DETROIT – Only a few drives into the MHSAA Division 7 Final, Bennett Lewis came to Saginaw Nouvel coach Mike Boyd with a request.
Give me the ball until Pewamo-Westphalia stops me.
Never happened. The senior running back ran for five touchdowns, and his Panthers scored 56 points – both to set or tie MHSAA Finals records.
And both were accomplished over just two quarters as Nouvel cruised to a 56-26 win and its third football championship.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of my teammates, especially the offensive line. We’ve been playing together a long time and they really executed in the first half,” Lewis said. “Their defense is one of the defenses we can run our offense against really well. We just executed and made big plays. ”
This championship goes with Nouvel’s back-to-back Division 6 titles in 2006 and 2007, and the Panthers finished 13-0 to match their perfect record in 2006. Pewamo-Westphalia made its first appearance in an MHSAA Football Final and finished 13-1.
The Panthers had scored 63 and 62 points, respectively, during the first two rounds of the postseason. And as Boyd said after, he had an offense built for speedy strikes – especially at an inside venue like Ford Field.
Nouvel blew past the previous MHSAA Finals record of 42 points in one half set by both Farmington Hills Harrison in 2000 and Jackson Lumen Christi in 2001.
“Maybe our third drive, Bennett came off the field and came right up to me and said, ‘I want the football. Until they stop me, give me the football,’” Nouvel coach Mike Boyd said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’
“Great competitors, great leaders. Just a great group.”
Lewis, the Associated Press’ Division 7-8 Player of the Year this fall, ran 15 times for 200 yards – all in the first half – to push his season rushing total to 2,077. The five touchdowns gave him 36 rushing for the fall. Senior quarterback Joseph Buchalski was 7 for 10 passing for 196 yards and three scores. He also ran five times for 50 yards – again, all in the first half.
“That’s the best team I’ve ever played. The fastest. (And) I don’t hesitate to say Bennett Lewis is the best player I’ve ever played,” P-W senior quarterback/cornerback Justin Thelen said. “We fought, and I’m proud of that. But they had us on our heels right away.”
Thelen was 10 for 21 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Alex Thelen ran 16 times for 77 yards and a score. It was a tough end to a courageous run by the Pirates, who suffered through the death of classmate and baseball teammate Brendon Nurenberg in a car crash earlier this month, but battled through with his memory an additional motivator.
“He was just a fun guy. The guys loved being around him. And the guys rallied around that,” P-W coach Brad Weber said. “They did it for Brendon for the most part. They knew he would have fun, so they did too.”
SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)