BRIGHTON — The snow has been cleared, although there were piles around the field as of Thursday night, and the Brighton football team is happy to be playing host to a regional final Friday night.
“It’s super important” to be playing at home, offensive lineman Brad Luketic said before the second of two workouts for the Bulldogs Thursday. “It’s a huge confidence booster for the team. I think we’re most comfortable at home, and for Hudsonville to have to make the long drive is an advantage.”
The Bulldogs (9-2) will take on the Eagles (8-3) Friday night with a berth in the Division 1 semifinals at stake. The game will be broadcast on The Livingston Post starting at 6:45 p.m.
Brighton went through an hour-long workout indoors at the Legacy Center before a walkthrough on the Brighton field in the early evening Thursday.
“This will be a first for me,” Luketic said. “The only time I’ve played in the snow was during lacrosse season. In the spring.”
Luketic has been part of an offensive line that has been effective throughout the season and especially in the playoffs. The Bulldogs rushed for 266 yards in a 26-9 win at Holt two weeks ago and 438 against East Kentwood last week.
Coach Brian Lemons says part of the unit’s success is attributable to his scout team, and lineman Nate Hoffman agrees.
“Our backups are definitely pushing us in practice to make us better,” Hoffman said. “The intensity has been ramped up this year, and we’re tighter as a group.”
It has helped, too, that the Brighton linemen have a group of quick runners to block for, including Colby Newberg, who ran for five touchdowns last week.
Asked if Newberg’s speed helped in that it requires a shorter time to hold blocks, Hoffman agreed, to a point.
“We still have to hold our blocks to the whistle,” he said. “But it helps our confidence a lot knowing we have guys in the backfield who can make the plays. But they can’t make plays if we don’t do our jobs. We have to do our job every play.”
Their ability and production, in turn, gives Newberg confidence.
“I’ve trusted them from the beginning of the season, but I trust them a ton now,” he said. “I have confidence in either side. I don’t favor one side or the other.”
The Bulldogs have talked often about being a tight-knit team, and that closeness will again be tested by a Hudsonville team that has allowed just one touchdown in each of its playoff games, a 38-7 win over Traverse City West and a 35-7 triumph over Grand Haven last week.
“They look like a really well-coached team,” Lemons said of the Eagles, who compete in the O-K Conference Red Division along with Grand Haven and East Kentwood. “They do a good job on both sides of the ball. They do things similar to what we do with our quarterback. They have some good matchups on the outside and some good receivers. I think we’ll be in for a battle, for sure.”
The Bulldogs have a three-pronged rushing attack. Newberg has rushed for over 100 yards in both playoff games, while Nick Nemecek is averaging over 100 yards per game as the featured back while Sheldon Riley and Carson Billig also have had success rushing.
Brighton’s success up front, Lemons says, has come with good practices.
“We’ve done a better job of securing quality reps throughout the week,” he said. “I think our backups on scout teams have been giving us a better look and it’s forcing our first group of guys on the line to do their job in practice every day.”
The winner will take on either West Bloomfield or Belleville at a neutral site next weekend, making Friday’s game the last home game for the Bulldogs this season regardless.
“It’s terrific to be at home,” Lemons said. “You know what you’ve got, you can settle in and get them ready for the game. Hopefully it’s not the last game of the season.”