Ottawa Lake Whiteford rode a lethal rushing attack and a tough defense to its first Division 8 MHSAA football title, defeating Saginaw Nouvel, 42-21, on Friday at Ford Field.
Whiteford senior quarterback Thomas Eitniear was unstoppable, racking up 129 yards on 10 carries with three touchdowns while 7-of-11 for 143 yards.
Eitniear, who finished his career with a 37-4 record, gave credit to his senior-laden offensive line that averages 233 pounds.
“Our O-line has worked as hard as they can all year," Eitniear said. "I don’t think they get enough credit, as much as our backs do. Our whole offense is all based on the offensive line. Big boys.”
On the game's second play from scrimmage, Eitniear broke free down the right sideline and, with Nouvel (13-1) defenders closing in, executed a nifty cutback for a 37-yard score. Whiteford missed the two-point conversion, but the rout was on.
Whiteford (14-0) gained possession after Eitniear recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff. It was the first time since 1999 that an onside kick to start a state finals game was successful.
“It doesn’t help when momentum, right off the bat, is shifted,” Nouvel coach Michael Boyd said.
Whiteford junior wingback Logan Murphy was also impressive with three TDs, including one for 71 yards. He accrued 126 yards on 16 carries for a 7.8-yard average.
Eitniear and Murphy formed a one-two punch that Nouvel couldn't handle, with Eitniear attacking the edge and Murphy probing the middle.
Nouvel's senior quarterback Tate Hausbeck hooked up on two touchdown passes, one to senior wide receiver Ken Kujawa for 28 yards and the other to Josh Kuligowski for 16 yards.
Coming in, Whiteford had about four times as many yards rushing as it did passing, so Eitniear’s success in the air came as a surprise to Nouvel.
“We hit a couple things early, and that gave us a lot of confidence in it," Whiteford coach Jason Mensing said. "There has been a lot of confidence in our pass game all year. Our stats sometimes get a little bit distorted.
"When you get an early lead, you don’t want to throw the ball because it can be deemed unsportsmanlike and if you’re playing the game the way it’s supposed to be, you should be chewing clock at that point.”
The win concludes a dominant season for Whiteford in which it outscored its opponents 737-167, with no margin of victory smaller than 16 points.
Last year, Whiteford was wiped out, 35-6, in the finals by Muskegon Catholic Central, which won its fourth title in a row. This year, Muskegon Catholic Central was knocked out of the playoffs by Mendon in district play, which Whiteford beat in the semifinals, 50-21.
“It was a dream come true,” Whiteford senior left tackle Luke Tesznar said. “Four years ago, if you had told me we were going to states twice in a row and we’d win my senior year, I wouldn’t have believed it. It wasn’t just us. It was a whole community effort.
"Everyone around us pushed us to get better."
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer