Novi blitzes Brighton in playoff opener, 38-9

Brighton coach Brian Lemons talks to his team after a scrimmage last week. The Bulldogs will play Detroit East English at Michigan Stadium today. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
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BRIGHTON — For the second week in a row, the Brighton football team was manhandled on Friday night.

This time, it was Novi, which needed an upset of Livonia Franklin to get into the playoffs at 5-4.

But the Wildcats controlled the game in the first half and then found a new gear in the second half, expanding a 10-3 lead into a 38-9 victory.

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“They did a great job, man,” Brihgton coach Brian Lemons said of Novi. “You know, thye played some really good football this season and it looks like they saved a lot of it for tonight. They were really good.”

The Wildcats were very good indeed. They used a smothering defense and the 1-2 punch of running back Nathan Hankerson (30 carries, 171 yards, 1 TD) and quarterback Alec Bageris (16-for-22 passing for 201 yards and two TDs.) Bageris in turn found his favorite target, Anthony D’Annibale, 11 times for 126 yards and a touchdown.

But Novi’s approach helped make a difference, too.

“What we tried to do was take away their best stuff and try to make them beat us with something else,” Novi coach Jeff Burnside said. “Just trying to take away their base stuff and make plays when we had to make plays.”

Brighton was without two of its playmakers. Wide receiver-kicker Rudy Ramirez didn’t play due to an injury in practice during the week, and receiver Drew Billig, who sat out the week before due to injury, was in uniform but did not play.

Asked if his offense was hurt by their absence, Lemons said, “I don’t know. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Certainly having two of your best receivers out (hurt), but it is what it is. You’ve got to convert third downs and you’ve got to move the ball on the ground.”

Quarterback Cameron Tullar was more emphatic.

“We have other good wide receivers who were benefitting,” he said. “With them or without them, we’re still a good offense.”

On Friday, however, the numbers told a different story.

Novi outgained Brighton 418-148 and had a 24-9 edge in first downs. The Wildcats never punted, and the one time they lined up in punt formation, D’Annibale saw an open space and ran for a first down.

“They just played better than us,” Lemons said. “We couldn’t get them off the field and we couldn’t convert our opportunities, and that makes for a long night.

Novi will play the winner of the Howell-Detroit Catholic Central game next weekend, whilc the Bulldogs prepare for next season.

“I’m proud of them,” Lemons said of his players. “They gave everything they had this season. They overcame a lot of adversity here and there.”

Pinckney 28, Walled Lake Northern 17

PINCKNEY — The Pirates trailed 10-0 at halftime, made some adjustments and won going away.

“Our kids are very resilient, and we made a couple of adjustments at halftime,” Pinckney coach Jakob Gailitis said. “It’s definitely a big win. It keeps the momentum going.”

It was the second playoff win ever for the Pirates, who take on Walled Lake Western next week.

The Warriors, who rolled past Brighton last week, barely held on to top South Lyon, 31-30, on Friday night.

Pinckney, meanwhile, got a pair of 1-yard touchdowns from Luke Rendell and a pair of big plays from Nick Cain in the second half.

Cain caught a 78-yard bomb from Jack Wurzer to give the Pirates (8-2) the lead for good, 21-17, then had an interception that set up a touchdown run by Wurzer that ended the scoring.

“Mostly it was about the kids settling down,” Gailitis said of the second half. “Northern came out with a lot of energy, and enthusiasm, and we took their initial blow, and we said, ‘OK, catch your breath and we’ll regroup.’ That’s what this group has done all year, and it’s nothing new for them.”

It was the second win over the Knights in as many weeks for the Pirates (8-2).

Mason 35, Fowlerville 28

MASON — Nick Semke threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another, but the Gladiators fell to the Bulldogs in their first playoff game in six years.

Mason proved proficient in play-action passing that also helped the Bulldogs out of third-and-long situations on offense.

“A handful of times, we had them third-and-7-or8, and they converted. That’s tough,” Fowlerville coach Bret Shrader said.

Semke was 19-for-28 passing, with 10 of those passes caught by Josh Nabozny for 132 yards and a touchdown. On defense, meanwhile, Trevor Brock led the Glads with 19 tackles, including two solos.

Nabozny and Semke led a group of six Gladiators who suffered through a 2-7 season two years ago and led the Gladiators over the .500 mark in their senior seasons.

“Our kids played their hearts out, no doubt about it,” Shrader said. “Mason is a tough team, very physical, but our kids have a lot to be proud of. They were and still are very bummed. They expected to win. It wasn’t one of those deals where they got into the playoffs and this was a moral victory. It was something we thought we could earn a victory tonight. It was tough.

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