the way for the Panthers’ go-ahead score. Punting from his 24, Bowen’s rugby-style kick hit the back of Central safety blocker Jesse Crowell, and went out of bounds for a 4-yard loss at the Irish 20.
Once again, Whitmer pounced on the opportunity quickly.
After an incompletion on first down, Keller passed for six yards to Jasean Rader, then fired a 14-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Close to put the Panthers on top 14-7 with 9:36 left in the half.
“We knew it was going to come down to little things — a special-teams play or a turnover — and for us to be able to capitalize was huge,” Winters said. “Usually, if you do that in a big game, you’re going to win.”
Central outgained Whitmer 254-225 in total offense, with 193 of those yards coming on the ground for the Irish, led by Dallas Fields’ 77 yards on 15 carries. Durden was 5-of-12 passing for 61 yards. The Panthers ran 33 times for just 43 yards.
Devon Rivers, who injured a shoulder in last week’s win at Clay, rushed only two times for 1 net yard.
Whitmer's Sam Stickels (20) breaks up a pass intended for Central Catholic receiver Jase Bowen late in the fourth quarter Friday. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH