DEWITT – Will Nagel will be the first to tell you his play in last year’s postseason wasn’t up to par.
In last season’s district championship loss to Mason, the DeWitt quarterback threw multiple interceptions after replacing the injured Jacob Johnson in the second quarter.
His first shot at redemption came Friday night, and after throwing two interceptions in the first half, it looked as if Nagel’s playoff woes were going to continue. But the dual-threat signal caller regrouped at halftime and scored three second-half touchdowns to help lead the Panthers past CAAC Red rival Haslett, 38-20, in the opening round of the Division 3 playoffs.
“Last year in the playoffs I struggled,” said Nagel, whose team has defeated the Vikings 15 straight times. “It was good experience for me to drive off of. In the second half I knew I would have to keep my mind straight and keep my focus. Even after those two picks I just had to keep fighting and fighting.”
No. 7-ranked DeWitt will move on to face another conference foe, St. Johns, in next week’s district championship. The Panthers (9-1) defeated the Redwings, 49-21, earlier this year and have not lost to them since 2010.
“When you play a team a second time, you know it’s going to be very, very difficult,” Panthers coach Rob Zimmerman said. “They were fired up to play (Haslett). I love their heart tonight.
“I think they’ll be very excited to play St. Johns. It will be another war and they’ll be ready to go.”
As it has all season long, the DeWitt defense left its imprint on Friday’s contest. Senior defensive back Shayne Cullen scored the game’s first touchdown when he intercepted Haslett quarterback Jake Tahaney and returned it 20-plus yards to the end zone.
The senior was intercepted four times on the night, twice by Cullen, and those turnovers led to 14 Panther points.
“They have a very solid defense up front,” said Tahaney, who also threw two touchdowns. “Our offense did the best job they could. Turnovers obviously didn’t help. … It happens. You just have to adapt to it.”
After having a 17-7 lead to start the third quarter, Nagel and the DeWitt offense started to get going. On the Panthers’ first possession of the second half, Nagel scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. He added a 1-yard touchdown run on the following drive. And with 7:19 remaining in the game, the junior connected with Ethan Bartold, who also recorded an interception, for a 26-yard score to put DeWitt up 38-13.
“We weren’t as comfortable, offensively, as I would have liked us to be,” Zimmerman said when asked about the change in his offense from the first half to the second half. “We went back to more of our base stuff and I think we executed a lot better once we got back to our regular scheme of things.”
Junior tailback Mykal Stinson had three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) for Haslett. JD Ross hauled in a 33-yard touchdown reception for the Panthers late in the second quarter.
Contact James L. Edwards III at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.