NOVI — The Hartland defense is sure to have some great nights this season. Thursday was not one of them.
In their 2016 season opener, the Eagles surrendered their most points ever in a season opener, losing, 49-28, on the road against KLAA Central foe, Novi. The last time the usually-stout Eagles defense had given up at least 49 points was in a 49-33 loss to Brighton back in 2013.
“Pretty much, it was a one-man show for most of the game, and we just didn’t play real well,” said head coach Brian Savage, referring to Novi wide receiver Anthony D’annibale, who was single-handedly responsible for 36 points — six touchdown receptions, a school record — against Hartland.
“We just had a lot of mental breakdowns on all three sides of the ball.”
D’Annibale caught 55 balls for 882 yards in 2015. He started his season off clearly looking to best that, slicing up a defense that was one of the best in the KLAA last year, and one that yielded only 22.2 points per game to opposing offenses, with 223 yards on 12 catches.
Novi posted 558 total yards on Hartland, with Alec Bageris racking up 324 yards through the air and Nathan Hankerson recording his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, going for 161 yards on 21 carries (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
The Eagles, who were especially excellent at stuffing the run a year ago — even limiting Offensive Player of the Year, Brighton’s Joey Clifford, to under 100 yards, which was a rarity — clearly felt the losses of linebackers Aaron Laird and Alex Vydick, as well as defensive tackle Andy Maschke.
That said, Savage wasn’t content with using that as an excuse after the game.
“Yeah, I don’t know. Obviously we have guys in new positions. That’s part of it,” the Hartland coach said. “We’re learning, and we’re learning on the fly. We’re new and inexperienced in a couple of spots, and it is what it is right now. But it’s 2016 and those guys (from 2015) are gone. We have to step up.”
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the Eagles offense played relatively well.
It couldn’t keep up with Novi, but it posted 361 yards and was 3-of-4 in the red zone.
Reece Potter led the way in scoring, catching four balls from quarterback Brad Ekonen for 67 yards and two scores, along with getting six caries for 35 yards and a touchdown. Jack Slavin totaled more than 100 yards, too, gaining 61 rushing yards on his 12 carries and hauling four balls for 49 yards.
Ekonen was 18-for-42 passing with 198 yards, two scores and two interceptions.
“We got eight more weeks left, and Salem’s on the schedule next week,” said Savage, starting the process of forgetting about Thursday night’s game to focus on Week 2. “We’ll move on, put it behind us, learning from it, watch the film and get ready for Salem.”
Original Article can be found here.