By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
WHITEHALL – The West Michigan Conference has literally turned upside down.
So how do you explain Whitehall’s 33-0 whipping of Shelby on Friday, which left the upstart Vikings 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference, while Shelby fell to 0-2 and 0-1?
“What we’re doing right now is staying the course. We’re trusting each other,” said second-year Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon. “In the past two weeks we’ve done a lot of the little things the way we need to do them.
“We’re distributing the ball to a lot of people and that’s making it hard for teams to defend us. That’s what we want to do. We want a lot of people to touch the ball.”
The stat sheet backed that up. Whitehall dazzled the Tigers and a big home crowd with a combination of impressive offensive weapons.
Senior halfback Trip Thommen rushed for 130 yards and had two touchdowns, including a 40-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
Junior quarterback Zarren Aylor completed 6-of-12 passes for 90 yards, including touchdown passes of 39 and 22 yards.
His brother, Keenan Aylor, had important punt returns of 20 and 17 yards and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass.
And junior wide receiver Nolan Throne had a huge night, with a 39-yard touchdown reception, a 53-yard kickoff return and two interceptions on defense.
“After we won our first game, that was a big confidence booster for us,” said Thommen, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last year as a junior. “I believe we have playoff capabilities, but we’re not even there yet. We’re only on step three.”
Whitehall benefited from great field possession throughout the first half, but failed to score in the first quarter.
The Vikings drove to the Shelby 38 twice in the first quarter, but were stalled by an interception on the first drive and were forced to punt on the second. They drove to the Shelby 24 early in the second quarter, but missed a field goal attempt.
Whitehall finally got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter.
Keenan Aylor returned a Shelby punt 17 yards to the Shelby 44. Two plays later Zarren Aylor hit Throne with a 39-yard touchdown pass. The extra point failed, leaving the Vikings with a 6-0 lead.
Shelby lost a fumble two plays after the ensuing kickoff, giving Whitehall the ball at the Tiger 41. Seven plays later the Vikings scored again on a seven-yard s burst by Thommen.
The extra point was good, giving the Vikings a 13-0 halftime edge.
Shelby drove to the Viking 15 in the final seconds of the first half, but Whitehall’s Connor Rake ended the effort by picking off a pass at the one-yard line with 17 seconds remaining.
The Vikings applied the knockout punch early in the third quarter.
Throne took the opening kickoff around the five-yard line and returned it to the Shelby 42. Two plays later Thommen broke through the middle for a 40-yard touchdown run, and the extra point gave the Vikings a 20-0 edge.
Shelby drove to the Whitehall 16 on its next possession, but the drive ended on downs.
Whitehall took possession and marched downfield with a 12-play scoring drive. Keenan Aylor capped the effort by snagging a 22-yard touchdown pass from his brother in the left corner of the end zone, with a Shelby defender literally in his shadow.
The extra point gave Whitehall a 22-0 lead.
A Whitehall punt pinned Shelby at its own one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, then Throne snagged his second interception and returned it to the Shelby two.
Zarren Aylor scored from two yards out a few plays later, and the PAT gave the Vikings their final margin of victory.
Keenan Aylor led Whitehall defensively with seven tackles, while Rake and Throne added four tackles apiece.
Shelby was crippled by turnovers for the second week in a row, losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions. The Tigers dropped the ball on the snap from the center to the quarterback four or five times, crippling several offensive drives.
“They played better than we did,” said Shelby coach Lorenzo Rodriguez. “Big plays got us beat tonight.
“We dropped the ball too many time on the turf again. You’re not going to win too many games that way. Right now we’re not technically sound. We’re not doing anything the kids are coached to do. We’re at a crossroads, and we have to decide who we want to be.”
Jake Baffi led Shelby in rushing with 61 yards on seven carries. Juan Cavazos added 52 yards on nine carries. Walker Baars had an interception for the Tigers.