Mentkowski's big play caps big night for Falcons
Falcons open field with victory over rival
Greenfield - On a gala night for Whitnall football fans, Sam Mentkowski provided the crowning moment of glory.
The Falcons were clinging to a 13-6 advantage with three minutes left against Greenfield on Friday night, but the Hustlin' Hawks stood just 27 yards from a tying touchdown.
On fourth-and-7, quarterback Joey Hannah fired a pass downfield, but Mentkowski picked it off at the 4, sprinted to his left, found some blockers and rambled 96 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that sealed a 19-6 triumph for the Falcons.
"They (the Whitnall coaches) just told me to stay on (the receiver)," Mentkowski said. "I just did what I was supposed to do, and it (the ball) came right to me."
Celebrating new field
Mentkowski's big play was a perfect cap to an evening-long celebration of Whitnall's sparkling new Falcon Field, the district's much-anticipated major construction project.
"This is absolutely beautiful," said Whitnall head coach Jeff Wallack after the game in a darkened stadium that was illuminated only by the flash of fireworks overhead. "I couldn't be happier, and I'm glad they're launching fireworks with a victory. It's just been a great experience."
The first-ever series at Falcon Field was run by the home team, and although it included a pair of complete passes by quarterback Zach Sutton, it ended in a punt.
In fact, the first four series resulted in punts, but the fourth punt attempt, by Greenfield, turned out to be the first key moment of the game.
The punter inadvertently put his knee on the ground while fielding the snap, giving Whitnall the ball on the Greenfield 20.
Sutton hit Mentkowski for 14 yards and Patrick Wyrowski for eight to put the ball on the 1-yard line. Sutton then plowed through a big hole up the middle to put Whitnall on the board as well as to become the answer to the trivia question of who scored the first touchdown at Falcon Field.
Another big INT
The Hawks gave themselves an opportunity when Xavier Copeland returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the Falcon 33. Mentkowski ended that threat when he picked off a pass at his own 28.
That play started a theme for the night, as Greenfield started six possessions inside midfield, including one at the Whitnall 14, but could come away with only two field goals.
"If we could have done anything offensively," head coach Scott Otto said, "we would have been fine. It's very apparent that (offense) is the missing ingredient right now. We're just going to keep working and getting after it."
Midway through the second period, Whitnall marched 54 yards in five plays. Mentkowski snagged a Sutton pass at about the Greenfield 30, surrounded by three defenders. He escaped all of them and ran all the way to the 17.
Sutton then found Mentkowski in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard score. Nate Stemo's kick was good, and the Falcons were up 13-0 with 6:09 left in the half.
Greenfield drove from midfield to the Whitnall 5 in the final minute. Mentkowski broke up a pass in the end zone and Hannah connected on a 22-yard field goal as time expired to cut it to 13-3.
Early in the second half, an interception by Zach Davis gave the Hawks the ball on the Whitnall 38, but they could do nothing with it.
Later, Mike Kaifesh picked off a pass deep in his own territory and returned it 64 yards to the Falcon 14. Again, though, the Hawks were stopped, and they settled for a 26-yard field goal by Hannah.
Falcons miff punt snap
Greenfield had its final chance when a punt snap sailed over Mitch Anderer's head and was downed at the Whitnall 30 with 3:33 left. The Hawks reached the 27 before Mentkowski made his game-clinching interception.
"Mentkowski's an all-around great kid, one of the best in the Woodland Conference," Wallack said. "He's a special kind of player, and we're lucky to have him."
Whitnall allowed only about 160 total yards, which certainly pleased Wallack.
"When you give up 586 yards to a good Tosa West team (on Aug. 31), practices weren't nice this week," he said. "We were really pushing the issue, and we're so happy about what happened tonight."
The Hawks, meanwhile, held Sutton to just 136 yards passing after he came into the game with 587 through the air.
"I just can't say enough about our defense," Otto said. "To hold down a very good offense to 13 points, that's just awesome."
Whitnall also had two unsung heroes, running back Dan Lak, who gave them 34 yards and allowed them to run the clock a bit in the second half, and punter Anderer, who averaged 46 yards on four kicks in the first half.
Whitnall (2-1) returns to Falcon Field at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 to take on St. Francis (0-3), while Greenfield (0-3) plays host to Cudahy (0-3).
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