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Jackets rally past Pioneers in much-anticipated showdown WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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CLARE - In a football game with more twists and turns than Ithaca High has won state championships, the ending here Friday night was pretty much to be expected ... a Yellowjacket victory.

But, the five-time state champs needed plenty of help in the season-opener before leaving the field with a 31-28 win over a talented Clare High squad.

It was Ithaca's 84th win against one loss since 2010.

However, it looked as though setback No. 2 may be on the horizon late in the first half when the Pioneers had the ball and a 20-10 lead.

Budding star Joey Bentley, who doubles as the Ithaca quarterback, had other ideas.

He intercepted a Clare pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown that made it 20-17 at the break.

"Clare had us on the ropes," said Yellowjacket mentor Terry Hessbrook. "That play changed the whole momentum of the game. You could feel the air come out of their sideline."

Veteran Pioneer Kelly Luplow agreed.

"That pick-six hurt us," he said. "It took the momentum away from us."

Ithaca scored the first two touchdowns of the second half to go ahead, 31-20, with both scores being set up by Clare miscues.

The first was a botched snap on a punt that gave Ithaca the ball on the Clare 25 following a penalty. Bentley teamed with Seth Davis in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score and the Yellowjackets' first lead of the game, 24-20.

Midway in the fourth period, Clare was in punt formation but threw an incomplete pass instead on a blown play giving Ithaca the ball on the the Pioneer 37.

This time Bentley went back to pass, tucked the ball under his arm and raced 25 yards for a TD and the 31-20 lead.

With 8:20 remaining, one might have figured the Pioneers were out of it.

Not so on this warm but pleasant evening in mid-Michigan.

After an Ithaca punt was downed on the Clare 11, the potent combination of Travis Vida and Brenden Sersaw got together on an 89-yard touchdown play. Coupled with a two-point pass from Vida to Gabe Denton, it was now 31-28 with 4:14 left.

The Pioneers had the ball two more times but could not find the end zone.

"Everybody got their money's worth from this one," Hessbrook said. "I think both teams and their fans are exhausted.

"That was a heckuva game. We beat a great program. I knew we were in for a battle."

There were plenty of first-game jitters with five turnovers (three by Clare) and 21 penalties (11 for Ithaca). Lack of effort on either side was never a factor.

"It was pretty intense out there," Luplow said. "We're still pretty young (seven seniors) but I think we're going to be pretty good. I think we opened a few eyes in this game. But, we still have to get better."

Clare took a 7-0 lead in the first period on a two-yard run by Brandon Zinser before Bentley hit Devin Barnes on a 47-yard scoring pass to knot it at 7-7. A three-yard run by Denton made it 14-7 after one period.

Ithaca cut the deficit to 14-10 early in the second period on a 24-yard field goal by Adam Culp.

The Pioneers then stretched the lead to 20-10 on a 15-yard a pass from Vida to Tyler Rodenbo before Bentley returned the interception for the TD.

The 6-2, 175-pound Bentley, just a junior, threw for 94 yards and rushed for 149 more to spearhead the Yellowjacket offense.

"He's the kind of kid who makes a coach look good," Hessbrook joked. "He's a 4.0 student with a strong arm and good feet."

Vida completed 12-of-29 passes for 219 yards for Clare.

Zinser rushed for 79 yards on 12 carries while Rodenbo grabbed five passes for 68 yards.

Last Updated: 8/27/2016 12:33:35 AM EST