By Dave Hart
Kent City, which fell just short of winning its fourth straight CSAA Silver Division title last season, used great defense to earn a shutout victory over Morley-Stanwood last week.
That trend continued on Friday, when the Eagles held host Hesperia to single digits and won 10-8 in a tense conference battle.
The Kent City defense had to stay strong until the end to complete the victory.
Hesperia had the ball at its own 38 with just under four minutes to go, looking for the game-winning score.
The Panthers drove the ball all the way down to the Kent City 21 before Kyler Larson picked off a pass on fourth down to seal the win for the Eagles with just 30 seconds remaining.
Kent City improved to 2-0 overall and in the conference, and will face Holton next week in another league game.
The Panthers, who opened the season with a win last week over Lakeview, fell to 1-1 and will look to bounce back against Morley-Stanwood next week.
“I am really proud of our kids for growing up,” said Kent City coach Bill Crane. “Hesperia has 15 seniors and is a heck of a team. We started six sophomores on offense and another four or five on defense. We are very young, and our kids grew up during the second half.
“It wasn’t pretty, but our defense has been lights out through eight quarters of football.”
Last season the matchup between these two teams were not nearly as close, with the Eagles winning by a 42-0 margin. But the Panthers kept the game close and had a chance to win until the end.
“I can’t be prouder of our guys because we knew they’d come to play,” said Hesperia coach Doug Bolles. “We knew this was going to be a dog fight, we felt we were ready to compete, and we showed that we were ready.”
Both teams had possession of the ball twice during the scoreless first quarter. The Panthers were just 28 yards away from the end zone late in the quarter but turned the ball over on downs.
The Panthers also had a chance to score midway through the second quarter when Riley Taylor recovered the ball on a muffed punt just inside the Kent City 10. Hesperia managed to drive the ball inside the one-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs.
The contest remained deadlocked 0-0 at halftime.
The Eagles took the opening possession of the second half all the way downfield, before the drive ended with a fumble inside the Panther 5. Hesperia’s Mack Baird recovered the ball at the four-yard line with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Kent City finally ended the scoring drought with 5:50 left in the third quarter with a safety. It occurred when Hesperia had a bad snap on a punt attempt, and Kent City’s Mason Westbrook tackled a Panther in the end zone for two points.
The Eagles led 2-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Kent City drove the ball 75 yards on nine plays on its first possession of the fourth quarter, ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Westbrook.
Westbrook also caught the two-point conversion pass from Larson to increase Kent City’s lead to 10-0.
The Panthers quickly bounced back on their next possession, driving the ball 65 yards on five plays. Brandon Quinn got Hesperia on the board with a 47-yard touchdown run, then caught the two-point conversion pass to cut the Eagles’ lead to 10-8 with 7:44 remaining.
Kent City turned the ball over on downs at its own 38 with 3:57 left in the game after an incomplete pass on fourth down and four.
Hesperia managed to get three first downs on its final drive, on a five-yard run by quarterback Johnny Majersky, a 13-yard scamper from Quinn, and a three-yard run by Majersky.
The Panthers had the ball at the 21-yard line with time quickly running out, before the game ended on the interception by Larson.
The Eagles were led by Westbrook with 88 rushing yards on 21 carries and one touchdown. He also had 27 receiving yards. Larson threw for 43 yards on 3-for-8 passing. Webb Longcore caught two passes for 16 yards.
Hesperia was led by Quinn with 12 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown while Majersky threw for 40 yards on 4-for-13 passing.
The Panthers were paced defensively by Quinn with eight tackles and Baird with four.