By Nate Thompson
It was initially reported that Pearson had totaled 345 yards, but head coach Doug Bolles said the team’s official statistician confirmed Pearson with 25 more.
“It actually could have been even more than that,” Bolles said. “We were down on our own 2-yard line and he broke off a 98-yard touchdown, but we got called for a clip, so it was called back. So he could have easily had more yards.”
Pearson, a senior, said he was notified by some teammates at halftime that he was getting close to the school record. When he found out he broke it following the game, the moment added to the delight of securing the team’s first victory of the season.
His total easily topped the previous school mark of 293, established by Brandon Zeerip in a 2008 game.
“I was pretty happy,” Pearson said. “A lot of people were talking about it. As a team, we were really rolling in the run game and everyone was doing their part. Our offensive line was really doing a great job.”
Pearson also gave heavy praise to Logan Balkema, the Panthers’ regular quarterback, who switched to fullback against Holton. Balkema, at 6-1, 220, was a force in the Power I formation for the Panthers.
“He’s a pretty big boy and he did a great job for us,” Pearson said of his teammate. “I really don’t have blazing speed, but when I see the hole, I hit it hard. I think it helps that I can kind of hide behind our linemen. A lot of times, I’ll just grab on to (Balkema’s) jersey and once he gets a block, I’ll just cut off of him and spring free.”
Bolles credited the line, which consists of all juniors, led by returning players Tyler Billings and Gabe Prado. The coach also gave kudos to Balkema for his unselfishness.
“It was like having a guard in the backfield,” Bolles said about Balkema’s blocking prowess. “He was willing to give up his position to better the team. That’s the type of kid that I want on my team.”
Pearson said he’s hoping to make his senior season a special one after a pair of concussions cut his junior season short. Bolles said he ran for over 1,200 yards as a sophomore on the junior varsity squad in 2017.
“He suffered one in our scrimmage and was out until Week 2, then came back and played in Week 3 and 4, but then suffered another (concussion),” Bolles said. “He didn’t get cleared to play again until he went and visited a specialist in Grand Rapids. They had him go through all the steps. We obviously wanted to be as safe with him as possible, so (this season) we went out and got the best helmet we could get.”
After a rough start this season against North Muskegon and undefeated Ludington, and last Friday’s exciting win, the Panthers get a bye week to try to get a dinged up roster of around 20 players back to full health.
This week’s scheduled opponent, White Cloud, forfeited the season due to a lack of players, so Hesperia only has an 8-game schedule. The Panthers’ true tests will come after the bye against Central State Activities Association Silver Division foes Lakeview, Kent City and Morley Stanwood.
“We did not just want to win like 14-12 (against Holton),” Bolles said. “We wanted to come out and really take this game. Our league is not as tough this year as it has been. We feel we can be in a good position to control what we want to do.”
Pearson, who also wrestles in the winter and plays baseball in the spring, said he began playing football in the fourth grade because his friends teased him for playing youth soccer in White Cloud. He’s grown up with those same kids and developed a passion for the action on the gridiron.
“As long as we stick together and focus on our responsibilities on the field, we can take it a ways,” he said. “This group of juniors, we’ve grown up with them and we always knew we’d be pretty good together.”