BRIGHTON — One of the charms of high school football is that, every now and then, you have a game where a decided underdog puts it together one night.
It’s even sweeter when it’s against your biggest rival and you not only win, but thwart their hopes in the process.
That was the Howell football team last Friday, holding Brighton scoreless in the second half with defense and a little luck, en route to a 16-15 win at Brighton High School.
Howell (1-5 overall, 1-3 KLAA Black Division) stunned the Bulldogs (3-3, 3-2), who saw their hopes of winning the KLAA Black Division title vanish in the process.
“It’s a feel-good win,” Howell coach Aaron Metz said. “These kids have worked really, really hard the last couple of weeks. These kids stepped up. They deserved it, they worked hard, and I’m proud of them.”
Brighton got off to a harrowing start when Drew Billig muffed the opening kickoff and recovered at the Bulldogs 1. But Brighton then put together a 1`4-play, 99-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard plunge by Chris Seguin.
“We didn’t execute our game plan,” said Logan Ward, who was playing with a broken right thumb. “That’s been a problem all year. When we executed our game plan, we stopped them. When we didn’t, they scored.”
The Highlanders responded with a field goal by Aaron Stearn-Raskins to end the first quarter trailing 7-3.
“That score was big,” Metz said. “A field goal, touchdown, whatever, was good. That gave us some confidence.”
Ward, broken thumb and all, helped give the Highlanders the lead late in the half when he intercepted a pass from Spencer Mykols near midfield and returned it 60 yards, to the Brighton 6.
Howell quarterback Matt Hornyak scored two plays later to give Howell a 9-7 lead, but Brighton responded, moving 75 yards in four plays to take the lead on a 33-yard pass from Mykols to Billig. The Bulldogs took a 15-9 lead when Rudy Ramirez threw to Shayne Miciek for a two-point conversion.
It stady that way until Hornyak found Bo Niehaus for a 16-yard score to make it 16-15.
The Bulldogs had one final drive in the fourth quarter that ended when a 41-yard field goal attempt banged off the left upright with 6:46 remaining.
The Highlanders then burned five minutes off the clock before punting to Brighton. Ward then made his second interception of the night to seal the improbable victory.
“We didn’t make any adjustments,” Hornyak said. “We just did our part. Everyone executed perfectly, and that’s why it was working.”
Lemons said the first drive of the night was a microcosm of Brighton’s night.
“We went 99 yards and scored a touchdown,” he said. ‘Why did we have to go 99 yards” Becuase we dropped the football.
“You have to take care of the football,’ he added. “You can’t drop it on the ground. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing. If you turn the ball over and put it on the ground, you’re going to lose.”
The Bulldogs dominated most of the numbers, including first downs and yardage, but it was Howell that went home with the LIttle Brown Jug for the first time since 2014.
“It means the world to us,” Ward said. “Brighton’s our biggest rival. It’s our biggest game of the year.”
Lemons, for his part, turned his sights to the future. The Bulldogs need to win out, including a game at first-place Canton on Oct. 13, to clinch a third consecutive playoff berth.
“What I’m looking forward to, going forward, is how the boys respond to this type of situation,” Lemons said. “They haven’t had a back-against-the-wall situation before, and we’re going to find out exactly what type of team we are. Are we capable of running the table? Yeah, we sure are. But guys are going to have to start sacrificing and putting things forward to make things happen.”
The Highlanders shook hands, had a short postgame talk on the field, then ran off it to celebrate with fans and each other.
“We felt we hadn’t put four quarters together (until Friday),” Metz said, “and we feel that helped us and gets us rolling for next week, because we’ve got a big one next week with Canton, and we’ll see what happens.”