BRIGHTON Four weeks ago, Hartland’s defense held Brighton’s offense at bay long enough to win the first meeting of the season.
On Friday, things were completely different as the Eagles and Bulldogs met in the first round of the MHSAA football playoffs.
This time around, Brighton dominated on both sides of the ball and ran out to a 35-0 victory.
The Bulldogs (9-1) will travel to Grand Ledge (10-0) for the district championship next week. Grand Ledge advanced after beating Howell 34-2.
Nick Crocker, who scored the touchdown that for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach, has an extra reason to be excited about the matchup.
“Dunnie (quarterback Grant Dunatchik) is back, Joey (Clifford) is running strong,” Crocker said. “I can’t wait to see what we can do heading back to my hometown of Grand Ledge. It’s going to be fun.”
Dunatchik threw for three scores and was sacked only once by the Eagles.
He had missed most of three games with an ankle injury before returning to the field last week, but carried the ball a few times, one of them an 8-yard gain.
“It’s not feeling too bad,” he said, smiling. “You really can’t feel anything out there.”
The Bulldogs scored on their first possession, eating up more than seven minutes before Dunatchik connected with Erik Kern for a 6-yard score.
In the second quarter, Jerad Dokey caught a pass in the middle of the field and streaked 59 yards for a score.
Meanwhile, the Brighton defense clamped down on the Eagles, allowing only 17 yards total in the first half, all of them rushing.
It got into the act early in the third quarter, when Hartland’s Brad Ekonen threw an interception and Dunatchik found Crocker down the Brighton sideline for a 31-yard score.
“Dunnie just knows where to put it,” the junior said. “The linemen bought him some time and he just put it up there. He trusted me with the ball and I trust him throwing it. It just worked.”
Dunatchik, talking of the play, immediately handed off any credit.
“A great call, a great catch and great execution,” he said.
Clifford ran for 162 yards and a touchdown, a 64-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We all kind of struggled in the first Hartland game,” he said. “We did a much better job today.”
The Eagles tried a few things in the second half. They went to Ekonen, had Zach Behnke run and throw, then went back to Marshall. Nothing worked.
“We just couldn’t get the ball into the end zone,” Hartland coach Brian Savage said. “I think they, obviously, outcoached and outplayed us, and that happens.”
“Tonight was the best game we put together, top to bottom,” Brighton coach Brian Lemons said. “Our kids finally rose to the occasion and put a full football game together. We had been able to put some points up but never continue things the whole way through.”
Defensive coordinator Tim Szedga was pleased with his unit’s effort, too.
“We just got after it,” he said. “We kept the pressure on. It’s a great feeling. Keep on them. Don’t let up.”
For Hartland, It was their second loss in a row in the first round, but Savage praised his team.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” he said. “They got to the playoffs two years in a row, won two division championships in a row. They gave it 100 percent. They gave it all they got, and they were a great group of kids.
“Now we regroup, get our young guys back in the weight room and off to their other sports and be back out here next summer and do it all over again.”
For Brighton, the season lasts at least another week.
“That what we’re hoping for,” Clifford said. “You have to earn everything this time of year.”
When told it sounded like the opposite of former NBA player Allen Iverson’s rant about practice, Clifford laughed.
“I don’t think we have any Allen Iversons on our team,” he said. “You have to practice to be able to win.”