GRAND LEDGE — Numbers rarely lie in football, and they told the truth and nothing but the truth in Brighton’s 45-21 playoff loss at Grand Ledge on Friday night.
The Comets (11-0) outgained the Bulldogs 512-294 and outrushed them 356-167.
They had twice as many first downs, 22 to 11, and scored on seven of 10 possessions, not counting a knee to end the game.
That last stat was the coup de grace for the Comets offense, which the Bulldogs simply could not stop.
Last week, Grand Ledge won with the past, throwing for 351 yards in a 34-2 blowout of Howell.
Friday, the aptly named Ba Blamo blew up the Brighton defense for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Caden Evert was as effective, rushing for three scores, and Brighton defenders also had to contend with Josh Martin, a running back-defensive tackle listed at 230 pounds who served as a battering ram as a blocker.
He also wreaked havoc as a receiver with three catches for 68 yards, including a 46-yarder in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs knew going in that the Comets had a size advantage on the offensive line, and the Comets pressed that advantage throughout a dominant first half.
“Their offensive line was very hard to maintain all night,” Brighton defensive lineman Kyle Okurowski said. “They got the better push and that’s all what happened.”
It also was one of those nights where, if a break could be found, Grand Ledge would find it and make Brighton pay.
It started with the opening kickoff, which the Comets’ Cameron Collins returned to the Brighton 34. Seven plays later, Evert scored his first touchdown.
After Brighton went three-and-out, Blamo scored on second-and-6 from 64 yards out to make it 14-0.
During the first half, the Comets bottled up the Brighton offense, holding leading rusher Joey Clifford to just 22 yards rushing in the first half.
“They were giving us looks we hadn’t seen,” quarterback Grant Dunatchik said. “I don’t think we came out firing the best, but give them credit. They played good and they shut us down in the first half.”
Blamo scored his second touchdown of the game in the second quarter, a 22-yard jaunt through the heart of the Brighton defense to make it 21-0, and it looked for all the world that a rout was on.
But the Comets were penalized for excessive celebration after Blamo’s score, forcing them to kick from their own 25, rather than the 40.
Austin Ford took the kickoff and returned it to the Brighton 48.
This time, the Bulldogs got things going. Dunatchik hit Nick Crocker, who was playing in the town he grew up in, twice with short passes and found Mike Hess for another short gain while Clifford served as a decoy, picking up 3-4 yards here and there.
Brighton got to the 15 before Dunatchik sent Clifford out into the flat to his right. The Grand Ledge linebackers went to cover him, leaving Mike Roesler all alone on the left side of the field. Dunatchik threw to him and Roesler trotted into the end zone untouched to cut the deficit to 21-7 going into halftime.
The second half started with an exchange of punts, whereupon the Bulldogs got to work.
“The coaches founds some plays that would work and we put some points on the board,” Dunatchik said.
Brighton began running to the short side of the field, and Clifford, held in check to that point, began to move the ball. Six plays later, Clifford scored on a 15-yard run to make it 21-14.
But the Bulldogs could get no closer. Martin scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Bird to make it 28-14, but Clifford came right back by running through and past the Comets defense for a 73-yard score to make it 28-21.
Two Evert touchdowns and a Brendan Baker field goal in the fourth quarter wrapped up the scoring, and the Brighton season.
“The third quarter was us getting them off the field,” Lemons said. “Momentum in high school is a major thing, and we had that in the third quarter. We just couldn’t sustain it in the fourth. Their offense did a great job of picking the holes they wanted.”
The Bulldogs finished 9-2, Clifford rushed for nearly 1,700 yards this season, ending a stellar career at running back.
Dunatchik, who struggled as a junior, was in command during his senior season, right up until the Bulldogs met a superior foe on a cool November night in Grand Ledge.
Clifford plans to take a couple weeks off before joining the Brighton hockey team, where he has been a mainstay the last three years. Okurowski plans to try out for the hockey team as well. Dunatchik will have a week off to prep for basketball, and the rest of the Bulldogs will be getting ready for their next sports or a long winter off.
The 9-2 mark was the best since the Bulldogs reached the Division 1 semifinals in 2005, when they went 10-3.
“We got to the second round of the playoffs, and I’m not sure many people thought we’d get to the playoffs,” Lemons said. “With our seniors were terrific and they did a great job leading us. People forget we have a young team, and we ran out 6-7 sophomores on an every-night basis.”
It might be too soon to say that a Brighton football program that has struggled since that semifinal run is back as a playoff contender. But, with a solid core of players coming back and a coach in Lemons whose team dominated, arguably, all but its final game of the season, the Bulldogs showed they should be a team to reckon with in 2016.
That season’s preparations begin about eight weeks.