Plymouth was clinging to a 20-16 lead when it faced a fourth-and-1 on its 10-yard line with 2:45 left, and the Wildcats lined up to go for the first down.
“Absolutely we were,” Plymouth coach Mike Sawchuk said. “Our defense was on the field a lot. I felt like if we could get that first down and get some momentum going … “
But a Plymouth lineman moved before the snap and, after a 5-yard penalty, the Wildcats were forced to do what they least wanted to do — give the ball back to Northville quarterback Justin Zimbo.
Four plays later, Zimbo scored on a 4-yard run to give visiting Northville a thrilling 23-20 victory and the KLAA Kensington Conference championship Friday night.
The key to Northville’s last possession was a 23-yard punt run by Zach Prystash to give the Mustangs (8-0, No. 6 in Division 1) the ball at the Plymouth 23.
“I was looking for a good ball,” Prystash said. “I saw it was short, and I saw the hop come up, and I knew I could do something with it. I made a couple of cuts and put us position to win the game.”
Prystash, 5-feet-6, 150 pounds, wasn’t quite finished. On first down, he caught a screen pass and scooted 16 yards to the 7-yard line.
“It developed nicely,” Prystash said. “There was blocking downfield. If I didn’t slip, I might have scored.”
He didn’t have to. That is where Zimbo takes over. After a 3-yard run and an incomplete pass, Zimbo found the end zone with 1:11 left.
“I just wanted to follow my linemen, put my shoulders down and get in the end zone,” Zimbo said. “And it worked!”
Almost everything Zimbo does works.
“He’s the man,” coach Matt Ladach said. “I mean, he showed some real resiliency tonight — tough as nails.”
Zimbo had to be tough as nails, running for 99 yards and passing for 190 on 14 of 29 attempts. And he did that while surviving the onslaught of Plymouth’s mountain disguised as a football player — Michael Jordan, 6-6, 300.
“Michael Jordan’s obviously a stud,” Zimbo said. “He hit me plenty of times, but our offensive line played well. The defense played amazing.”
Northville’s defense was amazing and then some. Plymouth (6-2), which beat archrival Canton last week, didn’t have a first down in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if we were flat during warm-ups,” Sawchuk said. “I don’t know if we had a hangover from last week or I was a crappy coach this week. I told the kids we are either going to respond to hard coaching next week or not. There’s no in between. You either respond or you go in the tank.”
Northville responded Friday night just as it has every game.
“It’s been like that all year,” Prystash said. “We’ve had ups and downs, and we’ve been taught to keep fighting through, and that’s what we did. It paid off in the end.”
This title was quite an accomplishment considering this might not have been Northville’s most talented team the past few years.
“This year has been remarkable,” Ladach said. “Each and every game has been a battle. The fight of our kids has just been unbelievable. This means a lot because this is a great football conference.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.