By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON — Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Bill Wilharms liked his team’s chances going into the 8-Player Division 1 Playoffs.
When the championship game was switched from outdoors in Midland to indoors at the Legacy Center in Brighton, he liked them a whole lot more.
“We’ve got power, but speed is what we base ourselves on,” he said. “And the whole thought of basketball-on-grass when we’re on offense helps.”
The Cougars (11-0) took advantage, overwhelming Suttons Bay from the start in a 47-0 win in Saturday’s Division 1 Final.
Lenawee Christian put that speed to good use early, getting its first touchdown after a blocked punt by Jameson Chesser, and picking up its second with a 36-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ashur Bryja.
The Cougars never looked back, putting the game out of reach on the arm and legs of quarterback Landon Gallant, who threw two touchdown passes to Chesser, of 57 and 22 yards, and ran one in himself to give Lenawee Christian a 33-0 halftime lead.
Meanwhile, the Cougars’ defense was seemingly everywhere.
Suttons Bay had just 52 yards in total offense, and completed only 2 of 14 passes while getting sacked seven times.
“They closed on the ball very well,” Norsemen coach Garrett Opie said. “They’re fast, they’re athletic and they did a great job. We were trying certain mixtures in plays and feeling things out at the beginning of the game, and they did so well against many of our looks.”
The Cougars, meanwhile, piled up 400 yards in total offense, 289 of that through the air. Gallant completed 14 of 21 passes for 267 yards, while Bryja was 4-for-4 for 22 yards.
Chesser finished with four catches for 127 yards while also rushing for 52 yards. Elliott Addleman had four catches for 116 yards.
In fact, Suttons Bay’s biggest play came late in the game via its defense, when Michael Wittman picked up a fumble and returned it 37 yards before Bryja knocked him out of bounds, preventing a touchdown.
It was the first title for Lenawee Christian, which completed its first season of the 8-player format.
“it feels great,” said linebacker Brandon Scott, who led the Cougars with 10 tackles. “To do it with this team makes it a lot better. All the things we went through, all the pauses, who’d have thought we’d be finishing high school football in January? And indoors?”
“It’s tremendous for the Adrian community,” Wilharms said. “In Lenawee County, we’re pulling for Clinton next week to win it in (11-player) Division 6. We’re a brotherhood. It means a lot to us.”
Opie, an Adrian High School graduate who went to school with Wilharms' wife and sister-in-law, saw his team lose in the Division 1 Final for the second year in a row, but took the loss philosophically.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” he said of Lenawee Christian. “They had a lot of talent on their team and did a fantastic job. I’m very proud of our team for our 10-0 season. This is a very tough loss. We don’t want to go out this way, but it’s a privilege to be here, so we’ll take it with us and be very happy about it."
PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian’s Clay Ayers breaks through an opening during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Cougars’ Elliott Addleman hauls in a pass. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)