HOWELL — Before the game, the Howell football team honored longtime coach Ken Richards, who died Thursday, with a moment of silence.
Then the Highlanders played a game he would have been proud of, throttling Novi, 34-7, in a game that ended with 4:51 left in the third quarter due to lightning.
The delay went just over an hour before the decision was made to call the game off, and it was marked by lusty cheering from the Howell locker room.
Howell (6-1 overall, 5-1 KLAA West) kept its hopes of a division title alive going into next week’s showdown at Brighton. If the Highlanders, who are tied with Canton and Hartland for first place, can win and Canton beats Hartland, Howell will win a tiebreaker with the Chiefs and play for the KLAA league title the next week. If Hartland wins, the Eagles will win the division.
None of that, however, was uppermost on anyone’s mind in the Highlanders’ locker room.
Instead, the Highlanders celebrated another dominant performance by their defense, and the return of running back August Johanningsmeier on offense.
Johanningsmeier, who missed three weeks with a shoulder injury, looked none the worse for wear, bashing his way through huge holes created by his offensive line. He rushed for 121 yards on just 15 carries.
“It’s great to have him back,” Howell coach Brian Lewis said. “It’s fun to watch him run, because loves playing. He loves football, he loves playing the game, and you could see the joy of him playing the game. That’s always special for coaches.”
Jackson Kovarik also put some joy into the hearts of the Highlanders, carrying the ball 54 yards into the end zone on a jet sweep around the right side, then, after Novi tied the game on its next possession, taking the ensuing kickoff 93 yards past the Howell sideline to give the Highlanders the lead for good.
“He’s been doing that all year,” Lewis said. “He’s been a playmaker for us. We’re trying to find ways to get him the ball. Any way we can get his hands on the ball is good for us.”
Meanwhile, the Howell defense shut down Novi’s attack. The Wildcats (4-3, 3-3) had 172 yards in total offense, 68 of those on a touchdown run by Martez Langford.
“We did a really good job this week, schematically,” Lewis said. “They’ve put up a lot of points on people and done a really good job. It was really nice to go out and be physical up front agains them and take care of business that way.”
The thrill of victory was tempered by the loss of Richards, a longtime assistant who had battled cancer for several years.
“He was a guy who has meant a whole lot to this community and has built relationships,” Lewis said. “He’s been a great role model for the kids. He represented all you want in a Highlander. He was humble, he was kind, he was competitive, he was resilient, he was a lot of things we expect out of our kids.”
Next up, as mentioned, is Brighton.
“You focus on each game when you get to that game, but Brighton’s always in the back of your mind,” said quarterback Nolan Petru, who scored on a quarterback sneak in the second quarter. “But Brighton’s always in the back of your mind.”
“It’s a rivalry game,” Lewis said. “Throw the record books out the window, because everyone’s going to be ready to rock and roll.”