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Colby Newburg’s five-TD night leads Brighton past East Kentwood, to first district title since ’05

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 9, 2019, 3:13 am

BRIGHTON — When you’re attempting to put your name up among the pantheon of star quarterbacks and your school, it’s harder when you’re from someplace like Brighton — where they’ve had guys like Drew Henson, Cullen Finnerty and even Will Jontz last season.

But it certainly helps if you put up a night like Colby Newburg did in Friday’s Division 1 district championship game, rushing for 140 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a 48-26 win over East Kentwood that broke a 13-year drought for postseason hardware.

“It’s been a while since we put any wood in that trophy case, and now we got one,” said Brighton coach Brian Lemons, who has led the Bulldogs to the playoffs in four of his five seasons, but never as deep than this. “I think tonight what you see is what our guys are able to do. Colby is a dangerous weapon to have, and we’ve got some receivers who can do the job. (Carson) Billig had a little bit of a coming out party on offense, which was nice to see. … It was a good team effort.”

It’s the first district title for Brighton since the 2005 squad won one en route to an appearance in the D1 semifinals. 

“It feels amazing. We’re just taking it week-by-week,” Newburg said. “Next team by next team.”

The next team up is Hudsonville (8-3), a 35-7 winner over Grand Haven in Friday’s other district final in Region 1. The Eagles, who lost to both of Brighton’s earlier playoff opponents — Holt (22-21) in Week 2 and East Kentwood (31-20) in Week 8 — will visit Brighton (9-2) at 7 p.m. on Friday for the regional championship.

[For the full postseason pairings, CLICK HERE.]

While the Bulldogs do have a potent passing offense, it wasn’t much needed in the win over East Kentwood, producing mostly first-down pickups and 76 total yards on seven attempts. The the run game — which accounted for 407 yards on 48 carries — was effective enough that there was no reason for the Bulldogs to abandon it. 

Sheldon Riley added 93 yards on six carries — including a pair of early jaunts after a first-drive goal-line stand — while Nicholas Nemecek had 82 yards on 17 carries. Billig had 76 yards on just four carries.

[For the full scoreboard from district finals, CLICK HERE.]

“I think our offensive coordinator (Brent Luplow) has done a great job all season of taking what people are giving us. Today it was a situation where we had a guy on an island, and he had to make a choice, and it was Colby’s number, and he did a good job of reading it, and making the plays when he needed to,” Lemons said. “What I was really appreciative of tonight was that we were able to keep the ball moving. We had very few mistakes. Some were self-inflicted. Our OC was disciplined, kept the ball on the ground, didn’t push it.”

Knowing that, though, even Newburg was surprised — at both how often his number was the one called, and at how big the holes were that he was running through at times.

“I know, knowing the game plan, we were going to run the ball a lot. I didn’t know I was going to get that many carries. We did a lot of read stuff, and the ends flew out with the running back, so my read is to pull it, and I pulled it, and followed some blockers. My linemen, they did a heck of a job — all those seniors, they just blocked their (butts) off,” the senior quarterback said, calling out praise for his line of Nate Hoffman (Air Force), Jack Cataldo, Dylan Andrews, Matt Copple and Bradley Luketic.

“They had some wide holes. Our linemen, they work their tails off, every day. I’ve got a lot of faith in them. They just make super big holes, and I just run through them.”

Outside of penalties, the Bulldogs only had five plays all night long that lost yardage — and two of them were kneel-downs. Conversely, they had seven chunk plays of 20 yards or more, three of them resulting in touchdowns. 

“I think he was pretty close to being spot-on tonight,” Lemons said of Newburg. “Our offensive line, really played outstanding tonight. I don’t know if we really expected us to have that much success up front, but our guys up front really did the job.”

East Kentwood’s defensive line sports two Big Ten commits in Dallas Fincher (Michigan State) and Bryce Mostella (Penn State).

Newburg scored on runs of 31, 1 and 7 yards in the first half, as the Bulldogs built a 28-6 lead by the break. The other Brighton score came from backup quarterback John Aurandt on a reverse with a run/pass option. 

The two teams matched scores in the second half, with East Kentwood getting a pair of touchdown runs — 1 and 5 yards — from quarterback Christian Tanner, who also hit Jaylen Smith with an 18-yard scoring pass. Brighton answered with touchdown runs of 23 and 31 by Newburg, and a 15-yard score by Billig on the jet sweep after the first of his two fourth-quarter interceptions, plays that finally began to hold the East Kentwood offense at bay.

“He’s been doing it all season long. They had a couple of nice, tight passes on him, and then he made the play when he needed to,” Lemons said of the pickoffs. “That was big.”

The Bulldogs held East Kentwood to just 40 rushing yards — 35 of that by Joshua Ledesma, who scored the Falcons’ first touchdown — but gave up 303 yards through the air to Tanner and the Falcons’ receiving corps. Defensive ends Luke Stanton and Robert Herrick had two sacks each, while Stanton batted down a pair of passes.

“We buckled down in a way, defensively, in a way to make them not be able to get it fast. They do a really good job of throwing the ball,” Lemons said. “We gotta get better pressure on the quarterback — when we got pressure, we were able to make some plays behind it; when we didn’t get pressure, he was able to take his time and pick us apart a little bit. Most importantly, our guys are disciplined enough to keep the ball where we want it.”