Mitch Witteveen was sitting in the stands when Central Catholic defeated Delphi in the season opener.
The senior hadn’t played football since he was a scrawny freshman. He didn’t want to have regrets about giving up on potential lifetime memories with his peers and sought out coach Kevin O’Shea the following Monday with a desire to return.
The coaching staff and the captains made a rare exception, allowing Witteveen back on the team under the following conditions: He would not have a starting spot “unless something funky happened” and he would run two miles a day for three weeks to show his commitment after missing preseason training.
Friday night assured those who allowed him back that they had made the right decision, and Witteveen proved to himself he did as well with his 67-yard punt return that sealed Class 2A No. 3 CC’s 14-7 victory at Tipton.
“I was in pain watching them, and my senior year, I thought I wanted to have no regrets after looking back at high school,” Witteveen said. “I came out and I feel like I am helping the team out as much as I can.”
Witteveen made seven solo tackles and three assists when he made his debut, but it came in a loss to Culver Academies, just CC’s second loss since Witteveen has been in high school. Friday night, the starting safety was a difference-maker both on special teams and defensively.
In a game defined by defense and penalties, it was an untimely decision to punt the ball inbounds, but away from playmaker Jackson Anthrop, that spoiled the Blue Devils’ homecoming.
Tipton had the ball with 1:40 to go, but threw an incompletion and CC burned two timeouts. With 1:06 to go, Witteveen capped a fantastic football game with a fantastic finish.
“This is really the first time I’ve let (someone join the team after the season started),” O’Shea said. “Something funky happened, and we had to put Mitch out on the field. And we’re very blessed that he came out because without that, he wouldn’t have bailed us out tonight.”
The prior Tipton series, an undersized Knights defense plugged up the middle on a fourth-and-inches play, stopping Brody Dell for a loss at the CC 33 and offsetting a bad punt snap that gave Tipton the ball with a short field and time dwindling in the fourth quarter.
“On defense, every play is crucial and we’re just coming at them full steam,” said linebacker Joe Corcoran. “Our D-line is really getting to its slants this year. Coy Cronk is making great plays, and most of all, coach (Tim O’Shea) is putting us in the right position to make plays.”
Because of the size differential on the line, the Knights (5-1) had a pass-heavy offense. Senior quarterback Ty Preston completed 21 of 37 passes for 201 yards, including nine throws for 109 yards to freshman Ben Tharp.
The breakthrough came in the final two minutes of the third quarter, when Preston took advantage of an aggressive Blue Devil defense with a 13-yard screen pass to Joe Smith for the game’s first touchdown.
“We tried draws earlier in the game, and it wasn’t working because they were really pinching hard,” said Smith, who also rushed for 78 yards on 10 carries. “We thought if we tried a draw one more time, it would open up. After that, we tried a middle screen and everyone just vacated the area. It was a good-timed play by the coach.”
Tipton’s response was an 11-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Cory King’s 28-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-7.
Deciding they were not going to let that be the play they regretted on the bus ride home, the defense responded with the fourth-down stop on the ensuing drive.
“It was a bitter feeling and sometimes mistakes happen,” Corcoran said. “If it went to overtime, then it went to overtime. If Mitch has to take one to the house for us, then I guess we get out of it.”