By Fred Inglis

HOLTON – The Hesperia Panthers brought the Golden Football Trophy with them to Holton Friday night, and it looked like they might keep it when they jumped out to an early lead over the rival Red Devils.

But the trophy ended up staying in Holton.

The Red Devils shook off an early 15-0 deficit to beat the rival Panthers 33-23. It was an emotional, penalty-filled, hard-nose ground battle between the neighboring schools.

“We knew we had to win the game in the trenches,” said Red Devils head coach Jack Nummerdor. “We’re so proud of our hogs up front.”

Holton’s Aaron Herron moves the ball up field on the rush. Photo/Leo Valdez

Hesperia started the contest with a bang. Gerrit Yates took the ball on the first play from scrimmage and raced around the right end for a 49-yard touchdown.

But midway in the second quarter Yates took a hard shot to the head and never returned to the game.

The Panthers pulled ahead 15-0 on a 75-yard scoring drive that included seven running plays and two big personal foul calls on Holton. Kanin Witte finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run, then the Panthers added the two-point conversion on a pass from Witte to sophomore split end Kaiden Robbins.

But Witte also missed most of the second half with an injury, leaving the Panthers without their two biggest rushing threats.

“We don’t have a deep roster,” said Panthers head coach Doug Bolles. “You can’t play this shorthanded. It’s tough, but it’s on us to regroup.”

The Red Devils countered when Aaron Herron capped a six-play, 66-yard drive with a three-yard TD run with 6:18 left in the second quarter.

Zach Young tries to fight through the pile as he is tackled by Bolton’s No. 10 Johnny Dominish. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Red Devils then went on a 65-yard drive that was capped by senior quarterback Brent McLaughlin’s eight-yard burst into the end zone, just eight seconds before halftime. Herron sliced in for the two-point conversion and the was tied 15-15 at intermission.

Holton scored on the second play of the second half. Herron veered right, took several hits, stumbled and nearly fell, but still managed to break loose for a 65-yard TD that gave Holton its first lead, 22-15.

Hesperia retook the lead with just two seconds left in the third quarter. Senior running back Zach Young scored a one-yard TD and added a two point conversion to give Panthers a 23-22 edge after three.

Young gained 53 of his 79 rushing yards in that third quarter.

Holton outscored the Panthers 10-0 in the fourth quarter, when junior running back Derek Pouch was relentless. His eight-yard touchdown run with 7:15 left in the game gave Holton the lead for good, 30-23.

Pouch ran for 158 yards on 21 carries.

Kicker Tobi Kristiansen added a 30-yard field goal that capped the victory and returned the Golden Ball Trophy to the Red Devils.

Hesperia (0-4) had won the two previous meetings by combined total of 93-18, so the victory was sweet revenge for the Red Devils seniors.

“We got bragging rights for the rest of our lives,” McLaughlin said . “That’s something you can’t put a price on.”

“These kids take this seriously,” Nummerdor said. “They (the players from the two schools) see each other all the time, and it does get emotional. It’s a chance to hold our heads high and be proud of what we put out on the field.”

Holton, now 2-2 on the season, rushed for 384 yards.

Hesperia passed twice, and one throw was intercepted by the Red Devils’ Johnny Dominish.