After seven months of workouts and nine weeks of games, four county teams are at the point of the season they’ve worked for all this time — the playoffs.
Brighton and Pinckney will be home tonight, while Fowlerville takes to the road in its first playoff berth in six years.
Howell, which takes on undefeated Detroit Catholic Central in its playoff debut, is off until Saturday.
Brighton will be home tonight against Novi, a 5-4 team that has come on strong recently.
“They seem to get better as the season goes along,” Brighton coach Brian Lemons said of the Wildcats. “They’re clicking on all cylinders, Really terrific skill-position players, our defense is going to be tested on the back end.”
The Wildcats beat three playoff teams (South Lyon, Livonia Stevenson and Livonia Franklin) and feature a solid passing attack led by Alec Bageris, who has thrown for more than 15,00 yards and 21 touchdowns, and receiver Anthony D’Annibale, who has 68 catches for 979 yards and 15 touchdowns, six of them against Hartland in the season opener.
They’re strong on the ground, too, where Nathan Hankerson is averaging more than 90 yards rushing per game.
“They’ve got a few really good skill guys,” Brighton linebacker Jack Aigner said. “They do a lot of things well, so we have to be sound in all aspects of the game if we want to get a W.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a 37-7 loss to Walled Lake Western last week. The Warriors are considered a contender for the Division 2 crown this season.
“When you’re playing against a top -ranked opponent like Western, all of your mistakes are magnified,” Lemons said. “It really gave us an opportunity for our kids to self-examine what they’re doing on the field, kind of give us a nice measuring stick for what we need to improve on.”
The list was pretty basic.
“Finishing plays,” Lemons said. “Taking care of a block to the whistle. Taking care of the ball. Just finishing plays. That’s the biggest point we’re selling to the boys.”
The winner will face either Howell or Detroit Catholic Central next week.
At Pinckney, coach Jakob Gailitis faces a different challenge as his Pirates face a Walled Lake Northern team they beat in the regular-season finale last week.
“You have to overcome the kids’ mindset of, ‘We beat them once, so, we should be OK this week..'” Gailitis said. “That’s the kind of attitude you hear from people. They’re a good football team. It was one of those games where we just make a few less mistakes, a couple bounces went our way, and we won. .. Whomever cleans up their mistakes more this week has a chance to win.”
For the second week in a row, the game will be played at Pinckney, which is playing its first home playoff game at Pirates Stadium and its second since 2001.
“I know Walled Lake Northern’s going to bring a heck of a crowd,” Gailitis said. “They’re going to bring their band, and it creates a great atmosphere. It’s great for the community, and the younger kids say wow, this is pretty neat with the band and the atmosphere. It helps build a program for the future, too. It builds that snowball effect.”
The last time Fowlerville was in the playoffs, the Gladiators were routed by Mason 56-13, a result the Glads aren’t anxious to repeat.
“They’re a very, very physical team, and run the ball a lot,” coach Bret Shrader said. “They’re an old-school wishbone team come right at you type of offense, so its going to be a physical battle, a physical challenge for us.
“We’re going to have to match their physicality, and they’ll have to match ours,” he added. “I think it’s going to shape up to be a great high school football game.”
It’s a new experience for this group of Gladiators, and Shrader said nothing brought him down, not even the cold and rain of midweek.
“It’s a privilege to keep practicing,” Shrader said on Thursday. “Even yesterday, when it was sleeting and snowing and really, really cold, I told the players there would be a lot of schools that would give up a lot to be out practicing in it, and we’re fortunate to do that.”