Goal-line stop changes momentum, as Fordson rolls over Howell in Battle at Big House
ANN ARBOR — If they were going to slug it out with a loaded Dearborn Fordson offense, the Howell Highlanders knew they couldn’t squander any chances to put points on the board in the finale of the Battle at the Big House on Saturday.
The first time they did, the game changed on a dime.
In a contest that featured 11 plays of 30 or more yards — and two of more than 90 — everything changed when Howell fumbled on the doorstep of the end zone, on its way in to potentially tie the game at 21-21.
The Tractors took advantage of the momentum swing, and scored the game’s next 27 points to blow it open, eventually cruising to a 48-28 win in their first-ever contest as a member of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association.
“Well, you gotta give Fordson credit: They have some players. … There’s not going to be a perfect first game, ever. We knew that when we had an opportunity to score, you’ve gotta get them. And when you have the ball on the 1-yard line, that’s inexcusable not to get a touchdown, it really is,” said Howell coach Aaron Metz, whose team gamely matched blows with the Tractors through more than a quarter. “The delay of game falls on me as a coach. That’s on me. We can’t have that mistake. Then we get in a spot where they get a turnover, so we get no points. So that’s big. They go right down and score, and that’s a 14-point swing in the game.”
A 41-yard pass from Matt Hornyak to Mike Brauer set the Highlanders up with a goal-to-go scenario from the Fordson 9, a golden opportunity to tie the game up with more than five minutes of play left in the first half. A first-down run by Nathan Eades took the ball down to the 1, but a delay of game penalty before third down pushed it back 5 yards, and put the Highlanders back in passing mode.
That’s when the Tractors made the game-swinging play, as defensive end Hadi Hamid swatted the ball right out of Hornyak’s hand, and Fordson recovered.
“I don’t know if I would say it was a nervous feeling,” Fordson coach Fouad Zaban said of the back-and-forth start. “More being undisciplined, not executing what we were supposed to do, not having the eye discipline, not doing your job only. I felt that those were mistakes we could correct, and I think we kind of did that after that point.
“That stop kind of changed the whole thing.”
The Tractors began to shore things up on defense, immediately.
“More importantly, I feel that is a learning point. And that’s what we spoke about at halftime, that you never quit, and you’ve gotta play every down, doesn’t matter if the ball’s on the 1-yard line or not,” Zaban said. “You just gotta play the next play. Basically that’s what happened, and we were able to put things together after that, make that big stop, momentum changed.”
Less than two minutes later, James Wheeler ripped off a 46-yard run to make it 21-14. In the waning seconds of the first half, quarterback Hussein Ajami hit Tim Stallworth on a stop route, and his receiver did the rest, scoring from 31 yards out to make it 35-14 at the break.
The big plays wouldn’t diminish in the second half, either, as a 48-yard run by Walaa Mazloum — who scored the game’s first touchdown on a 33-yard run — set up a 7-yard scoring run by Wheeler.
Then Abraham Jaafar — who had a 43-yard scoring run to make it 14-7 — pulled off his second one-play scoring drive, taking the first-down handoff after a downed punt pinned Fordson at its own 4, and scooted the length of the field for a 96-yard score.
“We just gave the ball over too much. We made plays, created turnovers, but we just gave up too many big plays. We didn’t tackle like we should have — some of that is their backs are big and strong,” said Metz, whose team had three interceptions and a fumble recovery, bemoaning the big plays allowed. “On both sides. I think both defensive coordinators are pulling their hair out with the big plays.”
Howell scored on a 1-yard plunge by Jonah Schrock and a 19-yard sweep by Eades in the fourth quarter.