Jontz leads Brighton past rival Highlanders, 31-20, to reclaim Little Brown Jug
HOWELL — Like a missing tooth, it annoyed Will Jontz by its absence, every time he noticed.
Every time he passed by the trophy case at Brighton High School, where the Little Brown Jug — the trophy for the Livingston County rivalry game between the Bulldogs and Howell High School — was supposed to be stored, he’d remember that it was gone.
“Oh, yeah. Oh you look at it every day,” the senior quarterback said of the trophy case. “(Having it back) means a lot. You walk by it every day, and you look, and you’re like ‘Oh, that was my team that did that.’”
After missing last year’s game with a separated acromioclavicular (AC) joint in his shoulder, making him powerless to impact the 16-15 loss that sent the Jug 13 miles up Grand River Avenue for a year, Jontz was amped up to have the Bulldogs get it back.
“I mean, this is definitely the biggest game on our schedule. I missed last year, and that was really tough on me, so this was definitely a circled game,” he said. “It feels really good to come out as a senior, to come out and win a rivalry game.”
Jontz was one of the biggest reasons that the Bulldogs (7-1, 7-0 KLAA West) were able to reclaim the Jug, rushing for 217 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-20 road win at John Dukes Field Friday night.
And, rightfully so, he was the first to get to kiss the Jug, when coach Brian Lemons handed it around the postgame huddle.
“He might’ve been one of the best players on the field, for sure, but there were some solid efforts from other guys on our team, as well. (Chris) Seguin had some runs, but Will, at times tonight, stretched every yard that he could get,” Lemons said.
“Our kids really gutted this one out. It wasn’t the best game we played all season, but it was the one that meant the most. I’m super proud that they were just able to grind through it. Howell did some things that really made it tough, but the toughest opponent tonight might’ve been ourselves, and we’ve gotta be better come next week and the weeks after.”
Seguin added 95 yards and a score, as the Bulldogs stayed almost exclusively on the ground in the slick and rainy conditions.
The Highlanders (4-4, 4-3) were a tough out, though.
Howell scored on the first drive of the game, and led throughout the first half, and had the ball twice inside the Brighton 40 in the fourth quarter, with a chance to reclaim the lead.
“Well, we dropped the ball in the end zone,” Howell coach Aaron Metz said. “We had them stopped, with an opportunity to go ahead, and — on a rainy night — miss-fielded a punt, and gave them the ball down there. In a rivalry game, strange things happen.”
That muff of a punt with 4:40 left int the game set Brighton up on the Howell 19, and six plays later, Jontz punched it in from 1 yard out to give the Bulldogs a two-score lead, 31-20.
At that point, Lemons could probably exhale a little, right?
“No. I’m still working on that. I might be able to when I get inside,” he said with a grin.
The Highlanders still had a shot, as Matt Hornyak, who threw for 373 yards and two touchdowns, marched Howell down the field, before the last-gasp drive spluttered out at the Brighton 30 with 61 seconds remaining. Two kneel-downs by the Bulldogs, and it was over.
“I believe in everybody on my team, and we’d been able to move the ball the entire game. We just couldn’t capitalize in the right situation, just came up short tonight,” said Nathan Eades, who caught both of Hornyak’s scoring passes, and ran for another touchdown.
“I’ve been playing 12 years, and I’ve played these guys every year of my life. It’s always been that cross-town rivalry. I always love going against them — it’s always a tough fight. … It’s sad that we couldn’t come out with the win today, but I played a heck of a game, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, what our team has done this season. Just gotta come at it next week.”
Eades got the Highlanders on the board with a 6-yard touchdown run on the game’s first drive then — after Paul Skoczylas’ 20-yard field goal got Brighton on the board — came back to catch a 21-yard scoring pass to make it 13-3 Howell. Set up by a fake field goal pass conversion, Jontz scored on a 7 yard run with 1:03 left in the first half to make it 13-10 at the break, and the Brighton coaching staff took the opportunity to make some adjustments.
“Going into halftime, it gave us some time to try to scheme up our pass coverages for them. At that point, it’s execution on the field. At that point, our seniors stepped up big when we needed them to, and it was a big deal,” Lemons said. “We’d like to button up things a little better, but overall, I felt like we did a good job of stopping the run. They’re a very good running team.”
Jontz scored on a 45-yard run to cap the first drive of the second half, giving Brighton its first lead.
“We just had to be mentally tougher than they were. The offensive line did a phenomenal job making holes. We didn’t really run a bunch inside, so we took it outside,” Jontz said. “Sometimes (the holes are so big), it’s like ‘Oh, I gotta do this right.’ Sometimes, it’s like Moses parting the Red Sea. It’s kinda cool.”
The teams traded touchdowns — a 61-yard screen pass from Hornyak to Eades, and a 28-yard run by Seguin — before Jontz sealed the win with the run at the end.
Brighton moves on to the KLAA Championship game next Friday, facing a Belleville team — tabbed atop many preseason rankings — that had to score at the end of the game to beat Brighton, 40-35 in Week 1.
There were lessons learned in that game that will be valuable to the Bulldogs — the outright champions of the KLAA West — in next week’s rematch.
“Our kids are looking forward to it very much,” Lemons said. “As far as learning, we learned that we belonged on the same field as them. We hope to give them the best game we can next week.”
Howell needs to win its crossover game to have a chance of making the playoffs at 5-4. For Metz, his team’s offensive performance against a very stingy Brighton defense was the silver lining.
“Brighton’s defense has shut people out, and they’ve played well all year, so putting 20 points on them is as much as anybody has all season,” Metz said. “I think we can compete, and hopefully we can get it done next week, and get a chance to see them in the first round (of the playoffs).”