HOWELL — After pulling out a win in last week’s playoff opener in triple overtime, Howell football coach Brian Lewis says another week with his team is almost a reward in itself.
“If you don’t win this game, you’re not playing again,” he said as his team prepared for tonight’s playoff game against Grand Blanc. “We’ve tried to reiterate to the kids that we’ve got a good thing going, we’ve got a special group, and we’d like to keep it going.”
The Highlanders (8-2) will try to do just that against Grand Blanc (10-0) in a Division 1 football district championship game at Goodrich High School tonight. The game will be broadcast on The Livingston Post starting at 6:50 p.m. Click here for the link.
It’s the second year in a row the Highlanders will play for a division title. Last year, Howell lost to Lakeland in overtime.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Lewis said. “Obviously, winning last week was a good deal. There’s only 16 teams left, so why not Howell?”
The Highlanders have quarterback Nolan Petru, who scored with seven seconds left in regulation last week to send the game at Hartland in overtime, then scored in all three overtimes in a 35-28 win, for five touchdowns on the night.
“It’s a blessing to be out here with my friends, still, and be here an extra week,” Petru said.
To keep the blessing going, the Highlanders will have to find ways to shut down a Bobcats offense led by quarterback Hunter Ames and running back Elijah Jackson-Anderson, and a defense led by linebacker Cross Dobbs, who also carries the ball on offense.
“They’ve got a lot of athleticism,” Petru said. “Their speed is pretty good. We have to win other things that aren’t speed. We have to be locked in and we can’t make mental mistakes. We have to limit turnovers and penalties and missed assignments. That will be key for us.”
To Lewis, the key for his team is even more basic.
“You’ve got to get first downs,” he said. “When you’re playing a team as explosive as they are, you’ve got to make sure you’re continuously moving the ball, moving the chains, however it’s happening. We have to make sure we’re sustaining drives.”
August Johanningsmeier has contributed mightily to that part of the offense this season when he’s not been injured. Johanningsmeier missed several weeks earlier this season with an injury and is listed as day-to-day. Jackson Kovarik, who has been a home-run threat this season, might see more action as a result.
And, Petru says, if Grand Blanc keys on him after he scored five touchdowns last week, so much the better.
“Hopefully some other guys can get opportunities if they’re keying on me,” he said.
The game was moved from Grand Blanc, which has a grass field, to Goodrich, which has turf. A large crowd is expected.
“Football for us is Howell football,” Lewis said when asked if he had any druthers on the playing surface. “We’re going to play whether it’s on grass, on a gym floor, on concrete, or on turf, whatever it is. You tell us when to show up, and we’re going to be ready to play.”
The winner will play either Grandville or Rockford in next week’s regional final.
But that, in high school football terms, is a million years away.
“Our kids still like coming to practice, and at this point of hte year, that’s not always the case,” Lewis said. “The atmosphere, the culture, how our kids feel about each other, that’s big. When you play a hard sport like football and battle through adversity, you’ve got to enjoy the people that you’re around.”
If everything works in favor of the Highlanders, they could earn another week of togetherness. The Bobcats will provide a stern test.