Hornets sting Wildcats in season finale

Chris Jackett
October 25, 2012
Reprinted with permission of the Novi News

Novi loses season finale 42-7 on rainy road trip to Saline

As the lights went out at Saline High School, so did the high school football careers for 28 Novi seniors.

The season finale wasn't the outcome the Wildcats (1-8, 1-4 KLAA Central) had hoped for. The Hornets (8-1, 5-1 SEC Red) simply had too much firepower, crushing Novi 42-7 while gaining nearly 200 more total yards due to four touchdowns from 32 yards out or more.

“They were a very, very gifted football team, probably the best we've played,” Novi coach Todd Pennycuff said. “The quarterback is probably one of the best we've seen. We struggled containing them. We just didn't match up real well. They're a very good football team and we're still young.”

Saline senior Gage Hammond (72 yards on one run, 36 yards on three catches) scored two touchdowns on Novi in the first quarter alone; a 32-yard reception from senior Tyler Palka (7-for-8, 124 yards) 2:22 into the game and a 72-yard run with 1:42 left in the quarter.

The latter came just 10 seconds and two plays after a 2-yard touchdown run by Novi senior Emmanuel Jackson (77 yards on 18 runs), which were the Wildcats' only points of the game along with senior Justin Danks' point-after kick.

Trailing 14-7 after one quarter, the Wildcats still had a shot at being in the game, but a steady Saline defense and faulty offensive drives kept Novi off the board. Although Novi had more first downs (12-9), Saline had more yards (380-187) and, most importantly, points.

Two plays into a second-quarter drive, Palka (76 yards on six runs) broke free up the left side 2:28 into the quarter for a 71-yard touchdown run that would put the score at 21-7 Saline at halftime.

The Hornets nearly scored with no time remaining after senior Brandon Gordon picked off Novi senior quarterback Blake Boron (1-for-3 for a 1-yard loss) at Saline's 31 and returned it 61 yards to the Novi 8-yard line before Jackson chased him down for the tackle.

However, the second-half momentum would stay with Saline as a fourth-and-14 punt by Novi senior Craig Latham at Novi's 42-yard line was blocked and returned 17 yards by Saline junior Nader El-Awar (30 yards on one run) for a touchdown to put the Hornets up 28-7 just 4:18 into the half.

“I think that hurt us,” Pennycuff said. “Coming out second half, that hurt us real bad. They got over top of us two big plays and a blocked punt for a touchdown hurt us.”

Novi got a little boost after a three-and-out when junior Austin Racicot picked off Palka at the Saline 32 on the Hornets' first play, but the ‘Cats followed with a turnover down after a failed fourth-and-six on Saline's 30-yard line.

The Hornets used a 43-yard pass to help set up a 35-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-14 from Novi's 35-yard line when Palka connected with senior AJ Korzuck (one catch) with 41 seconds left in the quarter.

After another three-and-out by Novi, a 30-yard run by El-Awar set up a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Griffin Wooley to put Saline ahead 42-7.

Boron's 22-yard pass attempt to start the next drive was picked off by Saline senor Matt Goeman and the Hornets ran 2:38 off the clock during a three-and-out before Novi could get the ball back with 5:09 remaining, which is when the Wildcats' fourth quarterback this season, junior Josh Schiesler (1-for-4, 16 yards), took the field and led the ‘Cats on a seven-play, 19-yard drive that ran out the game clock.

“Schiesler did well at quarterback,” Pennycuff said. “We got everybody in and got a look at some kids for next year.”

The 42-7 loss was a bit of a reversal from Novi's 42-21 home victory over the Hornets in the 2011 finale.

Saline's defense (46 tackles) shut down Novi's running back corps of junior Jeffrey Baker (20 yards on 11 runs), senior Matt Forche (35 yards on eight runs) and also restricted Jackson last Friday. Senior Grant Wheeler (nine tackles) and junior Mark Ryan (seven tackles) led the Wildcats' defense (34 tackles) with 47 percent of the stops between the two of them. Boron, Racicot, senior Lucas Buck and sophomore Christian Durham added three tackles apiece.

Although the ‘Cats lose a lot of key student-athletes with the 28 outgoing seniors, 24 current varsity team members are underclassmen who are expected to return, including both Jackson (589 yards on 83 runs) and Baker (899 yards on 132 runs) at running back and both Schielser and junior Issac Burgess (6-for-21, 126 yards) to battle for quarterback with two current junior varsity prospects who led the JV team to a 7-2 record.

“We're going to have some experience because we played those young kids,” Pennycuff said. “I'm real excited about the potential they have. I think we have something to look forward to next year. Our entire backfield is coming back. Our secondary is pretty much all coming back. Lucas Buck will be very hard to replace.”