SHELBY — Hesperia closed out the season the way every team wants Friday night against county foe Shelby, scoring the final 38 points of the game to defeat the Tigers 44-7.
The Panthers got a quick score to open the game, and the Tigers swiftly got one back. With a successful PAT, Shelby led 7-6.
However, Hesperia took control of the game from there with a long scoring drive, and the Panthers added 16 points in the second quarter and 14 in the third to pull away.
“We were really motivated tonight, by some of the stuff we were hearing,” Hesperia coach Doug Bolles said. “We finally put it all together and left it all on the field. I’m extremely proud of my kids, especially my seniors for going out on top.”
The Panthers (3-6) dominated the game on the ground, rushing for 410 yards and running up 470 yards total. Logan Pearson led the way with 168 yards on only 14 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Logan Balkema, Hesperia’s top all-around threat, ran for 93 yards and also completed a 20-yard scoring pass to Kaiden Robbins. Johnny Majersky had a pair of rushing touchdowns and completed his own scoring strike.
Balkema also had 14 tackles to lead the Panther defense.
Shelby coach Lorenzo Rodriguez said his team had inopportunely timed fumbles that were a big factor in the Tigers being unable to hold the early advantage.
“We seem to not hold onto the football at the wrong times,” Rodriguez said. “Instead of taking control of the game, you turn around and give the game away early. You give them ample opportunity to take a lead, and they took advantage of it.
“Once they took the lead, that took the wind out of our sails and we gave up big plays and consistent drives on their part.”
Rodriguez said while Shelby struggled to a 1-8 record, the combination of claiming the win against rival Hart and getting a lot of playing time for freshmen and sophomores, as a result of the Tigers having to cancel their JV season, created some optimism for the future.
“I give our kids a ton of credit,” Rodriguez said. “Things weren’t going well but they stuck in there and went as hard as they could. We take a lot of positives.”
Hart falls to St. Ignace
The Hart Pirates closed out their season up north, dropping their finale to St. Ignace by a score of 42-0. Hart finished the year with a record of 1-8.
The Saints, who needed the win to have a chance to reach the playoffs at 5-4, did in fact get a playoff berth and will travel to Beal City this week in the Division 8 pre-district round.
Hart coach Rick Witteveen said his team was able to get a few drives going, but turnovers stopped them on multiple occasions.
“We finally got things going to where we were moving the ball, then a fumble killed the drive,” Witteveen said. “Another time we were driving and had an interception.”
The Pirates focused on stopping the Saints’ inside run plays, Witteveen said, but the hosts responded by breaking big plays to the outside and in the passing game.
“We took away their inside run, but they got us with some passes and the outside run, which has been problematic for us all year long,” Witteveen said. “We couldn’t finish any drives, unfortunately. St. Ignace played hard and a physical brand of football. They came to hit and play. Our kids played hard, but just too many mistakes.”
Wittevenn said he hopes the disappointment of the 1-8 season leads to a larger buy-in from his team in the off-season. Only by putting in the work between now and August, he said, will the Pirates be able to compete with the better teams on their schedule.
“We just need a commitment from the kids that are going to be coming back, to get this going back in the right direction,” Witteveen said. “It was a step backwards as far as record. The kids have to want to do the things we need to compete at a higher level and in close games, rather than going through what they experienced this year.”