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Stewart guided Hanover-Horton to best season ever; looks to make it the norm

By Mike Moore

Staff Writer

Hanover – The shock and the awe, the celebration and the excitement, it was all a direct result of the greatness displayed on the field all fall.

If Johnnie Stewart gets his wish, the 2014 season will become the norm with the Hanover-Horton football program, and not the exception.

But taking a step back, focusing on the here and now, and appreciating this season for what it was, Stewart was an easy choice for the 2014 JTV Sports Football Coach of the Year.

Stewart COY2“This was a very special year,” Stewart said earlier this week. “In all my years of coaching, this is going to be one group and one season I’ll truly miss.”

The Comets seemingly made history at every step this fall.

Their 8-2 final record was the best in program history. The trip to the Division 6 playoffs was just the fourth such event, ever. The 6-1 mark in the Cascades Conference was the best since joining in 1976. The 282 points scored was third best in program history and the 189 allowed was the lowest since 2002.

Needless to say, it was a year of records, and none of it surprised Stewart.

“Last year, that’s when we had the feeling this team could do some things,” he explained. “One of the perks we do for a living is the strength training. We saw what they did in the weight room. We saw how agile they were. We know their families, and when you saw what they did in the classroom and the weight room and you knew how close they were, you just saw it.”

Stewart shared head-coaching duties with Matt Resor in 2012, guiding the Comets to a 3-6 year with a team starting almost all sophomores.

Last year he assumed the top spot within the program, and Hanover went 4-5.

This fall, those ripe sophomores had become seasoned veterans

“If you look at the collegiate level, you kind of see the success that’s had when you have the same kids for three years,” Stewart said. “I’m not tooting my own horn, but that’s what we did. When these seniors were sophomores, we threw them into the fire three years ago. When we took over, we were trying to absorb two small classes, back to back.”

“Of the 13 seniors we had on varsity this year, most of them were starters as sophomores,” he continued. “And on top of that, the quality of these kids was exceptional. We didn’t have any problem guys, no wise guys or off-the-field trouble.”

Hanover opened the season in style, shutting out Concord 28-0. The second week brought about a forfeit from East Jackson, but there was little rust to be had in a 30-13 pounding of Addison and a 42-21 victory against Michigan Center that followed.

Controversy swirled on so many levels and in so many ways when the Comets fell to Manchester 18-16, but the guys never let it linger.

They roared back with a 20-7 victory against Vandercook Lake in Week 5 and a 40-12 drubbing of Napoleon the following weekend.

But the main event came Oct. 17 when Hanover took on Grass Lake, and in a game few may have given them a chance to win, well, that’s exactly what they did.

The 34-28 victory against the Warriors snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series.

The win was the first over Grass Lake since a 14-0 decision in 2001.

Hanover closed the regular season with a 50-48 thriller over Quincy before falling to Hillsdale in the Division 6 playoff opener.

“Each game we played was huge for us because we were a team that wanted to make history for this program,” Stewart said. “When that’s your objective, you can’t let any get away.”

And they didn’t. But when asked why, or what made this year’s team so special, the Comets’ coach just laughed.

“Truthfully, we weren’t that good,” he said. “On paper, we’re not the best team around. We didn’t have the old-school football players. We won because these kids gave 110 percent and never quit. It sounds cliché, but that’s the truth. … We were the example of why this game is a team sport”

And now, seasons like this become the norm, right?

“I certainly hope so, or why stick with it?” Stewart boasted. “Sustaining this success will be the key, that’s for sure. But this was a year that captivated the community. There was that, ‘oh my God they made playoffs’ feeling this year. We want the reverse to be the case, when people are shocked when we don’t make it. … We have all the pieces in place here to make this a consistent winner.”

Including the coach.

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