The DeWitt football team kept marching on in the MHSAA playoffs by besting Linden, 45-44, in a Division 3 district final on Nov. 2, but the fashion in which they did was such that Panthers coach Rob Zimmerman called it the greatest game he’s been a part of since beginning as a head coach at the school.
The Panthers won in six overtimes against Linden and it may have dragged on further if not for senior linebacker Noah Evans, who blocked an extra point attempt to give DeWitt the win.
“As far as the OT, we haven’t been in overtime anything like that before. In 2006 in the regional championship against Flint Powers we played into triple OT and that was one of the most exciting games we’ve ever played and Friday night just topped that,” Zimmerman said.
The game was tied at 17 going into the first overtime session. Linden led 17-7 with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when DeWitt sophomore quarterback Jacob Johnson found Evans for a 30-yard touchdown pass to bring the Panthers to within three points.
DeWitt was able to get the ball back and drive again, tying the game with a 19-yard field goal by Cameron West with 19 seconds remaining in regulation.
“Linden outplayed us for the first three quarters, but we really came on in the fourth. I can’t express in words how proud I am of my players,” Zimmerman said. “We hurt ourselves with an awful lot of mistakes in the first half and that was our whole thing. We’ve got to play clean football on both sides of the ball. In the second half I thought we did a better job of that.”
The Panthers were outgained by Linden in total yards 422-346.
“The defense did a great job in the second half in particular of bending and not breaking,” Zimmerman said.
The two teams traded touchdowns and extra points in overtime periods 1, 3, and 4 before the dramatic finish in the sixth extra period.
At the high school level in Michigan, overtime rules differ slightly from college. Teams in high school begin their drives closer to the end zone than the 25-yard line, where college teams set up to begin each offensive possession.
Johnson led DeWitt with 15 completions for 210 yards and five touchdowns. Senior receiver Ryan Anderson caught seven passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns, all of them coming in overtime.
“Every one of our scores were on first down. Our receivers ran great routes, Jake did a great job and the line gave him time and we executed about as well as you possibly could,” Zimmerman said.
Anderson also threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Christopher Ruby in the first quarter to give the Panthers the first score of the game before Linden scored two consecutive touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The win gave DeWitt its eighth district title in the last 12 years.
The Panthers played against St. Johns in the regional finals on Nov. 9. The winner advances to the semifinals to face either Grand Rapids Christian or Stevensville Lakeshore on Saturday, Nov. 17. A location and time will be determined this week.