DEWITT — They heard the doubts.
They heard there were too many key players to replace.
They heard the suggestions this would be a down year for DeWitt football.
They heard it all and that talk only provided extra drive to a program accustomed to winning.
This fall has been centered around erasing all doubts, and the unbeaten Division 3 No. 4-ranked Panthers have done that.
The latest step came Friday with DeWitt putting together its best performance of the season in a dominating 49-21 victory over St. Johns — which was previously unbeaten in the CAAC Red.
DeWitt takes down St. Johns for CAAC Red title
Friday’s victory put the final touches on a 10th consecutive league title. And the Panthers beat each of their opponents in the CAAC Red by at least 17 points while stretching their streak of consecutive conference victories to 38 games.
And the beat goes on for DeWitt, which is in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years under coach Rob Zimmerman and is two wins away from a third straight perfect regular season.
“It’s pretty special, but I guess if you sit back and think about it, it’s quite an accomplishment,” Zimmerman said.
“We’ve got great players number one and great community support and a heck of a coaching staff. My lower level coaches are outstanding and we have a great youth program and all those things play a big part in us having the success we’ve had as a program.”
This fall it’s been a collective effort for the Panthers, who have done well in overcoming the loss of six three-year starters.
Special teams has been a quiet strength for DeWitt with the strong leg of placekicker Matthew Meagher and quarterback Will Nagel doubling as a dangerous punter. It’s giving DeWitt an edge over its opposition.
But there’s also an offense that’s averaging nearly 39 points and a physical defense that has allowed just 91 points in seven games and gets big stops when needed.
“We’ve got so many weapons on offense and a lot of our guys go both ways,” said senior tight end Evan Conn, who has been the Panthers’ top option in the passing game. “We’ve just got so many weapons offensively and defensively.”
Junior J.D. Ross was the big weapon Friday and the latest to step up with a strong performance for the Panthers. But Nagel, Conn and ShonQuise Trainor have been among the players that have come up big and helped DeWitt prove its doubters around the area wrong.
“The great thing about these guys is in the offseason when we started they weren’t a close-knit unit,” Zimmerman said. “Our seniors really did a nice job of bringing this team together. They believe in each other and they play for each other and we have had a lot of different guys step up in different games and that is pretty special.”
Contact Brian Calloway at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.