Walled Lake Northern linebacker Adam Rabaut is pictured here breaking up a pass vs. Waterford Mott earlier this year. Both the Knights turned things up a notch on defense in their Week 6 victory over Waterford Kettering. (Oakland Press photo file)
KLAA GRID NOTEBOOK: Defense name of the game in wild North Division, Novi & S. Lyon talk of Central
The Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division might have the reputation for shootouts akin to the O.K. Corral, but in Week 6 the division’s defensive prowess was on display.
After surrendering an average of over 45 points per game in its previous three contests, defending North Division champ Walled Lake Northern, owners of the area’s top offense this year and last, has given up only 10 and 19 points, respectively, the past two weeks in a pair of crucial league-wins.
The Knights (4-2) snuck past upstart Waterford Kettering 24-19 last Friday night. All-league senior middle linebacker Aaron Chretien fueled Northern’s defense against Kettering, collecting a game-high 11 tackles and two sacks, which both came in crunch time. Chretien and Adam Rabaut form a nails-tough linebacker-safety duo.
"We're known for our offense, but we can play some defense as well, and you've seen that the last two weeks," Knights head coach and offensive guru Brett Moore said. "They're (his defensive unit) showing they can't be overlooked."
High-flying Walled Lake Western sewed up a league-title Friday with a much-needed mauling effort on the defensive end of the field in its 35-14 roughhousing of Waterford Mott. Claiming their second North Division crown in three seasons, the undefeated Warriors (6-0) had allowed an average of almost 35 points a game their prior two outings.
Defensive backs John Witkowski (junior safety) and Josh Venegas (junior cornerback) snagged an interception apiece for Western to end fourth-quarter drives by what has been an explosive Mott offense this fall. Witkowski is a doozy of a hitter in the secondary that came on strong as a sophomore last year on the Warriors repeat district championship team.
Linebackers Johnny Simmons and Adam Stasinski gives Western a ferocious tandem, whether rushing the quarterback stopping the run or in pass-coverage and linemen like Edwin Martinez, Josh Jackson and Troy Thomas have been winning battles at the point of attack.
Novi is playing inspired football this fall, surprising the critics in head coach Jeff Burnside’s first-year at the helm of the Wildcats’ program.
Burnside and his troops are 4-2 overall, 3-1 in the KLAA Central Division.
Last year, Novi finished 1-8. The last time the Wildcats made the playoffs was five years ago.
Following a brief hiatus, Burnsides returned to Novi to right the ship. He was the head coach at Berkley the last two seasons, after serving as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator for four years in the late-2000s, including back-to-back playoff teams in 2007 and 2008.
The Wildcats are coming off a gritty 15-13 Homecoming-win over Livonia Stevenson last Friday night.
Junior running back Jalen Ward was a workhorse for Novi on offense, carrying the ball 30 times for138 yards and a 16-yard touchdown in the first half. A 5-yard touchdown hook-up between starting junior signal-caller Billy Ulle and Nick Meadors in the fourth quarter put Novi in front 15-7.
On defense, the Wildcats were relentless, staging a pair of goal-line stands down the stretch to clinch the victory. First, Novi stopped Stevenson on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line and then after Stevenson scored a late touchdown to pull within 15-13, snuffed out a run play on the two-point conversion-try to pencil the tally in the win column.
As a unit, the Wildcats defense caused five turnovers, had 11 tackles-for-loss, five sacks and four forced-fumbles and recoveries. The four fumble wrap-ups is a program record.
Seniors Marshall Sayles (linebacker) and Bepin Serraj (lineman) are the squad’s defensive leaders. Sayles made the tackle to thwart Stevenson’s fourth-and-goal play
Ward highlights a deep stable of runners that also features seniors Jeff Baker and Mark Ryan and sophomore Emmanuel Jackson.
“The goal is to get Novi football back to where it was before and we’re taking good steps in that direction,” Burnside said. “We haven’t done anything yet, though. Winning four games doesn’t get you into the playoffs, winning six does, so that’s what we’re striving for.”
Hear them roar
South Lyon rallied for a climactic 22-20 clipping of Salem, grabbing the victory on Vince Candella’s 28-yard field goal as time expired in a Week 6 showdown. The Lions (4-2) buckled down and roared back from a 20-0 deficit. Anton Skupin, South Lyon’s emerging star of a junior quarterback, went 15-of-23 for 170 yards and two clutch touchdown passes in the second half to ignite the comeback.
Skupin and the Lions are 3-1 in the KLAA Central, trailing division-leader Northville by a game, in a second-place tie with a Novi team they beat handedly in Week 5.