Under the glare of a bright blue moon the Hartland Eagles broke the huddle one last time.
No one was happy following Thursday night’s 14-7 home loss to Novi. But it was not a time to place blame on anyone. Instead of bickering the Eagles bonded. Players walked a semi-circle and shook every coach’s hand.
The 0-2 start is a bitter pill to swallow, however, the Eagles are not broken. They plan on mending a broken offense and rebound as they did a year ago. After a 1-2 start, which included a 13-10 loss to Novi, Hartland finished the season on a 5-2 run to finish 6-4.
“We have two choices,” said first-year coach Thomas Stevenson. “We can say we are 0-2 and feel sorry for ourselves. Or we can say we are 0-2 and go out and take it.”
The good news is Hartland gets to turn its season around next week against winless Plymouth (0-2). The bad news is its Plymouth’s first home game and that team should be every bit as angry as the Eagles are and will want to show up and show out for its home fans.
Stevenson has been around Hartland High School for two decades so he knows the keys to keep these players grounded and grinding. He and his coaching staff plan to put their noses to the grind stone to find the best elixir for the Eagles. He told players after the game he plans on giving them everything he has as a coach and a person.
“I’ll give them every bit of love I have,” Stevenson said. “I will give them my heart and soul. And give them everything to make them the best versions of themselves from a football stand point. And the best young men they can be, the best students they can be, the best community members they can be. The staff we put together is an incredible staff. The kids here are special. We are willing to put in it.”
The Eagles are not that far off despite the poor start and are dangerous for a foe looking for easy pickings. They are not going to score a ton of points, but they are not going to give up many either. Novi coach Jim Sparks said playing Hartland is like competing in a knock down 15-round slug fest in the ring.
It’s important for Hartland not to lose its edge although it is on the edge of turning this season into a disaster. The handshakes and the outward signs of respect are reasons to believe players remain fully committed.
The season opener against East Kentwood, a 35-10 loss, got out of hand. But the Novi game was a different story. The two teams stood toe to toe until a play that broke Hartland’s way turned into a momentum builder for Novi.
Hartland punter Jacob Dibert landed a punt inside Novi’s one-yard line.
Novi quarterback Caleb Walker turned magician, scrambling to create space and give him time to find his favorite receiver for the night, Jaden Vondrasek. The Wildcats drove 99-yards in a 13-pay backbreaker which also seemed to dim Hartland’s spirits. Vondrasek completed the drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Walker with 3:39 left in the first half.
Midway in the third quarter the usually speedy Vondrasek broke a tackle and scored from 21-yards out.
“We are going to figure it out,” Stevenson said. “We are missing little detains. And in a close game like this the details matter.”
Trailing 14-0, the Eagles finally got on the scoreboard when quarterback James Butzier fired an 80-yard touchdown pass to Connor Renaud.
Stevenson still believes his team can turn the corner for a successful season.
“I believe in their hard work,” he said. “I’ve been here for 20 years and have never had a team that works as hard collectively. They show up every day.”