By Tom Kendra

WHITEHALL – Whitehall found itself trailing upset-minded Fruitport 6-0 after the first quarter on Friday night, with its high-powered offense struggling with two lost fumbles.

But the Vikings – unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 4 – proved they could dig deep and overcome adversity, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second quarter and then holding on from there when things got crazy for a rainy, 51-26 victory.

Whitehall (11-0) won its first district title since 2014, setting up a showdown against No. 1-ranked Grand Rapids South Christian in next week’s regionals.

“This feels amazing to get this win and to get this trophy – now we want to get as many trophies as we can,” said Whitehall senior Nate Bolley. “We have confidence, we’re in sync and we’re ready to go.”

Bolley, a 6-0, 180-pound slotback, was the game’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 163 yards – and he added an 82-yard kickoff return to cap the scoring in a wild third quarter.

Whitehall built a 24-6 halftime lead behind a 27-yard field goal by Landon Howe (his first field goal of the season), a pair of TD runs by Jackson Cook and a 41-yard scoring dash by junior quarterback Kyle Stratton.

The key play to set up Cook’s second TD came from Bolley, who was back to punt, but after taking the snap decided to run with it, scrambling 20 yards for a key first down.

“I have the option on that to either rugby punt or take off and go,” said Bolley, who noticed his cousin, Chase Niezurawski, and Winton Napier opening a hole on the right side of the line. “I saw a hole big enough to drive two busses through, so I just took off.”

The Vikings appeared to be in control behind a dominating defense, but in the third quarter, Fruitport showed why it had won six games in a row and earned a share of the O-K Blue Conference title.

On its first play in the second half (after stopping Whitehall on a fourth-down play), Paschal Jolman took a handoff on an inside counter and broke free, sprinting 90 yards to pull his team within 24-12.

Stratton brought his team back right away with a 4-yard run, pushing Whitehall’s lead back to 31-12.

Then, in a pinball-like sequence, the teams combined on four touchdowns in four plays over the next 49 seconds:

   * Collin Jolman scrambled 9 yards to make it 31-18 with 2:44 to play in the third quarter.

   * On the next play, Stratton completed an 80-yard TD strike to his best friend, Trannon Aylor, along the home sideline and it was 38-18 with 2:25 left in the third.

   * Fruitport’s Cody Nash then returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards as the Trojans inched back into it, 38-26, with 2:09 to play in the third.

   * Bolley then delivered a dagger, matching Nash with an 82-yard kickoff return of his own, making the score 45-26 with 1:55 left in the third quarter, which is how the quarter would end.

Whitehall got back to playing defense in the fourth quarter, stopping Fruitport’s final comeback attempts with three interceptions – one by junior cornerback Ca’Mar Ready and two by Aylor, a junior safety.

Stratton scored the only points of the fourth quarter on a 14-yard run to seal the victory.

“We had a couple of opportunities in recent years to win district championships, but we fell short against good teams,” said 10th-year Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon. “It feels great to get it done tonight.”

Stratton got stronger running the ball as the game wore on, finishing with 13 carries for 127 yards and three touchdowns. He only completed 4-of-12 passes, but ended up with 145 passing yards – averaging 36 yards per completion.

Cook, who finished with seven carries for 84 yards, led the defense from his linebacker position with seven tackles. Aylor had two receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, to go along with his two interceptions. Everett Napier, Jaiden Altgilbers and Ready each had six tackles.

Fruitport, which finished 8-3 for its first winning season since 2013 (including a memorable 28-20 upset of then-No. 1 Grand Rapids West Catholic on Oct. 7), got its offense on track in the third quarter, but could never come up with a crucial defensive stop.

Paschal Jolman finished his incredible senior year with 19 carries for 142 yards – giving him 2,170 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns for the season. Nash carried five times for 36 yards.

Collin Jolman struggled throwing the ball in the wet conditions, completing 7-of-15 passes for 35 yards. Bobby Canfield and Paschal Jolman each caught three passes.

Junior defensive back Kayden Beardsley led the Trojans defense with six tackles, while junior tackle Ricky Wiggins made five stops.

Whitehall will be on the road in next week’s regional finals at South Christian, which posted a 35-20 win over Hudsonville Unity Christian on Friday night.