Great players step up in big time situations. They feed off the intensity of a tight game, and relish moments that call on them to make big plays down the stretch. We saw a lot of that this weekend. With the season on the line, the best players stepped up and got the job done.
(On a side, we didn’t see that with the Seahawks when they blew yet another fourth-quarter lead en route to a devastating loss to Arizona. At least everyone got paid. Freaking Seattle.)
One of those players is Michael Whitley, BR-85 Lakeland’s top dawg quarterback and consummate playmaker. The Muskies desperately needed a victory over BR-114 Benedictine in order to secure the NACC title and earn an automatic playoff berth. A loss might have destroyed Lakeland’s playoff chances. Everything was at stake in this one. The future of every player was on the line. The future was on the line!
Just to make sure you understand, this was an important game.
Whitley understood the situation and put on a clinic. The 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore quarterback from Vidalia, Louisiana, led his team to an easy 46-22 blowout victory, completing 34-of-51 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns and rushing 19 times for 148 yards and another two scores. That’s 520 yards of total offense accrued by one player (a school record, by the way).
That’s why Whitley is this week’s Dynamic Duo subject … I figured the duo could be his arm and legs. He’s a dynamic duo in himself. A dynamic dual threat? It’s kind of weird when you think about it, and maybe it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) work … but this kid did enough this season to make you go …
Need more? Check this out: Whitley finished the regular season among the Top 10 quarterbacks in the nation with 3,219 yards and 33 touchdowns. He threw just seven interceptions (the same amount as Joe Callahan and Chase Burton, the No. 1 and No. 2 signal callers) on 402 pass attempts, ranking him among the Top 40 in passing efficiency (153.8).
Not bad for a guy who finished with just 187 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
His squad got off to a slow start this season. After an overtime victory against Carroll in Week 1, the team came off its bye and dropped two straight — to Albion and Carthage.
Against BR-109 Carroll, Whitley totaled 312 yards of offense (200 through the air, 100 on the ground) and four touchdowns. Against BR-17 Albion and BR-74 Carthage, the sophomore totaled -7 rushing yards in both games combined, though, to be fair, he threw for 381 yards and 367 yards, respectively, for five total touchdowns.
Whitley and his team bounced back with a narrow 15-13 victory over BR-156 Wisconsin Lutheran. Whitley completed 18-of-30 passes for 218 yards and one score, but shredded the defense for 82 yards and a touchdown.
The following week saw Lakeland really find its groove with a stellar 41-0 victory over BR-238 Concordia-Chicago. Whitley went 15-of-20 for 206 yards and four touchdowns, and added an additional rushing score.
But Whitley was just getting started.
Next on the agenda was BR-119 Trine University, which Lakeland dominated 61-35 thanks to Whitley’s astonishing 500 yard, eight-score performance. Whitley accrued 438 yards — the fifth most passing yards in a single game in Lakeland’s history — and six touchdowns — which tied the school record — through the air, and 62 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Muskies scored 27 points in the first quarter to cruise to the easy victory, improving to 4-2 overall.
More wins followed, along with more spectacular Whitley performances. He racked up 400-plus total yards and four-plus touchdowns against BR-173 Aurora and BR-182 Concordia, then totaled 364 yards of offense and four touchdowns in a pivotal match-up with BR-204 Rockford in Week 10.
Despite the six-game winning streak, Lakeland still remained tied with Benedictine in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference. Each team carried a perfect 5-0-conference record, 7-2 overall, and setting up a winner-takes-all situation in the final week of the season.
Whitley wasted no time taking over the game. The sophomore QB scored at the 9:14 mark in the first quarter, then again at the end of the opening period. Whitley blew the game wide open with a 16 yard pass to Michael Esibou late in the second quarter that pushed the score to 20-7, then scored twice in the third period to extend the lead to 27.
Benedictine made a small run, but Whitley continued to rack up the touchdowns, netting two more in the final period to ice the game and the conference title.
Of course, Whitley had a lot of help from his teammates, including a stellar defense that forced four turnovers. His receiving corps stepped up big, as they have all season, with three players scoring at least a touchdown and four accruing 70 yards or more.
Make no mistake, this was a team effort through and through with Whitley leading the charge.
The best thing about this whole scenario? The Muskies get their QB for two more seasons. After a stunning breakout campaign, Whitley is just getting started.