Saginaw Nouvel CC kicked off the 2019 Michigan High School Athletic Association football playoffs with a 33-13 pre district victory over Merrill HS in Merrill, MI Friday night.
Nouvel opened the scoring when junior QB Jack Kujawa hit senior wideout Sam Buckingham for a 21 yard touchdown pass to take an early 6-0 lead after the extra point kick was blocked by the Vandals defense with 6:45 left in the first quarter.
The game was very close throughout the remainder of the first half until NCC wide receiver Harry Dwan managed to get behind the Merrill defense on the final play of the first half, hauling in a 41 yard TD reception from Kujawa, as senior place kicker Luke Losa split the uprights on the extra point for a 13-0 Panther lead heading into halftime.
Momentum began to shift in favor of the Panthers in the third quarter when NCC sophomore linebacker Matthew Garcia scooped up a fumble in Vandals territory, taking it 24 yards to the house for six points as Losa hit the extra point for a 20-0 Nouvel lead with 8:13 to play in the third quarter.
Just three plays after the Garcia fumble recovery, NCC senior John Paul LeFevre knocked the ball loose from a Merrill runner, allowing NCC senior DB Zaiden Mitchell to recover the fumble, giving the Panthers possession on the Merrill 43 yard line to set up a drive which Mitchell would cap with a 4-yard rushing TD, while Losa's extra point gave the Panthers a 27-0 lead with 6:16 to play in the third quarter.
NCC sophomore Sam Bartels capped the Nouvel scoring with a 34-yard TD scamper, but the 2-point attempt failed as the Panthers pulled ahead 33-0 with 8:49 left in the fourth quarter.
Merrill would get on the board late in the fourth quarter when QB Johnny Smith hit wideout Colton Glazier for a 27-yard passing TD, while Glazier kicked the extra point to cut the NCC lead to 33-7 with 4:06 left.
Smith and Glazier would hook up again, this time for a 20-yard score later in the fourth quarter, but the two point try failed as the Vandals capped the scoring (33-13) with 32-seconds left in the game.
Kujawa finished 13 of 29 for 189 passing yards with 2-TD's and 18-rushing yards, while Bartels paced the NCC rushing attack with 14 carries for 92 yards including 1-rushing TD, adding an interception on defense.
NCC junior Ashton Wright added 8-carries for 55-rushing yards, while Mitchell had 21-rushing yards with 1-TD, adding an interception and a fumble recovery on defense.
Dwan hauled in 3 catches for 73-receiving yards, including 1-TD, while Buckingham caught 4-passes for 48 yards and 1-TD, along with LeFevre, who had 4-catches for 53-yards. Mitchell and Garcia each added 1-catch apiece respectively.
The Nouvel defense was led by junior Darron Chinery, who finished with 5.5 tackles, adding 2-sacks, while senior Kieran Schultz had 4.5 tackles, along with 2-sacks, as Garcia and LeFevre each added 1-sack apiece respectively, while freshman DB Joe LeFevre grabbed an interception in his first varsity football game.
Merrill QB Logan Heath and Smith combined to throw for 112-passing yards through the air, with Smith passing for 2-TD's and rushing for another 69-yards on the ground, while Heath added 25-rushing yards.
Brady Siler chipped in with 6 carries for 23-yards for the Vandals, along with Zach Breasbois adding 1-carry for 9-yards.
Glazier led all receivers, hauling in 4-catches for 78-receiving yards with 2-TD's, while Siler finished with 4-catches for 27-receiving yards for the Vandals.
The Merrill defense was led by junior linebacker Jacob McCormick, who finished with 5-tackles, 1-interception and 1-fumble recovery, while Austin Kade followed with 4.5 tackles, along with Siler, Zach Garchow, and Max Gagne, who each finished with 4-tackles apiece respectively.
Nouvel advances to take on Breckenridge HS, who defeated Carson City Crystal in the other pre district game. Breckenridge will host the Panthers on the campus of Breckenridge HS at 7 pm Friday night in Breckenridge, MI.