Northville reclaims Baseline Jug with dramatic victory over Novi
Mustangs’ magical season continues thanks to second-half heroics
Filling in for an injured teammate, Zachary Groot let a high, arching punt hit the turf before securing the bouncing ball at his own 32-yard line and zig-zagging 68 yards to the end zone — capping the first punt return of his life in dramatic style.
After missing most of his senior season with a pair of injuries, returning all-KLAA performer Nolan Thomsen hauled in a lead-seizing touchdown pass from fellow senior Luca Prior with 6:21 remaining — warming the hearts of everyone who has watched him endure more than two months of physical rehabilitation.
And Caleb Moore — far from a giant at 5-foot-11 and 162 pounds — was a relentless beast, churning out 83 yards on 20 carries — his biggest a game-clinching touchdown.
Groot, Thomsen and Moore were just three of many standouts who fueled Northville’s football team to a come-from-behind 21-10 triumph Friday night over arch-rival Novi.
The win improved the Mustangs’ record to 7-1 and helped them regain the rivalry’s Baseline Jug, which was owned by the Wildcats for the past year following their 31-17 victory over Northville in 2021.
“If you haven’t played in this rivalry or coached in this rivalry, you can’t understand how much it means to these schools and for the kids,” said Northville Head Coach Matt Ladach. “The toughness and grit we showed tonight — for all four quarters, not just the fourth — makes me so proud.”
Novi, which slipped to 5-3, led 3-0 at the half thanks to Antonio Cappella’s 25-yard field goal.
After the Mustangs’ defense held Novi to a three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half, Groot turned his punt-returning debut into magic and gave the Mustangs a 7-3 advantage (following Sam Wiest’s extra point).
“It was the first punt return I had ever had, so I decided to let it bounce once, just so I didn’t drop it or anything,” Groot said. “As soon as I picked it up, I saw a lane open up to my right and I took off. I think when I let it bounce, their defense collapse toward the middle, opening up the sideline.
“It was pure joy when I saw nothing but daylight to the end zone the final 30 yards or so.”
Moments after his momentum-changing return, Groot broke up a long, on-target pass by Novi quarterback Caleb Walker.
“Zach had a tremendous off-season for us,” Ladach raved about Groot. “He worked his butt off every day in the weight room. His preparation put him in a position to make the plays he made tonight.”
The Wildcats countered quickly, marching down the field on their next possession, which was capped by a 9-yard TD connection from Walker to Luke Aurelia, giving the visiting ‘Cats a 10-7 lead with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter.
Both defenses stiffened before the Mustangs put a charge into their already pumped-up crowd on the program’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness night by regaining the lead for good on Thomsen’s 7-yard scoring reception.
“It was a slant route,” Thomsen revealed. “My guy was in soft press coverage, giving me about three or four yards and he set his leverage outside. When I cut inside, as soon as he turned his hips the ball was right there. Luca put it right where he had to.”
“It is the best feeling winning back the jug after they took it last year.”
Moore put the icing on the orange-and-black cake with a 7-yard TD to extend his team’s lead to 21-10 with less than two minutes to play.
“You can’t look at Caleb and say that dude’s not tough,” Ladach said. “He runs so hard and the more we feed him the rock, the harder he runs.”
Prior completed 7 of 16 passes for 106 yards. His most impressive effort came in the fourth quarter when — rolling left with a pair of Wildcat defenders in pursuit — the right-hander threaded a spiral to Caden Besco for a key first down.
Walker was 18-for-29 for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Novi’s biggest offensive weapon was junior running back Lance Gailliard, who rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries.
Northville takes on Livonia Franklin on Oct. 21 in a battle of Kensington Lakes Activities Association division runners-up.
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