The Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central H.S. football team (currently ranked No. 4 in the MHSAA division 8 associated press poll) improved to 7-0 with a 29-18 victory over division-5 Essexville Garber H.S. at Ed Harvey Field in Essexville, MI tonight.
Garber jumped out to an early lead on a 17 yard TD pass from junior QB Hunter Bridenbaugh to senior wide receiver Ben VanSumeren, as the 2-point try failed for a 6-0 Garber lead with 8:24 left in the first quarter.
Nouvel responded with a 5 yard TD pass from senior QB Tate Hausbeck to junior WR Michael Ehlman, while junior kicker Jacob Burr sent the extra point through the upright's to give NCC a 7-6 lead with 5:24 to play in the first quarter.
Garber was moving the ball well on its next drive when Ehlman flashed his defensive skills, intercepting a Bridenbaugh pass at the Nouvel 15 to get the ball back.
The Panthers expanded its lead when Hausbeck scored on a 2-yard keeper, which was set up by a 62 yard pass from Hausbeck to senior WR Kenny Kujawa, Burr's kick was good for a 14-6 NCC lead with 22 second remaining in the first quarter.
VanSumeren, who's considered an NCAA division-1 recruit, recovered a Nouvel fumble near mid-field and returned it 49 yards down to the Nouvel 6-yard line, setting up a 6-yard Bridenbaugh TD pass to junior Jacob Denham, but the 2-point conversion attempt failed as Garber closed the gap for a 14-12 NCC lead with 6:21 left in the second quarter.
With time ticking down in the first half, Garber used some trickery when Bridenbaugh pitched the ball back to VanSumeren, who was looking to throw deep, however, Kujawa intercepted VanSumeren's pass, sending his Panther's into the locker room with a 14-12 lead at halftime.
Garber came out and was driving into Nouvel territory early in the second half when Kujawa and senior middle linebacker Alex Wrobel simultaneously hit a Garber receiver after catching a pass, jarring the ball loose, as the opportunistic Ehlman dove on the fumble to give Nouvel possession midway through the third quarter, however, Garber managed to stop the Panthers on fourth down and regain possession, as neither team scored in the third quarter.
The momentum seemed to be gradually swinging in favor of Garber throughout the third and into the fourth quarter, before Ehlman snagged his second interception of the game to give NCC the ball back, setting up a 12 yard TD pass from Hausbeck to senior WR Pete Snyder, as Burr's kick would give Nouvel a 21-12 lead with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers all but sealed the victory when junior Tommy Sapak sacked Bridenbaugh, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by junior Jimmy Benkert later in the fourth quarter, setting up a 35-yard TD pass from Hausbeck to Kujawa, while junior RB Josh Kuligowski scored the 2-point conversion for a 29-12 Panther lead with exactly 4:00 minutes left in the game.
Garber did not go away quietly, however, keeping the score a bit more respectable when VanSumeren took a pass from Bridenbaugh for a big gain down to the Nouvel 2-yard line, before rushing into the end zone on a 2-yard TD run (the 2-point conversion attempt failed) for a final score of 29-18 in favor of the Panthers.
Hausbeck finished 18 of 29 for 254 passing yards, with 4 TD's (3 passing TD's and 1 rushing TD). Josh Kuligowski carried the ball 9 times for 26 yards, while senior Justin Kuligowski had 5 carries for 19 yards on offense, along with 7-tackles on defense.
Wrobel added 4 carries for 23 yards to round out the Panthers' ground attack on offense, while leading the Panther defense with 17 tackles, along with 1-forced fumble.
Kujawa led all receivers with 7 catches for 115 yards, including 1 TD reception on offense, with 1-interception, 1-forced fumble, and 7-tackles on defense.
Snyder finished with 5 catches for 63 yards, including 1 TD reception on offense, adding a sack on defense.
Ehlman had the 5-yard TD reception on offense, along with his 2-interceptions and 1-fumble recovery on defense, while senior Kyle Allen added 6-tackles on defense as well for the Panthers.
Nouvel will now prepare for a road test against New Buffalo H.S. next week, before wrapping up the regular season with a visit to Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart H.S. in two weeks, prior to the MHSAA playoffs.