By Fred Inglis
HESPERIA – It’s been a long time coming, but the Kent City Eagles can finally say they are a championship football team.
Friday night the Eagles crushed Hesperia’s homecoming with a 15-14 victory in CSAA Silver Division play, earning a share of the conference crown with Morley-Stanwood.
Kent City is now 4-1 in the league and 5-2 overall. They have now clinched their program’s first winning season since 2001.
Hesperia, last year’s conference champion, came in with a three-game winning streak and were poised to win another title. Instead the Panthers fell to 4-2 in the league and 4-3 overall.
They must now beat Muskegon Catholic and Shelby to earn a postseason berth.
Hesperia broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter.
Junior defensive tackle Roy Bolan recovered a fumble at the Eagles 28-yard line. Three plays later junior Gerritt Yates pushed in for a two-yard touchdown. Yates also ran for the two-point conversion to give Hesperia an 8-0 lead at halftime.
Kent City tied the game with a scoring drive in the third quarter.
Senior running back Colton Atwood carried the ball eight times on the drive for 47 yards. He capped it off with a two-yard touchdown run, then quarterback John Meek tossed to Cody Bowers for the two-point conversion and an 8-8 tie.
Yates showed why he is the leading rusher in the CSAA Silver Division, carrying the ball 18 times for 120 yards. His 41-yard TD run in the third quarter put Hesperia ahead 14-8.
But the failed extra point after the score proved to be one of several key plays in the game.
Each team made key defensive stands in the fourth quarter. Hesperia snuffed out an Eagles drive at the five-yard line. But Kent City quickly got the ball back when Hesperia failed on a fourth-and-one play.
On the ensuing drive the Eagles found themselves with yet another fourth down on the Hesperia 9-yard-line. This time sophomore quarterback John Meek rolled left and connected with junior Jace Dailey for the game-tying TD.
Hulices Hernandez Ruiz kicked the decisive extra point for Kent City with 4:01 left in the game.
Atwood led the Eagles with 91 yards on 21 carries and one TD. He was part of last year’s 1-8 team and is excited about the turnaround.
“Amazing! It’s awesome,“ Atwood said after the game. “All the work we did this summer has come together. The coaches preach ‘play-by-play, next play, next play,’ and everybody on this team bought into it.”
“This was the best defense we’ve had at this school in years,” said Kent City Coach Bill Crane. “We talked about toughness all year. We knew we had to match our physicality with them and I couldn’t be prouder of our boys.”
Kent City can clinch a postseason bid next week with a victory over Maple Valley.