TOLEDO - Brian Colatruglio probably didn't mind his Columbian team having to punt away its first possession of the second half at Whitmer
The Tornadoes trailed 14-6 at the time. But they still had some momentum after driving 66 yards in 10 plays to get a touchdown just before halftime, and they had settled down some on defense after yielding a couple quick scores in the first quarter.
After Austin Bentz couldn't get a foot down inbounds to complete a long, leaping catch, Josh Meisner's punt was fair caught by Whitmer at its own 36, but Columbian got flagged for an illegal formation. In truth, the Tornadoes had enough men on the line of scrimmage, but Colatruglio said his team should have been penalized for too many men of the field.
As it was, Whitmer accepted the penalty, and Meisner's second boot went to the same yard marker. Whitmer's Alonzo Lucas sprinted over to receive near the sideline and appeared pinned, but the Tornadoes never brought down the 5-10, 140-pound junior, who got the necessary blocks and sped his way in front of the Whitmer bench for a game-turning touchdown.
Lucas' return proved to be the backbreaker as the host Panthers wore down Columbian for a 35-6 season-opening win.
"That was kind of the story of the night - little mistakes that you just can't make against a good football team," said Colatruglio, who made his debut as TC's head coach. "We gave up big plays in the return game, penalties, turnovers, and those are things you just can't do against any football team, much less a team as great as them."
Whitmer 35, Columbian 6
Columbian 0 60 0 - 6
Whitmer140714 - 35
W - Jody Webb 55 run (Jared Kenczewicz kick), 7:23
W - Tre' Sterritt 5 run (Kenczewicz kick), 4:49
TC - Jesse Hernandez 6 pass from Tittle (Caden Chapman kick blocked), :51
W - Alonzo Lucas 64 punt return (Kenczewicz kick), 8:56
W - Webb 38 pass from Alex Kalicki (Kenczewicz kick), 11:48
W - Sterritt 8 run (Kenczewicz kick), 3:42
RUSHING: Columbian - Derrick Goliday 16-61; Ryan Tittle 10-14; Mike Lee 4-36; Vince Kurtz 4-9; Jack Jacoby 3-13; Derec Blodgett 3-8. Whitmer - Sterritt 12-136; Webb 12-101; Kalicki 13-26; Lucas 2-21; Justin Gaston 1-4.
PASSING: Columbian - Tittle 7-21-1-81. Whitmer - Palicki 9-16-1-129.
RECEIVING: - Austin Bentz 2-28; Jesse Hernandez 2-25; Lee 1-25; Daniel Wood 1-10; Chapman 1-(minus 7). - Lucas 4-61; Webb 1-38; Steven Aldrich 1-13; Palicki 1-7; Nigel Hayes 1-5; Nick Longenbarger 1-5.
Late in the third period, with the game still within reach at 21-6, Columbian had a would-be first down on a Jesse Hernandez reception, but he fumbled it away after a 19-yard gain - at least the officials ruled Hernandez fumbled before he was down, after a minute-long discussion.
Six plays later, after a Daniel Wood sack brought third-and-14 to start the final period, Jody Webb took an Alex Palicki screen pass and slipped a couple tackles on his way to a 38-yard touchdown that essentially clinched the game.
Tre' Sterritt tacked on an 8-yard scoring jaunt eight minutes later for Whitmer. Sterritt and Webb, a shifty sophomore-junior tandem at running back, each topped 100 yards on the night on 12 carries - Sterritt with 136 yards and Webb 101. Lucas added four catches for 61 yards.
"For us, as I'm kind of figuring out our team, the guys that have the speed, you gotta get them the ball," Whitmer coach Joe Palka said. "We have so many new kids, and we knew they could run. We just weren't sure how physical we'd be. What it came down to is we wanted to let them, in zone plays, just pick the hole and go and use their quickness.
"Truth of the matter is, Tiffin's got a great team," added Palka, whose deep Division I team employs a fresh 11 each series. "If they didn't have so many guys going two ways, that's a tight game down in the end."
Webb opened the scoring on the game's third possession getting around left end on third-and-1 for a 55-yard touchdown at the 7:23 mark. Four plays later Whitmer had the ball again when Ryan Tittle tried a receiver screen under duress and Garrett Clark had easy pickings at the TC 40. Sterritt carried 22 yards to the 8 and scored from the 5 two plays later at the 4:49 mark.
Whitmer was poised to make it a three-touchdown lead before Bentz stopped Palicki's bootleg run on fourth-and-1 at the 11.
Two series later Columbian found enough cracks in the Whitmer defense, and big chunks in the ground game from Jack Jacoby, Derrick Goliday and Vince Kurtz. Mike Lee took a jet sweep around right end for 22 yards to the 3.
On fourth-and-goal from the 6, Tittle found the right touch on a rainbow to Hernandez for a touchdown with 56 seconds remaining in the quarter. Caden Chapman's extra point kick was blocked, but the Tornadoes were riding high after the TD and Hernandez's interception to end the half Kenny Hayes' lumbering 24-yard return return gave Whitmer a scoring chance before halftime.
Our kicker, Caden, is still hurt, so I never really wanted to kick the field goal there, and we needed to score a touchdown," Colatruglio said. "We got the touchdown, we took their shot there in the beginning, we hung in there. I thought we were sitting pretty good at the half going in down a score and getting the ball coming out."
But then came the big breakdown which never would've happened if not for the mental gaffe beforehand.
"Still gotta cover the punt and tackle," Colatruglio said. "We were not solid on special teams, we turned the ball and we had penalties. All those things are a recipe for disaster, and that's what it turned into."
Goliday had 61 of the Tornadoes' 151 rushing yards. Tittle (7 of 21, 81 yards) got sacked twice and never got comfortable against a Whitmer defense that brought pressure from different angles and had a pair of 6-5 ends (240-pound Hayes and 250-pound junior Chris Wormley) who disrupted much of Columbian's game plan.
"Those two guys just completely annihilate anything you're trying to do," Colatruglio said. "I mean, those two defensive ends completely eliminate your offense. You can't throw a [jail]break because they bat it down, you can't drop back because they pressure, you can't throw screens because you can't see around them or throw it over them.
"The times where we did protect, we had guys open all over the place. We just couldn't protect enough to find those guys."