By Shawn Liverance
Local Sports Journal
The Shelby Tigers passed their first major test of the season on Friday night and now find themselves tied atop the West Michigan Conference standings.
Shelby used a pair of first-half scores to beat host Whitehall 14-6 in a game played in a steady rain.
The win improves the Tigers to 2-0 in the WMC and tied for first place with Oakridge, which beat Montague 38-7 also on Friday night.
“We knew when the schedule came out, that this game was going to be big,” Shelby coach Lorenzo Rodriguez said. “They (Whitehall) are a great team with great senior athletes, but we had a good game plan and executed it tonight.”
The sloppy conditions didn’t stop the Tigers from throwing the ball as senior quarterback Spencer Peters was 9-of-15 for 145 yards and a touchdown.
“Once again we came out and played really well especially in that first half,” Peters said. “The key was how well our offensive line played all night long.”
Peters opened the game with a 32-yard pass to Austin Porter on the game’s first play and completed 2-of-3 passes for 48 yards on the opening drive.
That opening drive for Shelby featured a nice mix of runs and passes and was culminated by Nathan Lentz’s 3-yard touchdown run.
“We were not going to change anything just because it was raining,” Rodriguez said. “We were not going to make excuses just because it was raining. We were going to make them beat us with our ‘A’ game.”
Whitehall, in the meantime, was moving the ball in the opening half as it twice drove deep into Shelby territory.
The first drive ended with a missed field goal and the second when the Vikings turned the ball over on downs at the Shelby 35-yard line.
It was after Whitehall turned the ball over on downs that the Tigers had the games key drive.
With less than 2 minutes remaining in the half, Shelby drove 65 yards in seven plays and scored with 3 seconds left in the opening half on Peters’ 21-yard scoring pass to Shane Kajtazi.
“That was a big play going into the break,” Rodriguez said.
The late Shelby scoring drive was helped out by two Whitehall pass interference penalties on back-to-back plays.
The Vikings were hurt by key penalties throughout the game.
“The penalties were huge and we have to clean that up,” Whitehall co-coach Brent Sandee said. “We had quite a few holding penalties and we have to overcome those.”
Whitehall’s only scoring drive of the game came after Joe Sika’s interception of a Peters’ pass late in the third quarter.
The Vikings drove 82 yards behind the running of Antwan Burks, who scored from 3 yards out early in the fourth quarter.
Whitehall came up short on the two-point conversion attempt, but got the ball back a short time later on a Steven Sika interception.
After a lengthy drive to the Shelby 14-yard line, the Vikings appeared to have cut the lead to 14-12 on Steven Sika’s scoring run, but a holding penalty on the play moved the Vikings’ back to the Shelby 26-yard line where they turned the ball over on downs with 49 seconds left.
“They made a nice play at the end of the first half and we came out and got that score to close the gap,” Sandee said. “I really thought we played a good second hslf, but just got stopped short a couple of times.”
Rodriguez gave credit to his defense, including Ben Schroeder who led the Tigers with 20 tackles.
“Our outside linebackers Brody Lee, Austin Porter and Kasey DeWitt did a great job,” Rodriguez said. “We did a really good job shutting down their screen passes.”
Offensively, Forrest Courtright rushed for 39 yards and Lentz added 36, while Devon Mussell caught four passes for 47 yards and Porter added two catches for 44 yards.
Burks led the Vikings with 142 yards rushing on 39 carries, Joe Sika had 15 rushes for 63 yards and Steven Sika carried the ball 12 times for 42 yards.
“Shelby is a good team, but we will bounce back,” Sandee said. “This group of seniors works so hard. We will think about this for a couple of days. Usually in this league one loss wins the championship, so we still feel good about ourselves.”