In their first full game without quarterback Jacob Johnson, DeWitt managed to find a way to win while trying to regroup and play on.
It wasn’t pretty and a hard, steady rain didn’t help matters any for the Panthers in a 10-7 CAAC Red win over Ionia on Sept. 7.
“As long as we got the W, that’s all that matters,” DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman said.
Junior Jacob Heath made his first start in place of Johnson and was 7-for-15 for 90 yards for the Panthers. Heath also threw a 44-yard touchdown to senior receiver Ryan Anderson in the second quarter to give DeWitt a 10-0 lead.
“I thought we executed very well. Jake Heath did a very nice job stepping into that role. I kept our packages very basic and I wanted him to be very comfortable,” Zimmerman said. “With the weather that we got, I was probably a little but more cautious because I wanted to make sure we didn’t turn the football over. I thought we did a pretty nice job with Jake running the offense.”
Heath did get some time after Johnson went out with a broken thumb against Everett in a 38-10 loss, but it was tough going against one of the better teams in the area.
With a week to know he was the starter and plenty of time to prep for a league foe, Zimmerman saw immediate improvement.
“I think he handled it very well. He obviously had a tough time when we put him in against Everett and that’s a little bit of our fault for not getting him enough reps, but I thought he did a great job in practice,” Zimmerman said. “I thought he had a very good week of practice and I thought he played probably better than everybody expected him too. …
“The kids are very happy with how Jake Heath played and the direction we’re headed with him.”
Junior kicker Cameron West booted a 41-yard field goal in the second quarter to start the scoring for the Panthers before Heath found Anderson for the only touchdown of the first half for either side.
With Zimmerman toning down what normally is a complex and potent offensive game plan, in part due to the weather and in part due to Heath’s inexperience, the DeWitt defense rose to the occasion to preserve the victory.
DeWitt held Ionia to just 174 yards of total offense and did not let Bulldogs find the end zone until a 24-yard run by Kyle Parks in the fourth quarter.
Junior running back John Lippert led DeWitt with 91 yards on 22 carries.
Following the placement of both schools in the same league following realignment in the CAAC, DeWitt had beaten Ionia five times by a combined score of 233-14.
This year’s contest was much closer, as DeWitt gets use to a new signal caller and gets healthy once again.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Zimmerman said. “We’re decimated, for lack of a better term, by injuries. We’re getting close to being full strength and I think that kind of plays into it.”