GREENVILLE – Powers North Central’s 26-game winning streak was in question for 64 seconds of the second quarter in the 8-player football state championship Friday at Legacy Field.
Then senior quarterback Jason Whitens zigged, zagged and followed his blockers into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown run just before halftime to help the Jets (13-0) regain the lead once and for all.
Whitens rushed 17 times for 352 yards and six TDs, and North Central rolled Deckerville, 58-22, to claim its second-straight state title since joining the 8-player ranks in 2015.
“We knew that we were going into halftime down, and we knew we had to kick it to them after the half,” said Whitens of the 44-yard score. “We knew we had to be aggressive with it, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Whitens running all over the field, relying on multiple cut-back blocks, on that first-half score was four years in the making for the Jets.
“That is chemistry,” he continued. “The guys know where I’m going to be somehow. We’ve played together for so long that they just know how to set up their blocks for me. It’s amazing.”
Whitens scored the first three TDs of the game in the opening period, rushing into the end zone on carries of 27, 89 and 68 yards. He added a 37-yard rushing TD in the second half.
Bobby Kleiman kicked off the third quarter with a 49-yard TD run for the Jets, who haven’t lost a game since their second to last 11-player matchup ever, a 44-22 setback to Bark River-Harris in 2014.
“Hopefully, this isn’t done,” Whitens said. “I knew we got a good younger group that can come up and perform. Hopefully, we can keep it alive.”
The Jets, who ran wild while battling heavy showers and 20-35 m.p.h. winds all night, capped off the win with Whitens, who was 6 of 12 passing for 100 yards, hitting Marcus Krachinski for a 71-yard TD.
The Eagles (11-1) trailed, 20-0, before they railed off three unanswered TDs to take a two-point lead with 1:45 left before halftime. Deckerville’s Brandon Pattullo scored on rushes of 1 and 54 yards, and Austin Fritch punched in a 9-yard carry up the middle.
Pattullo and Fritch rushed for 133 and 129 yards, respectively.
The game marked Deckerville’s second trip to the state final. The Eagles edged Bellaire, 14-12, in the 2012 final — their first season as an 8-player team.