Evart overpowers Baldwin 49-13

BALDWIN — Evart spoiled Baldwin’s hopes Friday night of automatically advancing to the state football playoffs for a third straight season.

In the regular season finale for both teams, Evart (4-5) prevailed 49-13 over Baldwin (4-4).

Because the Panthers played an eight-game schedule this season, they would have automatically qualified for the playoffs with five wins. With a 4-4 mark, they were still eligible for a playoff spot based on points. The Michigan High School Athletic Association announced the 256-team field Sunday night and Baldwin was included

“4-4 and 5-3 is about where I figured we’d be this year with the teams we’re playing,” Baldwin coach Doug Bolles said. “I figured this would be a key game. I figured we’d probably have to win this one to make the playoffs. We might be fortunate enough to get in at 4-4. We’re about where I thought. We replaced a lot of guys.”

Evart’s offense scored five touchdowns en route to a 35-13 halftime lead.

“I thought our kids played well,” Evart coach Pat Craven said. “We played hard, we played fast. We overwhelmed Baldwin with our team speed and overall athleticism.”

The Panthers scored both of their touchdowns on exciting plays. The first was a 67-yard pass from Da’Ron Copeland to Brandon Beane. That made it 7-0 early in the first quarter. Copeland had a 68-yard touchdown on a punt return after Evart had scored four unanswered TDs. That made it 28-13.

Also in the first quarter, Evart scored on a 4-yard run by Chris Imhoff for a 7-7 tie. The Wildcats then scored 28 points in the second quarter with Trevin Ladd passing 3 yards to Robbie Tapling, Danny Griffin running for 55 yards and Cody Pritchard scampering 20 yards. That made it 28-7. After Copeland’s touchdown, Evart drove for its fifth touchdown with Ladd passing 19 yards to Griffin with two seconds left in the half for the 22-point lead.

“I felt real good early,” Bolles said. “We had a couple of other chances and some things happened. Then the momentum started swinging the other way. There were some stops we couldn’t get.”

A bad snap on a Panther punt attempt and interceptions by Jericho VanScoyoc and Robbie Tapling also hampered Baldwin’s offense in the first half.

“Our defense played strong all year long,” Craven said. “It definitely was the strongest point of our team. We expect them to play well every Friday night and they did again.”

Pritchard’s 58-yard touchdown run to open the second half made it 42-13.

In the fourth quarter, Layne Nadig had a 3-yard touchdown run for Evart. Griffin later had an interception.

“Our young kids keep getting better and better and they work hard to put themselves in that position,” Craven said. “They’ve been coached well and they’re executing the game plan.”

Imhoff was 7-7 in PAT kicks.

Ladd passed for 22 yards. Evart had 361 yards rushing, led by Griffin with 120, Pritchard with 102 and Imhoff with 98.

Baldwin only had 36 yards rushing and 120 passing on nine Copeland completions.

The Wildcats wound up winning their last two games. A major highlight of the season came in a 17-7 win over perennial state power Beal City.

“The last two wins are nice to put us in the offseason on a high note,” Craven said. “We’re disappointed with the outcome. We’d like to be looking at playing next week (in the playoffs). But it was not in the cards for us. We have to learn from it and move on.”

“My hat’s off to them, I knew it was going to be tough,” Bolles said. “They have a good football team.”

The Panthers and Wildcats both had one common opponent: Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian, a team Baldwin beat on the road 38-33 the second week of the season. Evart defeated Tri-Unity at home last week 49-8.

“I talked to Pat prior to the game and I give them a lot of credit,” Bolles said. “I said it was too bad (being under .500) considering they beat a good Beal City team and were close in a lot of other games. They had a tough season and some close-game losses. They play in the Highland Conference. They’re a real good team.

“We saw some things that are coming, but we’re just not consistent,” Bolles said. “It hurt us.”