Two very different programs will be going for the same goal today at Ford Field in the Division 3 state championship game.
The DeWitt program has been longing for a state championship under coach Rob Zimmerman. The Panthers lost three state championship games in a row from 2002-04 and have been turned away without a state title after making eight previous semifinal appearances since 2000.
Even before that dominant run, the Panthers had gotten close. They lost by a point to Farmington Hills Harrison in the 1989 Class B final.
DeWitt had lost its past four semifinal games before beating St. Clair 21-20 last Saturday to get back to Detroit.
“It was certainly a relief to get past the semifinal hump. We wanted to get back to the finals just because we felt so much like this group deserves it,” Zimmerman said. “They were ecstatic and it’s been a goal of many of our seniors and juniors to play in a state championship since they’ve been playing Junior Panther football.
“It’s very rewarding, but they’re certainly not satisfied.
“They’re focused on giving 48 minutes of great effort and winning a state championship.”
A state championship has almost been a life’s journey for the DeWitt program, a model of relentless consistency in mid-Michigan still seeking a final sense of coronation.
Zeeland West’s success has come easier.
Population growth forced the opening of a second high school in Zeeland and West was born in 2005. The football program won the Division 4 state championship in its second year of existence in 2006 — a year in which DeWitt was knocked out in the semifinals — and won another Division 4 crown in 2011.
The Dux have had just one losing season since the school was opened.
As was the case a week ago against St. Clair, the noteworthy matchup will be the DeWitt defense against the Zeeland West offense.
The Dux are averaging more than 48 points per game and have scored 42 or more points in 10 of their 12 wins.
The Panthers allowed more than seven points for just the fourth time this season last week in the semifinals and are giving up just eight points per contest.
“They certainly are physical and execute extremely well. It’s going to be a huge test for us from that standpoint,” Zimmerman said.
“I think it’s a special season.We have a legitimate shot. We know we’re going to have to play as well as we did all season.”