Brighton hopes focus, controlling line of scrimmage will pay off in playoff win tonight

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In his first season as Brighton’s football coach, Brian Lemons has done much of what he’s set out to do.

Not so much wins and losses (although a 9-1 record tells you what you need to know in that area) but more in availability and focus.

“It’s no secret,” he said Thursday. “We try to control the time of possession and make sure our defense is rested every time they go on the field. That formula has been pretty positive for us this year. The face that our defense has been able to get out fresh and get off the field on fourth down has been a good thing for us so far.”

Only one Bulldog — defensive back Jerad Dokey — has seen much time on both sides of the ball this season.

“Every rep our kids don’t take on defense makes them that much stronger on offense, and vice versa,” Lemons said. 

It’s been a winning formula so far for the Bulldogs, who travel to 10-0 Grand Ledge tonight in a game you can listen to on starting at 6:45 p.m.

But there’s also a focus on the now that teams talk about but often find harder to employ.

“Everyone’s locked in on one game at a time,” center Brendan Dewey said. “No one is looking at a game and saying this is a win. We’re locked in on what we need to do.”

The winner of tonight’s game will play host to either Rockford or Hudsonville next week, either Friday or Saturday.

“That would be exciting to get the final home game and come out with another victory,” Dewey said. “But first things first.”

It’s the first time the schools have met since Grand Ledge upset Brighton 22-20 in the second round of the 2000 playoffs, when current Brighton Area Schools superintendent Greg Gray was a Grand Ledge assistant.

“They’re a pretty balanced team,” Lemons said. “We’ve seen a lot of film on them. They’re a downhill running fame. Their skill positions are terrific, and that allows them the luxury of throwing the ball. They have a sophomore quarterback who plays like a senior. I’m expecingt them offensively to do some good things. We’re going to stack p and do what we can to stop them.”

Nolan Bird, the sophomore, threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns for Grand Ledge in the Comets’ 34-2 win over Howell in last week’s playoff opener.

Brighton’s quarterback, Grant Dunatchik, doesn’t have passing numbers comparable to that, but he doesn’t have to, not with Joey Clifford and his 1,500-yards plus rushing in the backfield.

Dunatchik has been masterful at finding receivers to stretch defenses just enough to create holes for Clifford.

And that has happened due to Brighton’s ability to dominate, or find gaps, at the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.

“If we can make some gaps on the defensive side and control some space I think it will be a pretty tight game,” Lemons said. 

The Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage in last week’s 35-0 win over Hartland, holding the Eagles to just 17 yards of total offense in the first half. The Eagles made some changes at halftime and moved the ball a little better in the second half, but could not challenge.

“Defense has been doing a good job wih adjustments and making teams work for  everything they get,” Lemons said. “They gave us some short fields and we took advantage.”

Grand Ledge, on defense, will have to stop both Clifford and Dunatchik, something that’s happened only once this season, when Dunatchik was injured in the Bulldogs’ 14-7 loss at Hartland. In that game, Dunatchik went out with a leg injury that kept him out the next two games.

But sophomore Cameron Tullar came on and filled in admirably for Dunatchik in those two games, and the Bulldogs rolled once again.

The Grand Ledge skill players Lemons was referring to include Malek Adams, who had eight catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns last week, and Nate Lalumia, who had two catches for 75 yards and a score.

Bird, the Grand Ledge QB, threw for four touchdowns and used nine receivers.

Along with having well-rested players and focus, another key has been leadership.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Lemons said. “They’ve done a good job of leading within the locker room. I”m proud of our captains. We’ve faced some adversity, and a lot of teams have, but they’ve stepped up to the challenge and I’m looking forward to seeing those guy lead (tonight).”