For Harper Creek, Friday’s homecoming contest against Parma Western was nothing more than a conference football game.
But following the Beavers’ 43-28 Interstate Eight Conference victory over the Panthers, the game had some added meaning as it was Harper Creek’s sixth win in as many weeks, officially ending a one-year playoff hiatus for the school.
“It’s just nice to get another win in the league and another step forward towards a league championship,” said Harper Creek head coach Mike Seedorf. “We have our work cut out for us the next two weeks obviously for that. We’ve been a playoff team in the past, and it’s nice to get back there again.”
With the win, Division 3 sixth-ranked Harper Creek stayed perfect at 6-0 and remained in the driver’s seat for the Interstate Eight Conference crown with a 5-0 league mark.
Harper Creek running back Dawson Bartlett continued his impressive junior season by rushing 21 times for 227 yards and two scores in the contest.
But it was Parma Western that would strike first, taking a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by Luke Raczkowski with 1:11 to play in the first quarter.
It would be the Panthers’ only lead of the night.
The Beavers answered with 8:54 left in the first half when junior running back Noah Bauserman found paydirt on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Harper Creek senior Ethan Bishop ended Parma Western’s ensuing drive with an interception, setting up Bartlett for a 7-yard touchdown run to help the Beavers take a 14-7 halftime lead.
Harper Creek took control in the third quarter, as Bauserman scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run, followed just two minutes later by Bartlett with an impressive 55-yard touchdown scamper to give the Beavers a 28-7 advantage.
Beavers’ junior defensive back Brennen Martineau ended Parma Western’s next drive with an interception, and Harper Creek quickly took advantage as senior receiver Santino Schlimpert hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback A.J. Mitchell to make it 35-7 with 1:40 to play in the third quarter.
“I think our kids really responded the second quarter on,” Seedorf said. “Played fast, finally able to get to the quarterback a little bit with our blitz package, and our DBs came up with two picks which was huge for us.”
Parma Western didn’t go down quietly, as Raczkowski scored on a 1-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell would hook up with Schlimpert again, this time on a 30-yard touchdown strike to cap the Beavers’ scoring at 43-21.
Raczkowski would again find the endzone on a 1-yard touchdown run, while Panthers’ quarterback Steele Fortress would officially put an end to the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:31 remaining in regulation.
Offensively for Harper Creek, Bauserman finished the contest with eight carries for 30 yards and two touchdowns; Mitchell was 8-of-14 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns; and Schlimpert had four receptions for 85 yards and two scores.
Junior linebacker Dakota Walbeck led the Harper Creek defense with 8 1/2 tackles, including 3 1/2 for loss. Bishop had five stops to go with his interception.
Raczkowski led Parma Western with 13 carries for 77 yards and three touchdowns, while Fortress was 11-of-26 passing for 111 yards while adding 16 carries for 83 yards and a score.
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley