Shea Ruddy may go down in Ottawa Lake Whiteford football history as “Mr. Clutch.”
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior quarterback engineered a 17-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter to give the Bobcats a 26-20 victory over Ubly in a battle of unbeatens in the Division 8 championship game at Ford Field on Friday.
Ruddy capped the near eight-minute drive with a 7-yard touchdown run with only 1:59 left to break a 20-all deadlock, completing a 14-0 season and helping claim Whiteford's second state title in football.
“It was a run-pass option because it’s just a naked (bootleg) to draw the defense one way ... it’s a pass the other way, or I can take it, which I did,” Ruddy said of the game-clincher. “If he (the defender) covers that, I’m going.”
On the game-winning drive, he completed passes of 13 and 14 yards to Hunter DeBarr and Stephan Masserant, respectively, as well running it in from 7 yards out on third-and goal for the go-ahead TD. Ruddy also converted a fourth-and-5 with a 6-yard first-down run.
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“I thought, we got to score, and then we’re probably going to have to hold them for a few minutes, but we ate up clock, and got it down to two minutes I think,” Ruddy said. “I just kept telling them we had to keep going. We had a huge fourth down in there.”
Ruddy finished 8 of 12 passing for 112 yards, while also adding 65 on the ground. He also brings a lot of intangibles to the table as the Bobcats’ triggerman.
“Like I’ve told every person that I’ve talked to this all-football season ... just a great kid,” Whiteford first-year coach Todd Thieken said. “He’s a 4.2 (grade-point average) student, just the most likeable kid you’ll ever be around.
"As far as football goes, it’s just his love of the game. If you saw some of the plays he made last week, just the fun he’s having out there. That’s just neat to watch from a high school kid. The other is his leadership, the way he commands the offense, the huddle. The kids know if he says something, they’re going to do something they all buy into it and know it’s going to work. And his amazing athleticism.”
It seemed every time Ubly was ready to make a tackle on Ruddy, he’d wiggle out of trouble.
“We saw it on film, that’s that best kid I’ve seen this year and by far the best athlete we’ve seen this year,” Ubly third-year coach Eric Sweeney said. “We knew we were going to have a heck of a time containing him.”
And it was also frustrating from the player’s point of view as well.
“The last drive we got them down to third or fourth down every time and then they’d pop it out and get the first down, so that’s the most frustrating,” said Ubly senior defensive end Seth Maurer, who also led all rushers with 129 yards on just 15 carries.
DeBarr added 19 carries for 94 yards.
Ubly (13-1), using a full house T-formation attack, also got 82 rushing yards from Mark Hellig, but the Bearcats, who had thrown only 25 times all season, ran out of time when defensive back Ryin Ruddy knocked down Ubly QB Evan Peruski’s fourth-down desperation pass during the final minute to preserve the victory.
To start the second half, Whiteford marched 80 yards in 12 plays to go up 20-6 capped by DeBarr’s 4-yard TD run followed by Shea Ruddy’s two-point conversion run with 7:12 left.
But Ubly answered quickly, going 80 yards in just eight plays thanks to a 31-yard TD run by Maurer with 3:34 to go in the third. Brett Mueller’s PAT split the uprights to cut the deficit to 20-13.
The Bearcats, who seemed to have all the momentum, kept coming behind Maurer's running, tying the game at 20 on a 9-yard TD run by the 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior with 9:41 to go in the fourth after Mueller’s extra point.
“I think it just happened,” Maurer said of his second-half explosion. “My blockers were the main reason. I had Aiden Mackowiak, he was leading up the hole. He just really hit that linebacker. And I had Chris Oswald, coming down to hit the safety and that just opened up everything up. That’s the reason why I really got my name called so much because my blocking was so much better.”
Whiteford got an interception from Shea Ruddy at his own 32 with only nine seconds left in the half to preserve a 12-6 advantage. The Bobcats had a 175-125 advantage in total offense as Ruddy hit 4 of 8 passes for 56 yards while DeBarr added 52 on the ground.
“Actually, we weren’t sustaining drives and they did,” Sweeney said of his team’s first half. “It was the same kind of problem we had two years ago when we came down here and didn’t move the ball in the first half. In the second quarter we started moving the ball a little bit and it helped, but the time of possession killed us in the first half.”
Whiteford also converted on 4 of 7 third-down conversions over the first two quarters.
With 7:46 remaining in the second quarter, Whiteford’s Brayden Luse came up with a big stop on Peruski on fourth-and-goal at the Bobcats’ own 4.
“That stop we got in the first half was huge,” Thieken said.
Peruski’s interception at the Bobcats’ 30 set up a 2-yard TD run by Heilig to cut the deficit to 12-6 with 4:19 left in the half after the Bearcats were unable to convert the PAT.
“Defensively, our game plan was, just try and stop that ‘T’ offense,” Thieken said. “We got to get a stop here and there. And also, we definitely had to take that quarterback (Peruski) out of the game. We have to make sure he doesn’t hurt us because every game when something was on the line, he made play after play. He had one or two decent runs today, but nothing like we had saw on any of the games we watched on film.”
On fourth-and-9, Shea Ruddy made an unbelievable clutch scramble for 10-yard run and a first down putting the ball at the Ubly 1. He then carried it in for the TD, but the Bobcats were stopped on their second straight two-point attempt to hold a 12-0 advantage.
Whiteford defensive end Trent Olrich recovered an Ubly fumble at his own 48 to set up the Bobcats’ first score of the game, a 26-yard TD run by DeBarr with 9:17 left in the first quarter. Whiteford, however, was unable to convert the two-point conversion run to lead 6-0.
Whiteford won the 2018 Division 8 state title, while Ubly, with a pair of runner-up finishes, was denied in its third attempt in the finals.
And the Bobcats’ passing attack was just enough to keep the Ubly defense honest.
“There were definitely some things and we talked it through it with the kids during the week that we thought we could certainly do in the passing game, that never changed,” Thieken said. “We obviously saw through the game where we could put those things in and had some good opportunities with that.”
After losing in the semifinals a year ago to Hudson, 28-22, Whiteford was able to duplicate its 2018 Division 8 title run and run the table in 2022 thanks to the play of “Mr. Clutch.”
“These are my brothers, my family,” Ruddy said. “They’ve been with me for four years. I love them to death.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MHSAA football: Ottawa Lake Whiteford wins Division 8 over Ubly