Quarterback Travis Smith and Ithaca’s high-powered offense have captured plenty of attention.
The Yellowjackets’ defense is making its case for the same kind of praise.
Two-time defending state champion Ithaca extended its win streak to 40 games Friday as it rolled to a 31-0 victory over Montrose in a Division 6 regional final.
The Yellowjackets (12-0) notched their seventh shutout of the season in the victory and limited Montrose star tailback Caleb Reinhart to just 72 yards rushing. Reinhart entered the game with more than 4,000 career rushing yards for the Rams (10-2), who were eliminated from the state playoffs by Ithaca for the third consecutive season.
“Our offense gets so much credit. Our defense just doesn’t get enough credit for the way that they play with enthusiasm and the fast, physical play,” Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said. “They just gotta be a nightmare to play against. I’m just so pleased with the way they’re able to execute a game plan against a good football team.”
Jared Evers had a pair of touchdown runs for Ithaca, Markes Gadlen returned a punt 65 yards for a score and Caden Kipp had 96 receiving yards and a touchdown for Ithaca, which won its fourth straight regional title and hasn’t lost a game since falling to Montague in the Division 6 semifinal on Nov. 20, 2009.
Smith and Ithaca got off to a slow start, but the defense and special teams did their parts. Jordan Hessbrook intercepted Montrose quarterback Riley Warren on the Rams’ first possession. The Yellowjackets capitalized on the turnover with a field goal by Sage DeMull with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
Montrose was driving in the second quarter and in position for the go-ahead score but had its drive stall when Warren fired incomplete on a fourth-and-6 from the 26. Ithaca countered with a score as a 60-yard reception by Markes Gadlen set up a short touchdown run by Evers three plays later.
The Yellowjackets then struck again with 32 seconds left in the first half when Gadlen returned a punt for a touchdown to put Ithaca ahead 17-0.
“That was a big moment,” said Smith, who was 12 of 19 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown. “They had us on the ropes. Our offense started off a little shaky and that punt return helped us and got a kick start for us on our offensive side. That was just a big help.”
Kipp added a touchdown reception late in the third quarter and Evers had a touchdown run early in the fourth as Ithaca took care of the latest challenger standing in its way of a third straight state title.
The Yellowjackets are two wins away from a three-peat and will face the winner of today’s Shelby-Negaunee contest in next week’s state semifinal.
“We just gotta keep our focus and don’t let it get to our head,” Gadlen said. “Everyone wants to talk about you but you still gotta go out there and prepare every week.”