Spartans fend off Wildcats; 294-yard production by Mims no match for Novi running backs

Chris Jackett
October 4, 2012
Reprinted with permission of the Novi News

Team records provided little foresight of the rollercoaster game that happened Friday when Novi came to Livonia to face Stevenson.
A trio of 10-point swings, including two streaks of 20 unanswered points, eventually ended with a 30-20 Spartan victory over Novi (1-5, 1-3 KLAA Central).
Stevenson (5-1, 3-1 Central) struck first with the only points of the first quarter on a 31-yard field goal by senior Tom O’Brien just before the mid-way point, but the Spartans took control late on a 59-yard run by senior quarterback Joe Mims (123 yards on 12 runs) with 1:05 remaining.
“Joe played very well,” Stevenson coach Matt Fielder said. “He made very good decisions. He ran when he needed to run and threw when he needed to throw on the money and just managed the game very well.”
Mims hit senior Adam Wheeler (33 yards on five catches) with a 7-yard touchdown pass up the right side on the first play of the second quarter for a 10-0 lead after O’Brien’s successful point after. That’s when things got interesting.
Less than two minutes later, Novi freshman Emanuel Jackson (111 yards on 12 runs) burst up the right side for a 42-yard touchdown run, which senior Justin Danks capped with the point after to cut the deficit to 10-7.
“That’s the thing with offense, you’ve got to get every block,” Novi coach Todd Pennycuff said. “One block can make or break you. We had a breakdown on third down a few times that hurt us.”
Following an interception by Novi junior Mark Ryan two plays later, the Wildcats orchestrated a two-play combo between a 17-yard run by junior Jeffrey Baker (35 yards on 11 runs) and a 1-yard touchdown punch in by senior Kameron Mitchell (four yards on two runs) to go up 13-10 after Danks’ PAT was blocked 3:21 into the quarter.
Novi senior Matt Forche (85 yards on nine runs) burst up the right side for a 36-yard touchdown run to make it 20-10 with 1:58 left in the half after Danks’ PAT, but the Spartans answered back 70 seconds later when Mims (20-for-30, 171 yards) dropped a 23-yard pass into the hands of junior Billy Bonanno (37 yards on two catches) in the right corner of the end zone. O’Brien’s PAT made it just 20-17 Novi at halftime.
Neither team could move the ball in the third quarter, as Novi junior quarterback Issac Burgess (0-for-3, two interceptions) aired out his first past attempt in the past two games, but it was picked off by Wheeler.
The Spartans couldn’t get a first down on that drive, but their next drive carried into the fourth quarter, eventually ending after 69 yards on 10 plays that was capped by Mims connecting with senior Cody Coleman (one catch) on the right side of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. O’Brien’s PAT was blocked, but the Spartans took a 23-20 lead.
Novi went three and out on their next drive and the Wildcats’ punt bounced backwards, giving Stevenson the ball at Novi’s 41-yard line. Five plays later, Mims found a hole in the pocket and raced to the right for a 23-yard touchdown. O’Brien completed the PAT for a 30-20 lead with 5:57 remaining.
“I was very proud of the way we responded,” Fielder said. “They came out and were very physical like we were expecting. They run that offense very well. I was very proud of the way we responded in the second half defensively and also offensively to score.”
Despite converting a fourth down at Stevenson’s 47 on their next drive, Burgess’ third pass attempt of the night was picked off by Wheeler again and returned it 12 yards to Novi’s 44-yard line.
“Adam had a great game, some key receptions and some big defensive plays late in the game specifically,” Fielder said. “When you’ve got an offense like that that’s grinding on you, if you get them to turn the ball over on you, that’s huge.”
Offsetting personal foul penalties at the end of the interception play also resulted in Forche being ejected from the game retaliating from a punch.
“We’re a running team, so we don’t work a lot on the passing game. We had a little bit tough on the passing where we needed to make a play and we didn’t make a play, and their kids did,” Pennycuff said of Burgess’ two interceptions on three pass attempts. “I think it got a little chippy. He got punched and when you retaliate, that’s the thing everyone sees and that gets called. But we’ve got to keep our composure. That’s something we preach all the time and just can’t do.”
The Spartans ran down the final 3:08 off the game clock to remain tied for first in the Central Division heading into next week’s match-up with Plymouth Salem (4-1, 2-1 Central).
The loss officially ends Novi’s playoff hopes with three games remaining and no better than a potential 4-5 finish.