HARTLAND–It was fitting that, after both sides had kept the other in check all night, that a defensive play would be the difference in Hartland 14-7 win over Brighton on the Eagles homecoming Friday night.
It came midway through the third quarter, when backup Brighton quarterback Cameron Tullar was intercepted by Hartland defensive back Brett Borseth, who ran untouched 50 yards to the end zone for the deciding score.
Asked what went through his mind, his answer was as to the point as his run was.
“Just that we were up 14-7 in a big game,” he said.
The win was the third in a row for Hartland (4-2 overall, 3-1 KLAA West), who moved into a three-way tie for first in the division and saw their chances of returning to the Lakes Conference championship game much improved as well.
For Brighton (5-1, 3-1), it was the first loss of the season, compounded by the loss of quarterback Grant Dunatchik. He injured his lower left leg on a running play late in the first quarter and was seen on crutches after the game.
But Tullar impressed, going 12-for-22 with two interceptions and a touchdown.
“A new quarterback, and you never would have known it,” Hartland coach Brian Savage said. “He did a phenomenal job. He looked like he could be a starter for sure, no problem.”
“He came out and was pretty brave out there,” Brighton coach Brian Lemons said. “He came out and was a warrior.”
The defenses were relentless on both sides, with neither team cracking the 200-yard mark on total offense.
Hartland quarterback Noah Marshall struggled for most of the game, completing just 3-of-9 passes for 49 yards and starting the second half on the bench.
But he got going down the stretch, finishing with 95 yards rushing, including a 40-yarder around left end in the fourth quarter.
He also started the scoring with a 38-yard strike to Grant Prinzing with 2:59 left in the first quarter.
“Our defense did a great job,” Lemons said. “We had one breakdown, or it’s a shutout. I thought the Hartland team got some tough yards when they needed to, and we came up one score short in the end.”
Brighton came back with Joey Clifford, who rushed for 98 yards on 24 carries and caught four passes for 31 yards and the score that tied the game with 39 seconds left before halftime.
But the injury to Dunatchik had hurt the Bulldogs earlier in the quarter. Chad Rensi replaced Dunatchik as the holder on a field-goal attempt, but was forced to throw the ball after he struggled with a high snap.
Clifford averaged four yards per carry, including an 18-yarder, his longest of the night. The Eagles kept him contained for long stretches.
“Their linebackers flowed very well,” Clifford said. “Both of them, (Alex) Vydick and (Aaron) Laird. They were both flowing well to the ball and they disrupted the running game.”
Laird, holding a blown-up baby photo of himself after the game, agreed.
“We were swimming to the ball every single play,” he said. “We were looking at their linemen and ours and who was getting to the second level. We made some adjustments to that and it really benefited us.”
Then, in the fourth quarter, Marshall started to get some headway.
“When we spread them out (on defense), we saw we had a little mismatch, a 2-on-1,” he said. “We had to block a linebacker, and once we did, it was a good adjustment.”
Marshall left to get stitches for a cut sustained after his 40-yard run, a memento of getting a win on homecoming.
“This shows a lot about our team and its character,” he said. “We were down at 1-2 and to come back with three wins in a row, then win at homecoming, it means there’s a lot to come in the next few weeks.”
The same goes for Brighton, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to consider the teams meet again in the playoffs.
“We battled through some adversity when Dunatchik got hurt,” Clifford dsaid. “I’m proud of our team for not giving up and playing well. We didn’t play our best, but we showed heart and never stopped trying to win. I was proud of our team and Tullar, too.”
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