ELK RAPIDS — A slot back and a sophomore each found a home in the backfield Friday night.
Devon Pitawanakwat switched from receiver to lead running back following Elk Rapids’ Week One loss and paced the Elks offense, while sophomore Caleb Melton — the biggest sophomore you’ve ever seen, according to coach Tony Moller — feasted in the backfield with six tackles and three sacks on defense.
The pair took up permanent residency in the backfield, spurring Elk Rapids to a 24-15 win over East Jordan at Glowicki Field.
Pitawanakwat carried 15 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns, breaking tackles left and right.
Moller was curious to see how Pitawanakwat would perform in a different role, and it’s safe to say the powerful downhill runner won’t be switching back.
“Devon’s just a beast running downhill,” Elks quarterback Gordie LaFontaine said.
Melton, meanwhile, played enforcer on the defensive line, helping Elk Rapids (1-1) keep East Jordan off the scoreboard during the first half, while the offense struggled to finish drives.
The sophomore showed quick burst off the line of scrimmage and routinely disrupted East Jordan’s offense before it could get started.
“Caleb’s the biggest sophomore I’ve ever seen in my life,” Moller said. “Last week he was a missile with his head down and he couldn’t stop. This week, he had his head up and was more disciplined. And I think he’ll enjoy playing that style of football better than the missile.”
Melton and the defense shut out the Red Devils in the first half, during which Elk Rapids only mustered six points despite playing virtually the entire 24 minutes on East Jordan’s half of the field.
“It’s an inner drive — something sparks up inside of you, you’re fired up and you’re ready to hit somebody,” Melton said.
East Jordan (0-2) opened the second half with a touchdown catch by Levi Pepin, who found his way behind the Elk Rapids defense on a deep route.
Suddenly, the Red Devils had a 7-6 lead despite relative dominance by the Elks.
But Elk Rapids responded.
Pitawanakwat and LaFontaine marched the Elks down the field on the very next possession, and the bruising wide-receiver-turned-tailback broke multiple tackles on a touchdown run to cap the drive.
“We responded the way we wanted to,” Pitawanakwat said. “We worked our butt off and came together as a team and took the dub.”
Finally having found its footing, Elk Rapids didn’t let up. Less than four minutes later, the Elks found the end zone again on a long touchdown run by LaFontaine, who had a better night on the ground than he did through the air.
The score gave Elk Rapids its first two-score lead of the game at 18-7. LaFontaine ran for one more touchdown — this time from 14 yards out — late in the fourth quarter to give the Elks a 24-7 advantage.
LaFontaine chalked up the Elks’ slow start off to a young team.
“We just got a lot of young guys that are coming in and they’re it figuring out and doing a great job,” the junior signal-caller said. “We’ll figure it out and just kind of work out the kinks. Great team win though.”
LaFontaine finished the game with 92 rushing yards on eight carries to go with his two scores. He was 12-of-26 passing for 174 yards and threw two interceptions.
Marlin Starkey had five catches for 59 yards, while Elks teammate Robert Fager caught two passes for 54 yards.
East Jordan tried to climb back into the game with a late touchdown pass from Dawson Olstrom to Aidan Webb, cutting Elk Rapids’ lead to 24-15.
Elk Rapids hosts Kalkaska (0-2) on Friday. East Jordan plays at Johannesburg Lewiston (2-0).