The Nouvel Catholic Central football team battled back from a 2-score deficit in the final 6-minutes of the game on two passing touchdowns (15-yards, and 3-yards) from senior QB Tate Hausbeck to senior WR Kenny Kujawa to pull ahead, before Kujawa hauled in a game-saving interception with under 30-seconds to play, capping an incredible come-from-behind district championship victory over No. 8 ranked Harbor Beach H.S. by a score of 27-26 on the Nouvel campus tonight.
Nouvel drew first blood on the second play of the game when Hausbeck hit senior WR Peter Snyder for a 65-yard passing TD as Kujawa (who is also the holder for extra points) carried in the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 NCC lead with 11:08 left in the opening quarter.
Harbor Beach answered with a 4-yard rushing TD by senior QB James Schelke, however, the 2-point conversion attempt failed as the Pirates cut the Nouvel lead to 8-6 with 9:18 left in the second quarter.
After stopping the Harbor Beach offense, Nouvel forced a punt which was shanked by Schelke (who was attempting a pooch punt) resulting in just a 2-yard punt, giving the Panthers good field position with the ball on the Pirates' 30 yard line.
On the very first play following the botched punt, Hausbeck hit Snyder again, this time for a 30-yard TD pass with 1:19 left in the first half, but the extra point sailed wide, as NCC made its way to the locker room with a 14-6 halftime lead.
Harbor Beach had won the opening coin toss at the beginning of the game and deferred to the second half, which turned out to be a good decision, when just a few plays into the second half, Schelke broke free for a 53-yard TD scamper, as another 2-point try failed, although the Pirates had now cut the Panther lead to 14-12 with 10:36 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates kept the momentum in the third quarter, with some help from the Panthers who had started to shoot itself in the foot, building up a large collection of yellow laundry, as Schelke hit senior Austin Roberts for a 20-yard passing TD, while Schelke hit junior Mason Jahn for the 2-point conversion try, giving Harbor Beach its first lead of the game 20-14 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
At last count, Nouvel had been flagged 17 times for 150 penalty yards, by far the most penalties called this entire season, and something which will need to change for the Panthers to advance.
Schelke continued to be a one-man Panther killer throughout the first half of the fourth quarter, intercepting Hausbeck for his second pick of the night to give the Pirates the ball back, before initiating a drive deep into Nouvel territory, capping the drive off with a 2-yard QB keeper for the TD, as another Harbor Beach 2-point conversion attempt failed, despite extending its lead to 26-14 with 9:16 left in the game.
Nouvel junior Josh Kuligowski would give the Panthers the boost it desperately needed on the ensuing kickoff, returning it across mid-field and down to the Harbor Beach 45-yard line, which seemed to light a fire on the NCC sideline.
That's when Hausbeck went to work, finding Kujawa for a 15-yard passing TD, as junior kicker Jacob Burr kicked the extra point, slicing into the Pirates' lead 26-21 with 6:21 remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, Nouvel attempted an onside kick, but another penalty gave Harbor Beach decent field position, however, the Panther defense stepped up, forcing a punt.
Facing fourth down and 12 yards to go, the Panthers were on the brink of certain elimination when Hausbeck hit Kujawa for a 50-yard pass completion down to the Harbor Beach 14-yard line with just under 3-minutes left in the game.
Nouvel moved the ball down to the Pirates' 1-yard line, but yet another penalty pushed the ball back outside the five, and eventually the Panthers found itself facing another certain end to its season on fourth down and goal from the 3-yard line, just as Hausbeck found Kujawa for the 3-yard go-ahead TD pass, as the 2-point conversion attempt failed, but the Panthers now had a 27-26 lead with 1:26 left in the game, although it would still have to kick to the dangerous Schelke and his explosive Harbor Beach offense one more time.
A huge pass interference call against NCC would give the Pirates the ball near the Nouvel 35-yard line with just under 1-minute to play in the game, as Schelke completed a few more short passes (with his receiver's getting out of bounds to stop the clock) down near the NCC 20-yard line.
With under 30-seconds to play, Schelke rolled out, throwing for the end zone, however, Kujawa was there to cap an incredible finish, punching Nouvel's ticket to the regional championship game with a game-saving interception.
Hausbeck finished 18 for 33 and passed for 292 yards with 4-passing TD's, while Snyder led all receivers with 6-catches for 131-yards and 2-TD receptions and 6-tackles on defense.
Kujawa had 4-catches for 77-yards and 2-TD receptions, also rushing in a 2-point conversion try, while adding 6-tackles on defense, along with the game-saving interception.
Senior Alex Wrobel led the defense with 12 tackles, while senior Kyle Allen added 9-tackles and senior Justin Kuligowski had 8-tackles. Senior Tommy Sapak also had 6-tackles and 1-sack, while senior Collin Schultz also added 6-tackles.
Nouvel now advances to the MHSAA Division 8 quarter finals either Friday night or Saturday afternoon against Lincoln Alcona (who beat Hillman 56-34 tonight) for a regional championship right back here at Nouvel CC.