Hatch kickoff return helps Chieftains edge Wildcats

Published 11:37 pm Friday, September 11, 2015

Dowagiac’s Ronnie Payne breaks up a pass in the Chieftains’ 14-7 win over Three Rivers Friday night. (Leader photo/KELLY SWEENEY)

Dowagiac’s Ronnie Payne breaks up a pass in the Chieftains’ 14-7 win over Three Rivers Friday night. (Leader photo/KELLY SWEENEY)

Defense and special teams carried the Dowagiac football team past Three Rivers, 14-7, in Wolverine Conference action on Friday.

Jared Hatch’s 86-yard kickoff return for the Chieftains with 6:42 left in the game was the game-winning score as the Chieftains improved their record to 2-1.

Kevin Whitaker’s interception at Three Rivers’ 40-yard line with 1:15 left in the game sealed the win for the hosts.

“We knew they were out of timeouts,” Dowagiac coach Mike Stanger said. “We wanted to keep everything in front of us. They beat us on a 65-yard touchdown pass in a 22-19 loss last year. We also wanted to bring pressure. We ran ‘Ohio’ and that put Kevin Whitaker at safety and he was reading the quarterback. He made a great read and played over the ball and made the interception.”

Austin Taggart’s 56-yard punt pinned the Wildcats back at their own 3-yard line with 1:29 left in the game.

Whitaker’s interception came one play after an incompletion from Three Rivers quarterback Adam Reed.

“It’s one-third of the game,” Stanger said about his team’s special teams play. “We tell that to our kids every day. We practice our special teams every day. Monday is kickoff returns, Tuesday is punt returns and Wednesday we work on extra-points and field goals.”

Up until the fourth quarter the game was a defensive struggle as neither team could dent the scoreboard.

Dowagiac put together a 12-play, 80-yard drive late in the third quarter into the fourth to take a 6-0 lead with nine minutes left in the game. Austin Jones’ two-yard run produced the first points of the game. The extra-point was missed.

Three Rivers responded with a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass from Reed to Tate Ellifritz with 6:56 showing on the clock.

The Wildcats 7-6 lead lasted for only 14 seconds as Hatch brought the momentum back to Dowagiac after his long kickoff return.

Scott Hassle’s quarterback sack for Dowagiac on fourth down ended a Three Rivers’ drive at the Chieftains’ 20-yard line with 4:22 left in the game.

Dowagiac’s defense held Three Rivers to 35 yards rushing.

“Defensively, we’ve played great all year,” Stanger said. “We lost to Vicksburg, but we had six turnovers. Last week (against South Haven) and this week our defense was awesome.”



At Dowagiac

Three Rivers  0          0          0          7 – 7

Dowagiac        0          0          0          14 – 14

D – Austin Jones 2 run (kick failed)

T – Tate Ellifritz 24 pass from Adam Reed (Riley Seifert kick)

D – Jared Hatch 86 kickoff return (Jones run)

Varsity records: Three Rivers 1-2, Dowagiac 2-1