DETROIT, Mich (WLNS) – Ever since July, when DeWitt’s football team started its summer workouts, the Panthers knew there was something special about this group and Rob Zimmerman knew it too.
He loved the intangibles about his team, like senior leadership and the desire to work hard, but he also couldn’t deny the Panthers’ athletic ability. It shined through all season, which is why DeWitt entered its Division 3 state championship game against River Rouge with an undefeated 11-0 record.
It’s also why DeWitt (12-0) was able to knock off the defending champs, 40-30, for its first-ever state title in the program’s history, backed by junior quarterback Tyler Holtz’s five touchdown performance.
“He’s been my neighbor since I was one years old, and we’re here, and I get to play beside him” said senior running back Andrew Debri. “I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of him.”
Holtz finished with 177 yards passing for four touchdowns, and rushed for 118 yards for a score. Holtz’s 2-yard scoring run was the final touchdown of the night for the Panthers to give them a 40-22 advantage with 4:10 to play.
“He’s the most competitive kid I’ve ever known in my entire life,” added Debri. “He’s so competitive. He doesn’t back down to anybody no matter what. Some people may say he’s undersized, but I don’t think so. He’s got the biggest heart in the world, and I’m so proud of him, and I couldn’t be more thankful that I got to play next to him.”
“I don’t even know how to react,” said Holtz. “We did it for the teams behind us. The teams before us, the teams after us, and most importantly we did it for ourselves. We knew going into it what was at stake, battled through all the adversity this year, and I’m just so happy we came out with the win.”
DeWitt has been here before, making an appearance in the state title game a total of six times in its program’s history, yet its never been able to win it all until this year. The last time the Panthers made it to Ford Field was in 2013. It was Rob Zimmerman’s fourth at the helm. The trophy had always eluded him, but not the fifth time around.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Zimmerman. “You know again I keep talking about the kids. I’m just so happy for them because they’ve made just unbelievable sacrifices to get to this point and they’ve done everything that they needed to do to put themselves in this position. It’s rare that you find a team that’s willing to do that, and has the leadership to do it, and I’m just so happy for these guys.”
“There were four teams and they were all known as the finalist teams and for us to be the champions, I can’t believe it,” said Debri. “I’m so happy for Coach Zim and everybody. Coach (Kyle) Haskell, Coach (Tim) Williams, Coach (Phil) Wilson, every single player that’s every come through this program. It’s for everyone.”