PETOSKEY — This one went to the tortoise.
Chase Ledingham rushed for 160 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns on 30 carries Friday as Petoskey held off Traverse City Central, 42-37, in a Big North Conference football game at Curtis Field.
It was Petoskey’s grind-it-out ball-control offense against Central’s sling-it and wing-it spread.
The Northmen followed the script that has so often worked for them in the recent past: Seize the early lead, then hang on and snuff out the opponent.
Both teams are 3-3 overall, 1-2 league. The Trojans’ two-game win streak came to an end, while the Northmen snapped a three-game losing skid, their longest since the 2007 season.
“We both did what we do,” Central coach Tom Passinault said. “We’re a spread them out, get the ball to our playmakers (type of team) and that worked extremely well for us. They grind it out and they chewed a bunch of clock.”
And yardage. Junior Kurt Boucher added 127 yards on 25 attempts for the Northmen, who finished with 334 yards on the ground and produced 18 first downs. Petoskey finished with 369 totals yards and four of its six scoring drives covered 60-plus yards.
Ledingham, Boucher and Co. won the war of contrasting styles despite a pair of outstanding performances by Central quarterback Sean Williams and running back Ethan Campbell.
Williams completed 16 of his 28 pass attempts for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Campbell scored four times and finished with 249 all-purpose yards from scrimmage.
Campbell bolted 74 yards for a TD on the Trojans’ first play from scrimmage, knotting the game at 7-all. He later scored on a 68-yard run and caught two TD passes from Williams, one covering 66 yards, the other 18. Campbell finished with 137 yards rushing on seven attempts, and caught five passes for 112 yards.
Williams’ other TD pass covered 15 yards to Jephte Jean-Claude.
Ledingham scored on runs of 4, 12, 5, 7 and 12 yards to equal the Petoskey single-game TD mark held by Irv Menzel and Joe Robbins. Boucher scored Petoskey’s other TD on a 4-yard run.
“We were prepared for this,” Ledingham said, adding that the Northmen knew their season could have been riding on Friday’s game. “We were ready to go. It really means a lot. I’m proud of my line. They did a great job. All week we really went hard, and we really focused on the little things. The little things matter, especially in our offense because we need to be a well-oiled machine and if it’s not, it doesn’t go our way.
“This game here really turns it back. We start the process again, we get rolling again. Everyone re-starts. We showed what we could really do.”
While Ledingham clearly made a major impact while carrying the football, he was just as critical in chasing it.
With the Northmen clinging to a 35-30 lead late in the fourth quarter, Central took over at its own 28-yard line. Three plays later, Central faced a second-down-and-6 from its own 33. Ledingham threw Williams for a 3-yard loss. A Williams pass fell incomplete on third down. On fourth down, Ledingham blitzed from his inside linebacker spot and sacked Williams again, effectively ending Central’s last good chance to seize the lead.
Ledingham then bulled in from 12 yards out – on fourth-and-2 – with 1:43 to extend Petoskey’s lead to 42-30 and effectively end the drama.
Ledingham’s final TD run was perhaps symbolic of the night. He hit the line in a huge pile, and emerged after shaking a Trojan tackler and bulled his way into the end zone.
“When we get this close, you forget about everything,” he said. “You’re down, your body’s hurting, but it’s the game, it just keeps you pushing. That last one? … I just put my head down to get that first down. My line made a good hole and it just happened to work out.”
It did not help Central’s defense that it was playing without one starting inside linebacker, Josiah Lopez-Wild, and the other, Joe Schepperly, was severely hobbled. Both were injured last week in a 35-14 victory over Gaylord.
“By week six, everybody is banged up,” Passinault said. “In the span of five minutes last Saturday we lost both of our inside linebackers who are both tremendous players, and it showed tonight.
“I’m not a coach who makes excuses, but that’s a fact. That really, really hurt.”
Williams was intercepted just once, but the play proved to be a turning point.
Petoskey led, 21-14, when Northman Steven Snider picked off a Williams pass and returned it 14 yards to the Trojan 26-yard line with under four minutes to play in the first half.
Petoskey cashed in when Ledingham capped the short drive with a 5-yard scoring run. Nathanial Reed’s extra point kick extended Petoskey’s lead to 28-14.
The Trojans got a 37-yard field goal from Jake Gorter as time expired in the half to slice their deficit to 28-17, and they continually lapped at Petoskey’s heels throughout the second half. They drew to 28-23 and then 35-30, but they could never get the equalizer.
“Petoskey’s had our number,” Passinault said. “We have not had much success here. Credit to Kerry (Petoskey coach VanOrman). They do what they do and they do it well.
“We’ve got to regroup and try to run the table. I’m proud of our kids. It’s high school football. They battled and had fun. They did a good job. They did everything they could do to stop them.”