If 1961 and Steve Juday ring a bell, then that was the last time Northville High School finished a varsity football season with a perfect 9-0 record.
It’s been over five decades since that last happened and this 2015 edition of the Mustangs joined select company Friday night as they took care of business with a 37-20 triumph over visiting Grand Blanc.
“We were definitely thinking about it all week,” Northville’s 6-foot-2, 315-pound two-way lineman Alex Angeles said. “It’s just one more thing to motivate us. First time in 54 years … it’s crazy.”
Northville did it with a nearly flawless first half building a 27-7 advantage with senior quarterback Justin Zimbo, this year’s Juday (a former Michigan State starting QB), at the controls.
Northville jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead getting a 27-yard field goal from sophomore Jake Moody along with an 11-yard TD run by Zimbo, who finished the night 10-of-14 passing for 115 yards, while adding 64 more yards rushing.
The Mustangs’ defense didn’t allow a first down until midway through the second period while sacking Grand Blanc quarterback Zach Leedom four times. The Bobcats had minus-29 yards rushing during the first half on 14 carries.
Moody booted a 47-yard field goal on the third play of the second period to make it 13-0 and Adam Ghabra’s 21-yard run around end made it 20-0 with 8:39 left until intermission.
“We knew our counter was there and we just kept on running it over and over again,” Angeles said. “Zimbo was running the ball great. Adam Ghabra was running the ball great. (Zach) Prystash was running great and we just kept going back to it.”
Grand Blanc (4-5), fighting for a postseason playoff spot as a possible at-large, got on the board with 1:24 left in the half to cut the deficit to 20-7 on Leedom’s 21-yard scoring pass to Chris Riley.
But Northville was able to score again just 47 seconds later in just six plays to go up 27-7 when Zimbo, the 5-11, 191-pound senior, went 4-for-4 in the air capped by his 29-yard TD pass to sophomore Anthony Abbott.
“We were able to move the ball pretty well running our dash and our counter,” Northville coach Matt Ladach said. “And credit Grand Blanc, they adjusted well to both those plays.”
But not until Northville got another field goal from the strong-legged Moody, this time a 27-yarder with 9:32 remaining in the third period, which was then followed by Jack Burke’s interception and return 33 yards for pick-six TD to make it 37-7 with 4:46 to go in the same quarter.
The Bobcats scored twice in the final quarter on a 17-yard scoring pass and 5-yard TD run by Leedom, but it was too little, too late.
“First of all, they’re well coached,” Grand Blanc coach Joe Delaney said of the 9-0 Mustangs. “Matt (Ladach) does a heckuva job and his staff does a heckuva job with him. They’re always very disciplined. And for us they’re huge. They got good size people and they do what they’re supposed to do. They do their jobs and they do them well. Hats off to Matt and his staff, but those kids … that’s a great team out there.”
Leedom was 20-of-43 passing for 293 yards, but had three interceptions. (Burke had two on the night, while Mason Pitt got another.) And the Bobcats went for negative nine yards rushing on 22 attempts.
“We kind of struggled in the first half to get a rhythm going and we told them at halftime, ‘Just go out there, play hard, have fun, give us your best effort’ and things starting clicking,” Delaney said. “I took my quarterback (Leedom) out for a series, actually about three plays … he’s a great kid and he’s tough kid and sometimes he tries to overdo it. And he just needed to settle down a little bit. And once he went back out there he was great.”
Grand Blanc went to a more hurry-up offense late in the first half.
“I don’t know if their tempo really impacted us as much as their athleticism and their scheme, and their ability,” Ladach said of the Bobcats. “They’re a good football team. I don’t know if it was the tempo, but give the kids more credit than the tempo.”
Northville, making its sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years, could host as many as three postseason games because of its high point total (110.22) and thanks to that 9-0 record.
“We play together,” Ladach said. “Our kids are really cohesive with one another. We’re leaning on each other playing as a team.”
And leading up to the regular season finale, Ladach’s team was well aware that they could duplicate what that 1961 Northville team had accomplished.
“We talked about that at the beginning of the week,” Ladach said. “Coach (John) Horvath joined our staff this season and last time a Northville High School football team went undefeated, his dad was the coach. To have him on staff again and to have him be a part of that it means a lot us.”
The Mustangs will now face Plymouth (6-3) in the opening round of the MHSAA Division 1 playoffs beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at Northville. The Region 3-District 1 game is rematch of the KLAA’s Kensington Conference championship when the Mustangs pulled out a 23-20 victory on Oct. 17 at Plymouth.