By Andrew Johnson
RAVENNA – The Whitehall and Ravenna football teams are both capable of scoring a lot of points.
Whitehall jumped out to a big 34-6 lead after Viking quarterback Gavin Schaeffer found DJ Wright for a 52-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the second half.
But the Bulldogs gave it everything they had down the stretch, and when the dust settled, Whitehall escaped with an exciting 40-38 victory in a West Michigan Conference battle between evenly-matched teams.
“Our kids showed a lot of resilience by not panicking,” said Whitehall Coach Tony Sigmon. “They really just went and won the game in the end.”
For a while on it looked like both teams may struggle to score until Whitehall broke the seal with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter, when Schaeffer punched in a one-yard rushing touchdown, making the score 6-0.
The Vikings extended their lead to 14-0 with 11:37 left in the second when Terrell Harris scored on a 22-yard run.
Harris again scored on a 22-yard run on the following Viking possession, making the score 21-0 with 6:14 left in the second quarter.
Ravenna scored its lone first half touchdown with three minutes left when quarterback Conner Kilbourne ran in a two-yard score, cutting the Bulldog deficit to 21-6.
The final score of the first half came with seven seconds remaining, when Schaeffer found Harris on a nine-yard pass, giving the Vikings a 27-6 halftime edge.
Schaeffer’s long TD pass to Wright early in the third made the score 34-6, and some Whitehall fans probably started to relax a bit.
But just when it appeared to be about over, things got tight.
The Bulldogs started their comeback on their next possession when Kilbourne found Josh Cox for a 74-yard passing touchdown, cutting the deficit to 34-14 with 7:38 left in the third.
On the next Whitehall possession, the Bulldogs forced a fumble and recovered the ball, taking over around midfield.
Two plays later, Kilbourne punched in a nine-yard touchdown run, narrowing the score to 34-22 with 5:56 left.
Just over two minutes later the Bulldogs forced a three-and-out and the Vikings lined up to punt. The ball was hiked over the punter, who recovered it and attempted to get a punt off near his own goal line.
But the punt was blocked and recovered by Grant Parker in the end zone for a Bulldog touchdown. The Whitehall lead was suddenly cut to 34-30 with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
“We had a couple bad plays,” Sigmon said. “They went ahead and hit a couple of seams. We missed a couple of tackles.”
The Vikings regained their composure, going 45 yards over six plays on their next possession. Schaeffer finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Harris, giving Whitehall a 40-30 lead with 1:09 remaining.
While the third quarter was a scoring frenzy, neither team found the end zone in the fourth quarter until Kilbourne connected with Cox on a one-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining in the game, making the score 40-38.
Ravenna attempted an onside-kick but the Vikings came up with the ball, and were able to kneel out the rest of the clock.
Schaeffer paced Whitehall with 140 yards passing and three touchdowns while rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Harris added 114 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 carries while also catching two TD passes. Kayleb Venema had 107 yards on 18 carries for Whitehall.
Kilbourne led Ravenna with 358 yards and two touchdowns on 24-for-43 passing while also punching in two rushing touchdowns. Garry Johnson paced the Bulldog rushing attack with 95 yards on 15 carries while Cox totaled 200 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions.
The Ravenna defense was led by Calvin Schullo, who had 10 tackles including one for a loss.
With the win, Whitehall improves its record to 4-2 and 3-2 in the conference, and is two wins away from clinching a playoff berth.
“It’s very important to get this win,” Harris said after the game. “It feels good to take a breather after taking two losses in a row. We just needed to come out, relax and execute.”
Ravenna dropped to 3-3 on the season and 3-2 in the conference.
Whitehall will host Shelby next week while Ravenna will travel to Mason County Central.