Dearborn Fordson quarterback Amin Haydous hobbled off the field when the name of Niko Savich was brought to his attention.
“He’s a good player, of course,” Haydous said. “I felt him a bit.”
Everybody on the Fordson team felt Savich on Thursday night as Dakota’s defense opened the season with a 17-9 victory over Fordson in the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State.
Make no mistake about it Dakota’s defense won this game, highlighted by the hits of Savich and the surprisingly good play from the secondary, which included Zachury Flack’s 89-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Dakota is supposed to be good, but it played without three defensive starters who are suspended for the first two games.
One of the starters is the Cougars best player, defensive back David Basirico, who has committed to Central Michigan.
According to the Macomb Daily, Basirico had been arrested and charged with aggravated assault. He was released on a personal bond.
But Dakota’s defense didn’t seem to miss him or the other two suspended starters.
“Honestly the defense surprised us,” said Savich, 5-feet-10, 210 pounds. “Without all the starters, I don’t know how we were going to be. But the coaches kept on telling us we were going to be just as good if not better and it turned out that we were.”
It would have been fine had Dakota struggled against this good Fordson team, which came out in the no-huddle and tried to pick up the tempo of the game.
In the early going Haydous passed effectively and running back Hady Bandar, who scored on a 2-yard run midway through the first quarter, had 100 yards for the Tractors by halftime.
But the Dakota defense was superb in the second half, allowing a couple of big plays, but shut down the Tractors as they neared the end zone.
“I didn’t know they were going to be that good at the spread,” said Savich. “We didn’t expect them to be that fast, but a good job by Coach (Greg) Bauer that prepared us for the spread.”
Tyler Crowell’s 7-yard TD pass to Daniel Crawford early in the second quarter gave Dakota a 7-6 lead and with 3:38 left in the half Flack came through with the play of the game.
A Fordson receiver cut one way and the ball was going another when Flack picked it off.
“I saw the quarterback throw the ball real far,” said Flack, “so I had to make a play on the ball and it fell in my hands.”
Then it was off to the races as the senior cornerback sprinted down the far sidelines and into the end zone.
Flack thought Haydous “was going to catch me on an angle, but I had to sprint as fast as I could to make sure he couldn’t catch me,” he said. “It was definitely a momentum changer right there. It took us awhile to get going so somebody had to step up.”
It did take a long while for the Dakota offense to get in gear and it struggled from time to time. But this was the opener, and Crowell is a good passer and late in the game Maurice Moon was effective running the wildcat offense.
All in all, it was a good way to begin the season, especially with Savich hitting anyone in a blue uniform who touched the ball.
And the Cougars learned that they really do have a good team, no matter who is sitting out.
“The skill guys really stepped up tonight, especially Brendyn Pittman, Mike Stawinski and John Hall,” said Savich. “All three of those guys stepped up tonight.”
So did Savich.