By Lucas Rains
Local Sports Journal

WHITEHALL — It was the battle of field position between Whitehall and North Muskegon on a cold, rainy Friday night. And host Vikings relied on a few key plays to prevail, 14-7.

The big plays of the game came in the middle of the third quarter.Shoreline football instory art

The first was a blocked punt that gave Whitehall prime field position to start its third drive of the half. The Vikings turned the ball over on downs, but got the ball back almost immediately.

Erick Bleakley’s pass fell into the arms of Viking defender Nolan Throne for an interception, giving the ball to Whitehall at the North Muskegon 23-yard line.

On the second play of the drive, Zarren Aylor ran 18 yards on a keeper right up the middle for a touchdown. He ran in the two-point conversion to put the Vikings up 14-7.

“Those were crucial,” Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon said of the blocked punt and interception. “The game was all about field position again. Without those, we’re down before Nolan Throne intercepted that. We just had to earn every yard tonight.”

“The weather was typical, but the kids found a way to pull it out. I’m proud of the kids tonight, and I’ll tell you what, North Muskegon didn’t make it easy, that’s for dang sure.”

Both teams entered with 2-0 records, but Whitehall left as the only remaining undefeated team, and improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006.

Trip Thommen carried the load for the Vikings, carrying the ball 23 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Zarren Aylor threw the ball well in less than desirable conditions, finishing 9-for-13 passing for 111 yards. Aylor also ran for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Trailing 14-7 with time running out on the Norsemen’s comeback hopes, Whitehall attempted a 28-yard field goal with less than three minutes to go in the game. The kick would sail wide left and short, giving North Muskegon the ball on its own 10-yard line with 2:24 to play.

North Muskegon would muster just one first down before a third-and-long pass was once again intercepted by Throne, sealing the Vikings’ 14-7 victory.

“I can’t fault our effort,” North Muskegon head coach Mike Belmonte said. “The kids never gave in. Whitehall is a good team, but we turned the ball over, missed tackles. I don’t think we played as well as we could have.”

The first three drives of the game resulted in punts, as neither team was able to get much of anything going offensively. Whitehall got the ball with decent field position, starting on its own 38 with 4:38 left in the first quarter. Aylor and Thommen botched a veer handoff on the first play of the drive and the Norsemen scooped it up.

North Muskegon couldn’t take advantage as the Vikings forced a three-and-out.

On the ensuing Whitehall drive, it used a balanced attack to lead to the game’s first scoring drive. On a third-and-five, Aylor found Throne for a 17-yard completion to move the sticks. On the next play, Aylor hit his brother, Keenan Aylor down the sideline for a 28-yard gain. On the next play, Thommen ran right up the middle and went untouched into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown. After failing to convert the PAT, Whitehall led 6-0 nearing the end of the opening quarter.

The Norsemen began what looked to be their most promising drive of the game, but on the first play of the second quarter, Logan Waller fumbled and Whitehall recovered.

North Muskegon forced a punt and got the ball back on its own 26. On the first play of the drive, quarterback Bleakley found Vernonell Smith for a 20-yard pass completion. Facing a fourth-and-short, North Muskegon punter Waller ran for a first down, extending the drive. Bleakley would eventually hit Riley Fairfield on a jump ball near the goal line for a 24-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good, giving the Norsemen a 7-6 lead.

Whitehall drove the field on its next drive, all the way down to the 3-yard line near the end of the first half. North Muskegon would snuff out Zarren Aylor’s run up the middle and Whitehall turned the ball over on downs. The Norsemen led 7-6 at the half.

The Norsemen struggled to get its offense going, especially through the air. Bleakley finished just 3-for-19 passing for 41 yards and the two interceptions. Leading the North Muskegon offense was Smith, who racked up 33 yard on the ground and 31 more receiving. Waller rushed the ball 12 times for 42 yards.

For Whitehall, Cheston Manns hauled in three passes for 37 and Throne caught two passes for 49 yards to lead the team.

Whitehall will travel to Mason County Central next week and North Muskegon will visit Oakridge.