By Adam Knorr

HESPERIA –  The football gods have not been kind to Hesperia in recent years.

While the new century started out bright for the Panthers, with three straight playoff teams between 2000 and 2002, much uglier seasons followed.LSJ Logo incert

The worst were between 2004 and 2006, when Hesperia went 0-18. There was a 1-8 season in 2008 and an 0-9 campaign in 2009.

Heck, the Panthers were 1-8 as recently as last season, and they hadn’t had a winning season since 2007.Sport Clips GotW instore

That’s why this year has been so special for Hesperia.

The Panthers have shocked the area by outscoring opponents 389-113, posting an 8-0 record and cruising to the Central States Activities Association Silver Division title.

Now they have a chance to clinch their first perfect regular season since 1986 with a victory over visiting North Muskegon on Friday night. Game time is 7 p.m.

“We just got great combinations, the perfect storm,” said Hesperia Coach Aaron Sims, who’s only in his second season. “A lot of the linemen that we have are returners from last year. That’s a big thing for us, doing a lot of the exact same stuff. The kids put in a lot of time in the offseason. We got strong, way more athletic.”

That strength and athleticism have been on display in Hesperia’s textbook Wing-T offense, which has been plowing through opposing defenses all fall. Five Panther running backs have gained more than 400 yards behind Hesperia’s bruising offensive line.

Mark Workman, the lone senior in the backfield, has led the Panthers’ strong rushing attack. Workman has carried the ball 100 times for 996 yards and 12 touchdowns and should easily crack the 1,000-yard mark against North Muskegon.

Shouldering the load with Workman are juniors Kade Witte, Gage Balkema, and Brandon Goins. Witte has racked up 778 yards and 10 touchdowns, Balkema has 550 yards and three touchdowns, and Goins has rushed for 515 yards and seven touchdowns.

Shophomore Gerrit Yates has added 457 yards and three touchdowns to the bunch.

“As a group, they don’t care who is getting the carries. It’s just whoever is working that night and whatever we have to do to win,” Sims said. “That’s the theme of the backfield – ‘We above me.’”

The Panthers rarely throw the ball, but have been effective when necessary. Quarterback Brendan Mcaree has completed 9 of 18 passes for 233 yards this season. Six of his nine completions have gone for touchdowns.

Hesperia has not had a lot of tough games this season. Its closest contest was a 28-21 victory over Morley-Stanwood, the only game the Panthers scored less than 30 points. The next closest game had a 21-point spread.

The Panthers won their first game 64-0 over Montabella and their last game 58-0 over Fremont.

But North Muskegon, a member of the very tough West Michigan Conference, will not be a pushover by any means.

While the Norse have had a disappointing 3-5 season, that will make them all the more dangerous, because Friday’s game will be their grand finale, and they would love to play spoiler for Hesperia.

Last year the Norse beat the Panthers 42-25. They are also coming off two straight victories, 32-20 over Shelby and 33-6 over Manton.

“(North Muskegon is) going to be tough,” Sims said. “They come off the ball really well and they have some good athletes. I told our guys it’s probably going to be one of the toughest teams we’ve seen all year.”

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