Walled Lake Northern found itself in the unfamiliar position last Friday of playing a game the week after clinching a state playoff berth.
While the Knights didn’t exactly pass the test with flying colors, they just did enough to earn a 29-18 victory over South Lyon in their homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 19.
Northern capped its best regular season in school history at 7-2 while extending its longest-ever winning streak to seven games after an 0-2 start to the season.
With the win, the Knights ensured that their state playoff debut in a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Division 1 pre-district game will be on their home field on Friday, Oct. 26.
Northern’s opponent will be the 6-3 Howell Highlanders from the Kensington Lakes Activities Association (KLAA) West Division, who are entering the playoffs on a four-game winning streak after starting the season 2-3.
The last time the Highlanders and Northern met was in the 2009 season opener in which the Highlanders came out on top, 18-7.
“Howell is a school we’re familiar with,” said Northern Head Coach Brett Moore. “They’re very big, physical and their defense is solid. But, I like the fact that we’re at home.”
Last Friday was unusual for Northern, considering that the regular season finale in its previous nine seasons meant either fighting for a state playoff berth in the final week or just wrapping up a sub-.500 season.
The Knights were coming off a three-game road swing in which they defeated Huron Valley Lakeland to win the KLAA North title and bested previously undefeated Hartland to clinch the KLAA Lakes Conference title and a state playoff berth.
Returning to its home field, Northern had to deal with the distractions of homecoming and Senior Night festivities while trying to remain focused against the desperate South Lyon Lions (4-5), who were looking to reach the 5-win mark for a chance to sneak into the state playoffs.
“It was a very odd feeling and we didn’t bring our ‘A’ game. I didn’t do a good job with the offensive scheme and we were not a desperate team,” Moore said. “That’s on me as a coach. There were a lot of distractions and I take full responsibility.”
Northern had the upper hand early on as senior Matt Kosmalski scored on a 63-yard touchdown run on its second drive, which was then followed by a 2-point conversion run by Chase Burton for an 8-0 Knights lead with just over 8 minutes left in the first quarter.
Jake Ginster then scored on a 51-yard touchdown run and Northern led 15-0 at the end of the first quarter.
After the Tyler Marcus kicked a field goal to get the Lions on the board in the second quarter, Ginster scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard run to give Northern a 22-3 halftime advantage.
Kosmalski scored his second touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run late in the third quarter as the Knights led 29-3 at the end of the third.
Things then got hairy for Northern in the fourth quarter as Trevor Tank scored on a 17-yard touchdown run for South Lyon with just under 7 minutes left.
After the Lions recovered an onside kick, Tank struck again on a 10-yard touchdown run before quarterback Andrew Garcia scored on a two-point conversion with 6:41 left as the Lions cut Northern’s lead from 26 points to just 11 in a span of 17 seconds.
South Lyon then recovered another onside kick and had a chance to cut into the lead once again, but the Knights were able to hold off the Lions’ charge and hang on to win.
The Knights outgained the Lions with 391 total yards compared to 238 for South Lyon, with 284 of Northern’s yards coming on the ground.
Kosmalski finished with 168 yards rushing and two touchdowns on eight carries for the Knights, in addition to 13 total tackles on defense, while Ginster had 10 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Northern quarterback Collin O’Donnell completed 7-of-12 passes for 107 yards while being held to seven yards rushing on 10 carries.
Aaron Chretien also had eight total tackles, while Logan Hall had eight total tackles and an interception.
Jordan Anstandig also had seven total tackles and an interception for Northern.
Tank finished with 80 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 14 carries for South Lyon.
With the regular season now complete, Moore does not expect a lackluster effort when his team takes the field against Howell this Friday in a state playoff game.
“Now the hunger is there and they’ll give everything they have,” Moore said.