On a night where the Plymouth offense rolled up 505 yards, it could not come up with a 506th that would have given the Wildcats a last-second victory in Friday’s Division 1 football pre-district game against host Northville.
Trailing 24-20 with time running out, Plymouth senior quarterback Chris Walls delivered a perfect pass over the middle to senior wide-out Victor Abraham at the 5-yard line, for a big 20-yard gain.
Abraham might have scored if not for a stellar stop by Northville senior Zachary Prystash.
“You just knew you had to do it; if you didn’t do it, the game might be over,” said a breathless Prystash, a key reason Northville did hang on to the 24-20 win. “And that’s not how I wanted it in my senior year. It was just a play that had to be made and luckily I did it.”
After an incompletion, Walls then tried to take it in himself, but came up just shy of the goal line, with Prystash and teammates in on the tackle — sealing Northville’s four-point victory.
“I saw (Walls) running towards the goal line and it was that moment of, like, ‘Is this really going to happen?’” Prystash said about the do-or-die sequence near the Mustangs’ end zone. “I forgot who hit him and slowed him down, but I was able to punch it out.
“It was just a great team stop at the end. It was really wonderful. I just punched the ball out, just one of those plays that you’ll never forget.”
Agony of defeat
The back-to-back stops left Plymouth players on the turf, almost beside themselves about how the game ended.
Wildcats head coach Mike Sawchuk, whose team was bolstered by a huge game by junior running back Darius Timmons — who took over for injured senior Cameron Stella in the second quarter and wound up with 225 yards rushing on 28 carries and all three Plymouth touchdowns — said he didn’t get a good look at the final play.
But Sawchuk stressed that the game never should have reached that point for his team.
“The kids played hard, but really it doesn’t come down to that one play,” said Sawchuk, whose team finished 6-4. “I It comes down to a culmination of some undisciplined things that we did. That’s on me, I guess.”
Sawchuk praised his senior group, including quarterback Walls (292 all-purpose yards), Abraham (six catches, 134 yards), lineman Michael Jordan and running back Cameron Stella, who rolled an ankle in the first half and watched the rest of the game on crutches.
“Very gritty, very proud of those kids (the seniors),” Sawchuk said. “It’s a talented bunch of kids.”
Northville head coach Matt Ladach, whose 10-0 team will host Canton in next Friday’s district final, grinned while talking about the way his defense stood up to the last-ditch comeback try by the Wildcats — particularly the way the 5-6 Prystash contributed to the final stops.
“You can imagine the stress, but our players have been resilient all season,” Ladach said. “And this was just another example of our players’ toughness. I’m so proud of them.
“And you look at Prystash, he’s a small guy, but that dude is pound-for-pound tough. Will take him against anybody any day. I mean, he’s just a tremendous fighter.”
Northville’s game-winning score was a 10-yard toss from senior quarterback Justin Zimbo (7-of-15 passing, 107 yards, two TDs) to sophomore receiver Anthony Abbott with 9:52 left in the fourth.
On third-and-long, Zimbo floated a high toss that Abbott reeled in near the front-left corner of the end zone.
The Mustangs followed up the TD with a key two-point conversion pass, from holder Christian Field to Alec Coppock.
The snap on the extra point was fumbled and Field had the presence of mind to pick it up and throw to Coppock.
“That’s another example of a player doing the right thing,” Ladach said. “It was a bad snap, our holder picked it up, made the fire call and our wing went out and ran that flare route. It was a completion.”
Plymouth then took the ball at its own 1-yard line and moved it inside Northville’s 30 on a combination of runs by tough-to-stop Timmons and Walls.
But Northville defensive back Jack Burke intercepted a pass that was intended for Abraham in the end zone to stop that threat.
“We had the fade route, we just threw it too far inside,” Sawchuk said. “We had Victor one-on-one; got what we wanted and just didn’t make the play.”
Northville jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes to go in the first quarter on a 38-yard touchdown scamper by Zimbo.
The Wildcats drew even with 8:37 to go in the half on a 34-yard run down the right side by Timmons. An 8-yard run by Stella (10 carries, 32 yards) started the series; it turned out to be his final appearance of his prep career as he left with his ankle injury.
The Mustangs answered less than two minutes later, when Zimbo connected with Abbott on a 53-yard TD catch-and-run. Abbott caught the ball at midfield along the left sideline and raced the rest of the way, just inches from going out of bounds.
After Walls and Abraham hooked up for a 54-yard pass, Timmons carried it in from the 4-yard line for the tying touchdown early in the third.
A high snap over the head of Plymouth punter Alan Farmer, however, gave Northville a safety and 16-14 edge midway through the third.
Before the end of the quarter, Timmons scored again, from the 11, to give the Wildcats the lead. But the extra point was blocked, making it 20-16 Plymouth.
Sawchuk lamented an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that kept a Northville drive moving, late in the third. The Mustangs then made the Wildcats pay for that, with the ultimate game-winning score by Abbott.
“We had them three-and-out and we gave them extra downs,” Sawchuk said. “You can’t do that to a good team.
“But all in all, they (Wildcats) battled to the end. It was a strange year. It was the most injury-ridden season we’ve ever had here and kids stepped up. We still got here, so I’m very proud of them.”