Micah Binford levels a Chapel Hill ballcarrier. (Photos by Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com)

by Riley Hicks

It has been a rough opening to the season for the Whitewater Wildcats as they have limped through a brutal non-region slate. The injury bug has played a key factor for the Wildcats with two of their top playmakers, Hunter Williams and Elijah Roland, on the sidelines for Friday night’s homecoming game. Whitewater hoped to get back on track as they welcomed the Chapel Hill Panthers, but the Panthers found a way to shut down the Wildcats offense in a 28-7 win,. 

With two playmakers out of the game, the team put the ball squarely in the hands of Maddox Mueller. On the first offensive possession, this tactic worked as the Wildcats drove down the field and scored a quick touchdown, but the Panthers soon found an answer for the dual-threat quarterback. During the first possession, Mueller made quick work of the defense by finding huge gaps and gaining yards in chunk each play. He capped off the drive with a quarterback keeper to the left for four yards to give Whitewater an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter. 

The Panthers answered back with a score of their own on their first possession. Relying heavily on its quarterback like Whitewater, KJ Burton kept the ball in his hands a majority of the drive. When it looked as if the Wildcat defense was about to make a stand and get off the field, Burton escaped the pocket and broke off a 55-yard run for a touchdown to tie the game. 

Hampton Guess filled in at running back for a Whitewater team limited by injuries.

Following the touchdown, both offenses stalled out and were unable to get anything going. When it looked as if the teams were going into the half tied, Burton broke the deadlock by adding two touchdowns in the final two minutes. The first came on a 17-yard pass to Elijah Brown that gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead with only a 1:47 left in the half. After only a 30-second drive by the Wildcats, the Panthers got the ball back with plenty of time to work with and they made Whitewater pay for it. Burton was able to once again escape the pocket and throw a deep pass to Miles Richardson for 45 yards and the touchdown for a 21-7 halftime lead. 

Coming out of the locker room to start the second half, the Wildcats defense looked completely different from the final two minutes of the first half. With Will Lewis leading the way, Whitewater was able to make four consecutive stops on Chapel Hill and give the ball back over to its offense. 

The offense tried to get something going, but each time the Panther defense kept swarming in the backfield and forcing the Wildcats to punt. After holding the Panthers as long as they could, Chapel Hill put together one final drive all on the ground to go down the field and score a late touchdown. The drive was capped off with a 9-yard run by Imani Davis to give the Panthers a 28-7 lead to close out the game. 

This now puts Whitewater winless as they prepare to start region play next week. With a blank slate in the region, they have the chance to write a completely different story if they can regain their winning ways. That road will start Friday night when they host the Griffin Bears, who are projected as one of the best teams in the region. If Whitewater wants to make a statement that they still are the team to beat, this is the chance.