BRIGHTON — Coach Brian Lemons has had a single charge for his players going into Saturday’s Division 1 state championship game at Ford Field.
“My message this week has been, ‘Embrace it,'” he said. “When it’s time to go to work, let’s strap up our helmet and go to work. After practice and before practice, we enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen every year.”
It’s the first trip to the finals for both teams, who go into the contest with 11-2 records.
Brighton finished second in the KLAA West Division, while Davison was second in the Saginaw Valley League’s Blue Division.
“I’ve seen and heard about them all season long,” Lemons said. “They’re one of the best teams in the state. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys over there. They work hard and coach hard. I’m expecting a great game on Saturday.”
The Cardinals are led by quarterback Brendan Sullivan, who has passed for 2,635 yards this season with 31 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. Caleb Smith has scored 18 touchdowns and run for nealy 900 yards this season, while Latrell Fordham has caught 39 passes for 801 yards, a 20.5 yards per catch average, and 11 touchdowns.
“We know a lot of their tendencies,” defensive back Matt Jontz said. “We know what to do on defense to shut down their offense. We have to do our job on every play.”
The Bulldogs spent the week working out at the Legacy Center’s domed field, avoiding the wind and weather that would otherwise have been problematic this week.
“It’s a big boost,” quarterback Colby Newberg said. “We always practice better indoors. We’re getting a good practice every day.”
Newberg has been the focal point of the Brighton attack this season, rushing for 1,140 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing for 1,318 yards and 17 more scores. Nick Nemecek has also been a key, rushing for 904 yards and nine touchdowns.
It was Nemecek who scored twice for the Bulldogs in last week’s 22-19 win over Belleville in a semifinal at Howell, rushing for a touchdown in the first half, then outjumping two Belleville defenders for the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go.
All that, of course, is ancient history now.
“We have to focus on this week,” Jontz said. “It’s not over until we’ve won it all.”
To that point, a large crowd from Brighton will be on hand. The school sold out its allotment of 3,000 tickets in a day and a half, although tickets will be available at Ford Field. They cost $15 for the entire day, which includes four championship games.
“it’s everything you’d imagine what the community would be like if we got to this point,” said defensive coordinator Brandon Krugh, a Brighton native who has played and coached for the Bulldogs since he was a high school freshman in 1997. “They’re supporting these kids, and the kids have done it the right way, so you have to feel good about that.”
Lemons said getting his team ready has been “a lot of work, but not as challenging as I expected.
“There’s been a lot of community outreach, which is great,” he continued. “I know we’re playing in a football game on Saturday, but this is as much about our community as it is about our football team. So we’re going to enjoy the whole thing together.”
There is, still, the matter of a football game on Saturday, and Newberg, who has led Brighton to heights no previous team has enjoyed, is confident.
“We feel good,” he said Wednesday. “We’re confident in what we’re doing and we have confidence in our defense and in our (offensive) line.”
And in somewhat of a scoop, Lemons revealed that the beard he’s had all season will be gone at game time.
“It’ll come off before Saturday, ” he said, chuckling. “We’re ready *for Saturday), We’re excited. The guys are really fired up.”