Novi starts season 0-3, ends regular season with a flourish and seeks to upset West Bloomfield in the first round
Novi – A potentially dangerous 5-4 team lurking in the shadows in the Division 1 playoffs is Novi from the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Central Division.
On the verge of watching their season flat line last month, staring 0-3, the Wildcats rallied and enter the playoffs winners of five of their last six games. The Wildcats feature an offense that is flying high and scoring at a rapid pace as if they were pinball machines.
Novi is averaging 35 points since the fourth week of the season defeated playoff-bound Howell 43-21 last Friday to slip into playoffs as an additional qualifier.
The Wildcats, in the playoffs for the first time in seven years, will play No. 4-ranked West Bloomfield (9-0) on Friday at West Bloomfield at 7 p.m.
“We rediscovered our confidence after (our third loss) and things began to come together and move in the right direction,” Novi coach Jeff Burnside said. “We all got on the same page and gelled as a group. Once we found our footing and got acclimated to what we’re trying to do as a unit, we were off and running.”
The catalysts of Novi’s up-tempo offense have been senior slot back Emanuel Jackson and junior quarterback Alec Bageris. They’ve proven quite the proficient pair on the stat sheet.
Jackson (5-11, 175) is as dynamic as he is diverse. He had 320 yards in total offense against Howell and scored five touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving).
This season Jackson has over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. One of the most dynamic players in school history, Jackson, who committed to Western Michigan, has scored 27 touchdowns this season and has broken every receiving, kickoff and punt return record in Novi history.
“Emanuel is a special player, a special talent,” Burnside said. “On the field he can hurt defenses in so many ways, off the field he’s an even better kid than he is a football player. That’s an amazing combination.”
Bageris, a two-year starter, is blossoming into a high-octane vertical passing threat and is a calming presence in the huddle.
Bageris has thrown for 1,965 yards and 21 touchdowns, and needs 47 yards to set the school’s single-season record for yards passing.
“Alec is doing a phenomenal job,” Burnside said. “He’s really taken off in terms of his development as a quarterback. His leadership has been outstanding. He’s a pretty laid back kid, but man, he’s just so competitive and that attitude, that never-give-up mentality, rubs off on his teammates.”
Anthony D’Annabale is a formidable No. 2 option in the Wildcats’ freewheeling offense. He’s able to exploit opposing defensive backs that either overplay or double team Jackson. D’Annabale’s 81-yard touchdown reception was one of the big plays against versus Howell.
Safety Nick Sabo captains the Novi defense and headlines a standout secondary. Sabo has 90 tackles and linebackers Brett George and Ian Patterson have each recorded 75 tackles.
George and defensive lineman Ethan Carter top the team with eight sacks apiece. Carter ended the regular season with three sacks against Howell.
“We’re getting contributions all around,” Burnside said. “It’s not one guy or two guys, it’s the whole roster. Everybody is chipping in. For us on the coaching staff, that’s what’s most encouraging."
Burnside is undaunted by the task of squaring off with powerful West Bloomfield.
“Whether you’re 5-4 or 9-0, every team is on equal ground from here on out,” he said. “The past doesn’t matter anymore, only the future.”