S.L. East gets program's first-ever win over Novi

Chris Jackett
September 20, 2012
Reprinted with permission of the Novi News

Cougars win 26-23 in overtime thriller on road

When the final whistle blew last Friday in Novi, it was an ending long in the making, but not for the home team.

Visiting South Lyon East (2-2, 1-1 KLAA Central) defeated Novi (0-4, 0-2 Central) in a tight 26-23 overtime contest for the program's first-ever victory over the Wildcats.

It took the Cougars five tries, but this was the payoff was sweet for many East seniors because Novi coach Todd Pennycuff had coached some of the Cougars during their freshman year before leaving the East varsity coach position for Novi.

“It's just awesome,” said East senior quarterback Cam Thomas, a Western Michigan University recruit. “Being our old coach, this is like our archenemy right now. I'm so happy beat them. The team played great. Everything just came together. We made a couple mistakes, but we battled back and, boy, it feels good. It feels real good.

“The whole team came together, came as a family. Our whole thing was be as a family this year and we became that tonight.”

Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the game, which was tied at 10 at halftime and 20-20 at the end of regulation.

Starting on the 10-yard line, Novi had gained five yards in overtime before senior Justin Danks nailed a 22-yard field goal, his third of the night, all which were 21-22 yards out, for a 23-20 lead.

East got the ball at the 10 and took one crack at a rushing play that gained three yards before a flick of the wrist by Thomas (18-for-27, 234 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) found junior receiver Wade Morris (100 yards, two touchdowns on eight catches) in the back right corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

“It was awesome,” East coach Mike Lindman said. “Obviously, we've never beat them and they're just a tough competitor. It was just a big game for us. There's two schools that we look at as rivals, South Lyon and Novi, so it was kind of a big game.

“It's just sweet to get one finally. This is the fifth year for varsity sports and we've struggled, obviously. We've had three wins the past couple years, we had about 16 players coming back off of last years team and an 8-1 JV team, so we thought we had a little bit of depth and I think this is the best football team we've been able to field at East since we've become a school.”

On paper, the game was as close as it was on the field, but showcased two contrasting styles. East gained 234 of their 331 yards in the air, while Novi gained all 354 of their yards on the ground. Novi junior quarterback Issac Burgess was 0-for-3 on pass attempts. Additionally, both teams amassed eight penalty flags and 13 first downs apiece.

“I thought South Lyon East played real hard and so did Novi, but only one team can be a winner and unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick,” Pennycuff said. “It's disappointing, but I thought the kids played real hard.”

The scoring started 6:32 into the game on a 22-yard field goal by Danks, but the 3-0 lead only lasted 1:53 before East senior Alexander Spratke (85 yards on 16 runs) broke up the left side for a 37-yard touchdown that Thomas successfully followed with a PAT kick for a 7-3 Cougar lead that would hold until the end of the quarter.

Thomas would nail a 28-yard field goal 1:15 into the second quarter to give East a 10-3 lead.

But the ‘Cats answered right back 1:41 later when junior Jeffrey Baker (202 yards on 21 runs) broke up the center for a 63-yard touchdown run that tied the game 10-10 after a Danks PAT.

“I think he's getting better,” Pennycuff said. “The line is getting better at understanding their blocks. We're continuing to get better. I think, as long as the kids are working, we'll continue to get better and have some positive results.”

Both teams threatened later in the half, as Novi turned the ball over on fourth and two at East's 10-yard line and then Novi dropped, but recovered, a punt shortly after. Danks missed a 34-yard field goal attempt for Novi five seconds before the half, so the score held at 10-10.

After a three-and-out punt from their own 15-yard line to start the second half for Novi, East's punt returner dropped the ball and Novi senior Blake Boron recovered it at his team's 49-yard line. However, the ensuing drive ended in another three-and-out for the Wildcats.

Three plays later, Novi senior Grant Wheeler intercepted a pass from Thomas and took it to East's 30-yard line to start a drive that would end in a 21-yard field goal by Danks after the ‘Cats got stuck at the 4-yard line.

“Danks is doing well. I'm real proud of him,” Pennycuff said. “He's become a more vital part of our offense with tight end. Before he was just going to play kicker and he came to us and decided he wanted to play the tight end spot. He's really doing some positive things for us, as well.”

But East would answer on the next drive when Thomas connected with Morris for a 36-yard touchdown and kicked his own PAT for a 17-13 lead with 3:09 left in the quarter.

“We thought that the running game was kind of slowing down a little bit, so we opened up the passing game and found holes and our receivers got open and just good routes,” Thomas said. “Everybody did their job, their line did their job.”

Novi answered on their next drive with a five-yard run into the end zone by senior Matt Forche (114 yards on 20 attempts), who followed his blockers all the way up the middle, to take a 20-17 lead to wrap up the third quarter.

Thomas would nail a 36-yard field goal on fourth and 14 at Novi's 19-yard line to tie the game 20-20 with 3:24 left in regulation, which held steady and forced the dramatic overtime.