Turnovers allow Eagles to fly past Wildcats

Chris Jackett
September 6, 2012
Reprinted with permission of the Novi News

Wildcats drop 34-12 decision at Lakeland

Turnovers can make or break a close game and that's exactly what happened when Lakeland hosted Novi Aug. 30 in White Lake.

Four lost fumbles by Novi (0-2) led to two touchdowns for Lakeland (2-0) and the others broke up two of the Wildcats' five drives that made it into Eagle territory, allowing Lakeland to cruise to a 34-12 victory in a game that was statistically close on the field.

“They came out hard,” Lakeland coach John Maltese said of his defense. “(Novi) came out in a different offense that we hadn't seen before. We did a good job adjusting and creating turnovers and making big plays.”

Although Novi had three more total yards of offense on the night at 339, the Eagles scored first when senior Anthony Waite (52 yards, 13 attempts, two touchdowns) ran nine yards into the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown five minutes into the game.

The point after missed the mark wide, but the Eagles got the point back following a 38-yard touchdown pass from junior Ross Heiman (3-for-5, 83 yards, one touchdown) to junior Dalton Christie 13 seconds into the second quarter. Waite added a two-point conversion that gave Lakeland a 14-0 lead that held through halftime.

“We play great together,” Waite said of Christie. “It's the first year he played, so I've just encouraged him to do the best he can because he was coming into the season kind of shaky about excitement and stuff.

“It feels really, really great because we've never had this before. We've never won the first game.”

Things quickly got out of hand in the second half following a Novi fumble at their own 46-yard line on the fifth play of the half. Christie (67 yards, six attempts, two touchdowns) escaped a tackle and carried the ball 46 yards up the right sideline for a Lakeland touchdown on the very next play. Senior Brendan Trembath nailed the extra point for a 21-0 lead.

The Wildcats' next drive had a similar outcome, as Novi fumbled and Lakeland recovered at Novi's 28-yard line. Two plays and 22 seconds later, Christie ran in a 10-yard touchdown into the left side of the end zone. Senior Jordan Bridgewater was stopped on the left side during a two-point conversion attempt, but Lakeland still led 27-0.

“I thought we could've been in the game to win it, but turnovers and those things hurt us,” Novi coach Todd Pennycuff said. “Our kids adjusted to our scheme this week and we had four days of putting this new scheme in. I thought we played fairly well, but we had four turnovers. You've got to do a little bit of a better job out on defensively. I think our kids played hard and didn't quit. We've just got to keep plugging away and be scrappy.”

In a game dominated by running backs, Lakeland had five players run multiple attempts, each netting 38 yards or more. Christie and Waite led the pack.

“They're starting to develop a little bit of an inside outside thing that I'm liking to see,” Maltese said.

For Novi, junior Jeffrey Baker led the running core with 121 yards on 19 attempts, including one touchdown late in the game. Senior Lucas Buck added 43 yards on 11 attempts as the Wildcats broke in a new offense after a subpar first week.

“Overall I was pretty happy with this offense,” Pennycuff said. “I think Lucas Buck ran extremely hard, extremely hard as a kid we just have to get on the field and keep him on the field if we can.”

Junior Issac Burgess took over Novi's quarterback duties from first week senior starter Ryan Caputo. Burgess went 5-for-6 for 112 yards, including an 8-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to sophomore Matt Sabo to cut the deficit to 27-6.

A failed onside kick by Novi senior Justin Danks went out of bounds 17 yards downfield and gave Lakeland the ball at midfield. Danks struggled on the day, also missing both a 23-yard field goals and then both of his point-after touchdown attempts were blocked.

“We told Danks today to just keep working,” Pennycuff said. “You're a good kicker, just keep working. Sometimes you have an off night, we all do, no matter what profession you're in. That's how you respond to it; just work through it. But, yea, that hurt us a little bit, as well.”

Following a second-down 4-yard run by Heiman, Waite took a 2-yard third-down run into the right corner of the end zone and Trembath nailed the point after for a 34-6 Lakeland lead.

The Eagles repeatedly kicked away from Novi freshman Emanuel Jackson (73 all-purpose yards, 53 of which were from kick and punt returns), who had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the season opener, but had two of Novi's four lost fumbles in week two.

However, the ‘Cats were able to get on the board a second time at Lakeland when Burgess hit senior Ryan Thomas for a 62-yard gain before Thomas was dragged down at Lakeland's 5-yard line. Baker ran the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown and Danks' kick was blocked, setting the score at 34-12 with 2:22 remaining as the Eagles ran down the game clock to make that the final score.

“At the end of the day, I think our kids adjusted to it, it fits our kids, they like it,” Pennycuf said. “And we've done fairly good for four days of putting something completely opposite of what we were. I'm pleasantly surprised that we did as well as we did against a very good football team. But, on the other hand, I'm also disappointed because I thought we could've done better.”

Despite winning the yardage battle and dominating time of possession with 29:51 of 48 minutes, Novi had no answer for Lakeland's quick conversion of turnovers into points.

Sabo led the Wildcats' defense with eight tackles, while Waite and junior Collin Papler each had 11 tackles for Lakeland and senior Jon Yeatman added nine.