BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor hung on to the victory despite not hanging on to the football.
The Tigers defeated Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills 26-20 in their home opener on Friday, overcoming five lost fumbles and an interception.
“(Ottawa Hills) really aggressively attacked the football,” Benton Harbor coach Tom Matthews said. “They pulled a couple of them out of the pile, it wasn’t necessarily our guys dropping the ball. But certainly, ball security’s going to be a high priority starting Monday because we almost gave that one away.”
Benton Harbor (1-1) was the far more effective offensive team, outgaining Ottawa Hills (1-1) by a 413-78 margin. The Tigers trailed for most of the second half, however, thanks to mistakes. Ottawa Hills scored first-half touchdowns on a kickoff return and a fumble return to lead 20-16 at the break.
Ottawa Hills, however, made the decisive mistake. Leading 20-18 but facing fourth-and-30 after a string of penalties, the Bengals lined up to punt. An errant snap led to the punter being tackled at the two-yard line.
“Unfortunate events,” Ottawa Hills coach Christian Verley said. “Rain starts coming down, we get two penalties back-to-back and then we get a bad snap. It’s par for the course.
“It’s just about executing. This game came down to a battle of inches, and we lost that one inch.”
From there, quarterback Quindarius Davis plunged in for the 2-yard score for Benton Harbor with 4:51 left.
The Tigers came up with a defensive stop, and appeared to be in total control when Eric Johnson had back-to-back runs of 20 and 17 yards, taking the ball down to the Bengals’ 8-yard line. Johnson finished with 18 carries for 140 yards, and the Tigers ran 56 times for 341 yards as a team.
“We run a split-back veer and we know we can run the ball,” Matthews said. “But you can’t make mistakes. You have to be able to get in the red zone and finish.”
On the next play, Ottawa Hills’ Jose Molero stripped the ball away and raced to the Benton Harbor 32, giving the Bengals a last chance.
Ottawa Hills made it as far the Benton Harbor 12-yard-line, but Kamarion Craig was stopped two yards shy of the first down on fourth-and-11.
“I thought (the defense) did a great job,” Matthews said. “We put them in some bad spots. Probably only a couple drives where we lost responsibility. Overall, in the second half we really took over the game and took advantage of the situations they gave us.”
Davis rushed for 78 yards and threw for 72 yards for the Tigers, including a 46-yard touchdown pass to Louis Johnson for the game’s opening score. Davis also made several key plays on defense.
“(Davis) is a playmaker,” Matthews said. “Sometimes he tries to get outside himself and make some plays that maybe he should just let the flow of the play be done. But he’s an incredible young man, a great leader for us, and he did a lot of great things tonight.”
Ronald Roseburgh added 66 rushing yards for Benton Harbor. Craig led Ottawa Hills with 11 carries for 82 yards.
Benton Harbor 26, GR Ottawa Hills 20
Ottawa Hills 8 12 0 0 — 20
B. Harbor 16 0 2 8 — 26
BH — Louis Johnson 46 pass from Quindarius Davis (Davis run), 7:32.
OH — Elijah Marshall 75 kickoff return (Scharai Horton pass from Calob Carson), 7:16.
BH — Malachi Dezale 10 run (Johnson pass from Davis), 3:05.
OH — Kamarion Craig 8 run (run failed), 11:52.
OH — Horton 65 fumble return (pass failed), 1:54.
BH — Safety, Ottawa Hills recovered own fumble in end zone, 1:51.
BH — Davis 2 run (Johnson pass from Davis, 4:51).
First downs 7 21
Total net yards 78 413
Rushes-yards 33-71 56-341
Passing yards 7 72
Comp-att-int 1-7-0 2-5-1
Fumbles-lost 4-0 7-5
Penalties-yards 6-33 10-85
Punts-avg. 2-25.5 0-0.0
Rushing — Ottawa Hills: Craig 11-82. Benton Harbor: Eric Johnson 18-140, Davis 15-78, Ronald Roseburgh 10-66, Dezale 5-43.
Passing — Ottawa Hills: Carson 1-7-0 7. Benton Harbor: Davis 2-5-1 72. Receiving — Benton Harbor: Louis Johnson 2-72.
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders