W-P’s Kyle Hottois hits the outside for a chunk of yardage during Friday’s season opening win over Rogers City. 

WHITTEMORE – Whittemore-Prescott’s offense scored a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Its defense put up a pair of big stops even later. As a result, the Cardinals were able to celebrate an exciting 12-8 season-opening victory Friday night over visiting Rogers City. 

“It’s really nice (to win early) because it shows you where you are at with your team and gives you an idea of what to expect the rest of the year,”W-P head coach Tommy Atkinson said. “The game was definitely a challenge for our kids, a hard-fought and physical game. It was nice to come out with a win. If we don’t make a couple mistakes the margin of victory could have been wider, but when you are able to make mistakes and still come out with a win, that’s a great way to start the year.” 

The teams spent their first couple drives of the North Star League contest feeling each other out, resulting in scoreless possessions. A bad punt late in the first quarter by Rogers City helped the Cardinals set up a possession starting just 30 yards away from the endzone.

Dakota McKuen sprinted 25 yards to the five-yard line on the first play of the drive and two plays later, Kyle Fenner found the endzone on a hard three-yard run through the middle. The two-point conversion was no good.

The Hurons struck back with a quick drive of their own, getting an eight-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Hein to JD Ellenberger. Hein also hit Ellenberger on the two-point conversion to give R-C the 8-6 lead.  

Neither team found the endzone in the second quarter, and it was late in the third quarter that the Cardinals received a spark from their special teams unit. Forcing the Hurons to punt, W-P’s Russell Wilson broke through the middle of the line to get a piece of the ball, with Wilson also scooping the ball up at the Hurons’ 25 yard line. 

The Cards picked up two first downs on the drive and on first and goal from the two, McKuen found room on the left side of the line to find his way to paydirt and give W-P a slim 12-8 edge with 11:14 to play in the fourth. 

From there the Cardinal defense stopped the Hurons on a fourth-and-goal from the seven and in the game’s waning moments, Wilson sacked the R-C quarterback as time ran out. 

“Our defense showed a lot of resilience, Rogers City had some good pieces,” Atkinson said. “Their backs ran hard and they had a couple talented wide receivers so it was nice that our defense stiffened up. We made a nice goal lien stand in the fourth quarter; our kids stepped up and swarmed to the football.” 

McKuen finished with 123 yards on 26 attempts, Dana Thorson ran seven times for 36 yards and Kyle Hottois ran three times for 28 yards. 

“We had a couple of unforced turnovers that were not sound football,” Atkinson said. “We had a couple drives where we were really driving the ball but would make a mistake.. We should be able to clean some of those thing sup and get sharper on that side of the ball but I was impressed that it seems like I have a stable of backs that run hard and I think Thorson does a good job of commanding the offense.” 

Wilson had six tackles to go with his blocked punt, Brad Lauria also had six tackles, Gagnon had five tackles and one sack and Aaron Mervyn and Tyler Watkins had five tackles each. 

“I was very impressed with the team, we have a lot of kids who are contributing who didn’t play a whole lot of meaningful amount of snaps last year or who are in different positions,” Atkinson said. “Those kids are doing a nice job of adapting and learning on the fly. Last year we had a lot of games that we weren’t able to grind out a victory but the kids were able to pull a victory out in this one and showed a lot of grit, especially getting a couple of big stops and that blocked punt by Wilson was absolutely huge.” 

W-P (1-0 overall, 1-0 NSL) hosts Manistee (1-0) in a non-league game on Friday. The Chippewas topped Mason County Central last week.