Brighton puts itself in driver’s seat in KLAA West with 23-17 OT win over Canton
BRIGHTON — It only makes sense that the West would be won with a shootout, but Friday’s matchup between the co-leaders in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association’s West Division, Canton and Brighton, wasn’t necessarily that.
Instead, it was the Bulldogs knowing when to shoot, and taking their shot quickly, allowing them to beat No. 20 Canton, 23-17 in overtime.
Zach Hopman intercepted his second pass of the game to end Canton’s overtime possession, and Brighton quarterback Will Jontz — who had engineered a one-play scoring drive to give Brighton a fourth-quarter lead — scored one play later on a first-down run to end the game.
“You put yourself in a position to kick a field goal to win the game,” Brighton coach Brian Lemons said. “Unfortunately, we had about 40 mph wind coming right at us, so I told the staff upstairs, ‘We need to punch it in.’ We don’t want to wait for that kick.”
Jontz didn’t force the coaching staff to have to worry about it, rolling out around right end, and motoring into the end zone with the game-winning score.
“I mean, I knew the offense was capable of pounding it in, so I trusted my O-line, and my running backs to block, and found a hole, and made it,” the senior quarterback said. “I just followed my outside wing, Sheldon Riley, and the boys up front.”
The win puts Brighton (4-1, 4-0 KLAA West) in the driver’s seat in the division, a game ahead of Canton (3-2, 3-1).
“I was talking about it with coach Lemons before, and it’s like ‘There are no off weeks. It’s crazy.’ That builds your toughness, but our backs are against the wall right now,” first-year Canton coach Andy LaFata said. “Amazing game. Two tough teams. They’re well-coached, you can see it out here. Great atmosphere. That’s high school football. You’re gonna win some of those, you’re gonna lose some. We gotta get to work, so we can be on the other end of it.”
Over the last season or so, it’s been Brighton on the wrong end of close games, losing two by three points and two by one point a season ago. Then they opened with a five-point loss to the preseason No. 1 team, Belleville.
Shades of those losses had to be running through the heads of the Bulldogs, as the Chiefs drove the ball 81 yards in 16 plays over the final 2:16 of regulation to tie the game at 17-17. Canton quarterback Ben Stesiak — who converted a fourth-and-15 with a 17-yard pass to Noah VanBerkel to keep the drive alive with 9.3 seconds remaining — hit Caden Domzalski with a 9-yard scoring pass as time expired to tie it up, and send it to overtime.
“To be honest with you, we’ve been in that situation so many times in the last five or six games, I don’t think they’re too spooked about it. This is the first time that they’ve been able to pull it out, and you can see the growth in them,” Lemons said. “It’s going to be worth a lot of confidence, when it’s all said and done.”
Brighton’s had no problems quickly flushing any disappointment down the drain, as the Bulldogs won the overtime toss, and deferred, to put themselves on defense first. Hopman kept the game tied with a third-down interception of a halfback option pass, giving the Bulldogs a chance to win it immediately.
That also earned him a chance to hold on to the turnover tags — the Bulldogs’ version of the turnover chain — that he’d first put on after picking off a fourth-quarter pass at the goal line to preserve Brighton’s seven-point lead at the time.
“Right after the Belleville week, we came up with that. We were like, ‘We need something to get us hyped on defense.’ There’s been a lot going around in college football with the chain, so we needed our own, and we made the dog tag. All of the starters get dog tags, and then we have the big one,” Hopman said of the oversized metal tag. “I gotta thank my coach for telling me to stay disciplined and not fall for the run, that sooner or later, they’d do a pitch pass, and I didn’t fall for it.”
Hopman was hoping he could keep the tag until next week.
“It goes back on the shelf as soon as the game’s over,” said Lemons, who looked prophetic in predicting that a low-possession game in the second half might turn on a turnover.
“Yeah, there were four total in the first half, and I told the kids, we’re probably looking at four in the second half. We talked about it at halftime, said ‘It really might be a turnover that changes this one.’ And we were able to capitalize on it.”
With the Chiefs holding a 17:59-6:01 advantage in time of possession in the first half, limiting the Bulldogs to just 13 plays and 74 yards, and leading 10-7 at the break, it was imperative for Brighton to take advantages of opportunities as quickly as possible.
Paul Skoczylas’ 21-yard field goal tied it up at 10-10 with 8:13 left, but the Bulldogs pulled out a pre-planned pop-up kickoff, and recovered the muff. One play later, Jontz hit Austin Lin with a 37-yard touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs ahead 17-10.
“We tried to get the momentum, and it worked in our favor,” said Jontz, who was playing with “MOM” on the back of his pink jersey, for Brighton’s Pink Week, raising cancer awareness. “My mom. She died when I was eight, of breast cancer, so I dedicated this game to her.”
Jontz finished 9-for-14 passing for 141 yards and two scores, running for another.
“Opportunities come at the weirdest time, right? Big momentum shift on the turnover, try to capitalize on it,” Lemons said of the pop-up kick. “Our (offensive coordinator) upstairs though it was a pretty good time to capitalize on it, and we made the play.”
The Bulldogs have remaining divisional games against Northville, Salem and Howell on the docket, while Canton has Novi, Howell and Hartland.
“I don’t care what the record is, every single team in this league is right there,” Lemons said. “I don’t think our kid are going to let up any. They’ve learned a lot over the last 12 months. I think they’re going to keep their foot on the gas, and hopefully keep winning.”