Novi plays spoiler, holds off late comeback attempt by Howell
NOVI — The mission for Howell was simple on Friday night: win and you’re in.
The Highlanders were looking for their first playoff birth since 2012, but Novi had other plans.
The Wildcats (4-5) held on to a late fourth quarter lead to beat Howell 21-19 to end the season.
“It’s a good feeling,” Novi head coach Jeff Burnside said. “It’s the first time since 2010 we were able to finish the year with a win. I’ll be first to blame myself for not getting this team to playoffs this year.
“We should be in (the playoffs). We’re a good football team and we showed it tonight against a team that needed a win.”
The win didn’t come easy. Novi held a 21-3 lead at the half, but Howell (4-5) stormed back with 16 unanswered points.
The Highlanders stormed back into game with their opening possession of the second half with a drive orchestrated by junior quarterback Brett Chaperon.
Howell marched down the field on the legs, and arm of Chaperon before head coach Aaron Metz abandoned the spread formation and went with the wildcat in the red zone.
Two plays later, senior running back Evan Siemen took the snap and floated a 5-yard touchdown pass to cut into Novi’s lead, 21-10, with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
After a 28-yard field goal make in the fourth quarter, Howell marched down the field again when Novi couldn’t make a field goal of their own to extend its 8-point lead, 21-13.
With 2:14 left in the game, junior Tom Lassitter took a direct snap and bowled into the end zone for a 21-19 lead. The Highlanders needed to go for two to tie the game, but Novi’s defense came up huge on a Chaperon scramble.
“We wanted to make sure we were aligned right. We played tight man coverage and the guy we didn’t send (on the blitz) came up with a big tackle on the one,” Burnside said.
“That was huge. We’ve had big shootouts all year, and it was awesome seeing the defense make play when we needed them. They saved our butts tonight.”
Novi couldn’t recover the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but the Wildcat defense pressured Chaperon into third-and-23, when senior Aaron Pringle came up with a big interception to seal the game.
“It was the greatest moment of my life,” Pringle said. “To end my high school career with a interception to end the game, it doesn’t get any better. I’ve wanted a pick all year, and I finally got it.”
Novi built its lead with an offensive explosion in the first half spearheaded by junior running back Emanuel Jackson.
Jackson accounted for two touchdowns, on a 7-yard and 21-yard run respectively, in the second quarter. Jackson also hit a milestone of having over 2,000 career rushing yards with a big 58-yard run on second down-and-seven.
“He makes good things happen out of nothing,” Burnside said of his running back. “He’s a wonderful kid. He likes to have fun during the week, but on game day he’s humble. We’re lucky to have him back next year.”
The Wildcats also received a 9-yard touchdown run the first quarter with 7:16 to play when senior Matt Sabo ran hard to the right side of the line, and bowled his way into the end zone.
Though both schools will miss the playoffs, Burnside said he’s going to motivated in the off-season to make sure he gets his team into the post season.
“We’re going to lose 36 seniors. We’re replacing a lot. We’re going to be a young football team next year,” he said.
“I’m mad at myself that we couldn’t take team 49 to the playoffs. The way the seniors bought in two years ago when I came in. They deserved more, and that’s going to fuel my fire this off-season.”