CAAC Red rivals DeWitt and St. Johns will face each other for the second time this season in the Division 3 football regionals tonight.
But don’t jump to the conclusion that the game will be just like their first meeting, a 34-20 Panther win on Sept. 21.
DeWitt now starts six different players from that game, including sophomore starting quarterback Jacob Johnson. Johnson went down with an injury in the Panthers’ second game of the season and returned to the lineup in their last regular-season contest, against Fruitport.
Jacob Heath stepped in and did well, throwing for 1,428 yards and 15 touchdowns, including two in the win over St. Johns, but the Panthers scored three times on the ground in that game. Johnson’s return puts more focus on the DeWitt passing game.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Anderson has been a favorite target of both quarterbacks. He led the area in receptions (57), receiving yards (911) and touchdowns (10) in the regular season.
Anderson said that his chemistry with Johnson derived from a lot of work together during the summer.
“I knew right away that we would have a good connection,” Anderson said. “He throws the ball amazing, I have a lot of trust in him and he has a lot of trust in me.”
DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman hopes that Johnson’s return will help counter one of the Redwings’ main strengths — a stingy run defense.
“Jake Johnson is definitely a different type of quarterback from Jake Heath,” Zimmerman said. “He’s young, but he’s played about as well as a sophomore can play. He’s a big part of our offense, but we’ve had other kids who have had to make big plays.
“The receiving corps has been outstanding all season, and the offensive line has done a great job of protecting the quarterback.”
The Panthers are coming off of a memorable district title game, a dramatic 45-44 win over Linden in which a 22-yard Cameron West field goal with 19 seconds left tied the game in regulation and a blocked extra point by Noah Evans in the sixth overtime period gave DeWitt the victory.
Zimmerman said that his team has learned what it takes to win close games.
“The last three weeks have helped these guys immensely,” he said. “In week 9 against Fruitport, that game came down to the final play, in the first round of districts against Lapeer West went to overtime, and then last week was six overtimes. These guys are battle-tested and have dealt with plenty of adversity this year.”