By Greg Gielczyk
MANISTEE — Junior running back Kaden Kott is hard to catch once he breaks through into the secondary.
On Thursday night, he flashed his speed against the Mason County Central Spartans in a lopsided 58-8 non-conference win for the Manistee Mariners on Thursday night in Manistee.
Kott got just six touches on the night, but made them all count for large chunks of yardage in amassing 122 yards and scoring three touchdowns as the Mariners went to 2-0.
For the second straight game, the Mariners started with a big run that set up their first score and they never slowed down despite a quick answer by the Spartans to tie it, 8-8, with only 2:54 left in the first quarter.
“We have a heck of a coaching staff on both sides of the ball, and you start to mesh with the guys that you’re working with, and more importantly, you start to mesh with your guys that are on the field,” said Manistee coach Troy Bytwork. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s kind of an intuitive connection you start to make with guys. We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, quite simply.
“They’re playing fast right now, and probably most importantly right now they’re playing confident. I think that we feel whatever we’re doing, we can do it successfully.”
Manistee rocked the Spartans’ defense with an electrifying run on the first play of the game, aside from the opening kickoff, by senior Nick Hornkohl that set the Mariners up at the Central 9-yard line.
Senior fullback Isaiah Davis cashed it in when he went up the middle for 9 yards and the score.
Freshman quarterback Dayvion Neal-Berry went to Kanon Petzak on the 2-point conversion pass as the Mariners took an 8-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
But the Spartans recovered from that early blow and proceeded to march 60 yards in 16 plays to a 1-yard scoring plunge by Elijah Gonzalez, and when Tyler Norton hit the right edge for the 2-point conversion, it was a tie game, 8-8.
It would be the last time Mason County got into the end zone as the Mariners rolled into the half with a 42-8 lead, forcing a running clock throughout the second half.
“We’re going to hit the drawing board and reboot,” Spartan coach David Smith said. “We’re going to re-evaluate some of our players. We need to find 11 guys who want to play football right now. It’s hard because we have some injuries and guys out of position so they’re trying to learn on the fly. But the effort tonight I was very disappointed with, especially defensively.
“We didn’t see anything we weren’t ready for. As a coach, that’s my fault. I didn’t have them ready, and I could tell in their eyes they weren’t ready when they got off the bus.”
Manistee finished the night with 401 yards total offense. Kott led the Mariners with 122 yards on six carries and three touchdowns, Hornkohl also toted the ball six times and gained 71 yards.
Neal-Berry scored as well, and added 41 yards on the ground. Petzak had a 54-yard interception return for a score. Matthew Thies caught a 31-yard pass for a touchdown.
Caius Johns led the defense with nine tackles and a sack, Brayden Schweitzer also had nine tackles. Landon Sowa made seven tackles and two tackles for a loss and Braydon Sorenson also had seven tackles.
“Defense, I don’t watch a lot of it, but when I do, I notice right away out of this group … they are physical,” Bytwork said. “The two inside linebackers, Nathan Doremus and Sorenson, they just like to hit. They always have. Sowa and Johns on the outside, these kids like to hit. These kids have a lot of snaps, and a lot of quarters under their belt and it shows.”
The Spartans had 137 yards of total offense – only nine passing. Norton rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts while Gus McLouth got nine touches and picked up 31 yards.
Marcus Lebrun led the defense with four tackles.
Manistee is on the road for the first time next Friday when it opens its West Michigan Conference Lakes Division slate at Orchard View (2-0).
The Spartans, meanwhile, are back home for a Friday night matchup with North Muskegon and their first foray in the WMC Rivers Division.