By Dave Hart
HESPERIA – It’s been a long time since the Panther nation had something to celebrate.
And the Panthers hadn’t gone undefeated in the regular season since 1986, well before the current players were born.
But all of that negativity is in the rear view mirror, thanks to a fantastic 2015 campaign.
Hesperia wrapped up a 9-0 regular season with a 56-6 win over North Muskegon Friday in front of an electrified crowd at its home field.
The Panthers also made school history offensively, totaling 445 points on the season, breaking the previous record of 432 points set during the 1970 season.
“I like that we won,” said Hesperia Coach Aaron Sims, whose team will find out Sunday who they will play in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We are a physical team that likes to hit. It feels good (going 9-0). The kids are happy about it, but they have a temperament that there is a lot more to do.”
The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie with both teams playing physical, smash mouth football. The Panthers threatened to score, but fumbled at the Norse four yard line with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
Hesperia finally opened the scoring early in the second quarter with a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brendan McAree to running back Mark Workman.
The extra point failed, leaving the Panthers with a 6-0 lead.
The Hesperia defense forced a turnover on downs later in the second quarter, then the offense scored on the third play from scrimmage with a 48-yard touchdown run by sophomore Andrew Gentz.
Quarterback McAree connected with Nate McKeown through the air for a two point conversion to give Hesperia a 14-0 lead with 7:36 left before halftime.
North Muskegon responded on its next drive with a 23-yard touchdown catch by Ben Garcia from Vernonell Smith to cut the deficit to 14-6 with 5:40 left in the second quarter.
On the Norsemen’s next offensive position, Panther outside linebacker Workman intercepted a pass at the 37-yard line and ran for 17 yards, giving Hesperia the ball back with less than a minute left in the half.
McAree followed with a 20-yard touchdown pass to McKeown. The PAT was good and Hesperia led 21-6 at halftime.
The Panthers turned on the jets in the third quarter, scoring on 76-yard run by Workman and a 28-yard touchdown pass from McAree to Davian Gowens.
Hesperia closed out the scoring with three fourth quarter touchdowns.
Gentz scored two rushing touchdowns from 49 and 17 yards out, respectively.
Gerrit Yates scored the final touchdown with two minutes left on a 52-yard run.
The Panthers were led by Gentz with 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Workman added 134 yards and one touchdown. McAree completed three passes for 76 yards and three touchdowns.
“We played hard,” said North Muskegon Coach Mike Belmonte. “My kids did all they can do, I am not disappointed in that.”
Smith led the Norsemen with 97 yard rushing and 39 passing yards and one touchdown.