The football season is over, but for the Shelby Tigers, it ended on a high note. Shelby held off a late Hesperia drive to beat the Panthers 21-19.
The Tigers’ win finally snapped a 30-game losing streak. Shelby’s last win had been over Hart in 2014.
It didn’t come without a fight, as the Panthers, trailing 21-13 in the fourth quarter, scored a three-yard touchdown on a Logan Balkema run. Shelby (1-8) managed to stop the two-point conversion, although Hesperia’s coaches felt that Balkema was not yet down when the whistles blew.
The Panthers did get one more chance with the ball in the final minutes and got close to field goal range, but Shelby came up with a fourth-down stop at its own 34 to seal the victory. The Tigers came up with timely stops throughout the game, also recovering a fumble at their own one-yard line in the third quarter to keep Hesperia from scoring.
“I thought we possessed the ball well and moved it consistently,” Shelby coach Lorenzo Rodriguez said. ”Penalties were an issue but we didn’t turn it over as we had in the past. We played four quarters of football.”
Shelby had success running the ball, especially Latrell Sobers, who ambled for 133 yards on nine carries, including a touchdown. Simon Payne made four big catches for 104 yards. Christian Cooper threw a scoring pass to Kristian Oberlin. Cody DeVries recorded 17 tackles to lead all players.
“We had a couple of nice long runs on the edges,” Rodriguez said. “Kristian Oberlin had a couple of nice runs to seal the game.”
Hesperia also moved the ball well in the game, as Zach Young ran for 127 yards and a score on 22 attempts. Scott Peters ran for 88 and added a 35-yard halfback pass touchdown to Kaiden Robbins.
The 0-9 finish was deflating for the Panthers, but given the injury circumstances they dealt with, coach Doug Bolles expressed pride in his team’s toughness. The Panthers played six playoff teams and lost two overtime games, plus two other losses by a total of three points.
“We’ve dealt with so much adversity this season,” Bolles said. “I’ve never in all my years of coaching had so many injuries...and just nothing going our way, no luck whatsoever. But my team never quit and I can live with that.”
For the Tigers, finally getting back in the win column is a springboard to an important off-season. Rodriguez hopes the victory can spark the team as the long wait for next fall begins.
“The wins are going to come,” Rodriguez said. “We just have to continue to work. We knew we were improving throughout the year. In the end, the hard work paid off.”
Hart 8, White Cloud 0
The Hart Pirates didn’t need any reminders about last year’s close loss to White Cloud heading into Friday’s season finale. The memory of that seven-point defeat inspired the Pirates to exact revenge and win their season finale, 8-0.
“The kids didn’t forget about it,” Hart coach Rick Witteveen said. “We didn’t even bring it up. The kids were bringing it up during practice. It stuck with them.”
The win gave Hart (2-7) two victories for the season, the first time in six years the Pirates won multiple games. As you might expect from a shutout, Hart’s defense was instrumental to the victory.
“We had a couple of good defensive stands that were huge,” Witteveen said. “We had a couple of interceptions and a fumble recovery. It was a good team effort all the way around.”
Jesse McGhan was the star of the day, Witteveen said, on both sides of the ball.
“I thought Jesse played his best all-around game in his two years on varsity,” Witteveen said. “It was nice to see that type of complete game. He played an outstanding game defensively, and he played it team-oriented.”
Like their rivals from Shelby, the Pirates are hoping the win will spur an off-season of even more hard work so that 2018 can be a more successful year.
“Any time you can add wins over the previous year is a plus,” Witteveen said. “Hopefully the underclassmen will make the commitment to the weight room. Moving forward, that’ll be (key).”