The 1999 season marked the 25th year of the MHSAA Football Playoffs. With a new millennium on the horizon, it was time to take a look back at the playoff highlights from the last quarter of the century.

1975 One week after establishing a national record of 72 consecutive varsity victories, a crowd of 7,000 watched as Ishpeming ended Hudson High School's winning streak with a 38-22 win in the Class C title game at Central Michigan's Perry/Shorts Stadium. Mark Marana sparked the Hematites with an early TD and Ishpeming bolted to a 30-8 lead that it never relinquished. The Class B game was also played at CMU, while the Class A and D title games were held at Western Michigan University.

1976 The Pontiac Silverdome is christened as the new home of the football finals. After a single year of the split-location format, prep fans are able to watch the entire final round of the MHSAA tournament in a climate controlled environment.

1977 In a rematch of the 1975 and 1976 Class D Final, Flint Holy Rosary notched 21 second-quarter points, including a pair of touchdown passes from Ron Fray to his brother Jeff, en route to a thrilling 21-20 victory over heavily-favored Upper Peninsula powerhouse Crystal Falls Forest Park. Dan Lato, who notched his 33rd touchdown of the year in the contest, established a Finals record with 40 rushing attempts for previously unbeaten Crystal Falls. The Trojans defeated Rosary 50-0 in their first meeting and again in 1976, by a 14-6 margin. The 1977 season also marked the first expansion of the MHSAA Playoffs, doubling the number of qualifying teams from four to eight in each of the four classes.

1978 -- Kerry Smith of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern set a new Playoff record for rushing yardage with 278 yards in an 18-16 triumph over Bad Axe in Class C. Smith's total withstood the test of time, holding for 13 years.

1979 -- Jackson Lumen Christi QB Brian O'Dowd led the Titans to a 21-0 win over Grand Rapids West Catholic in Class B. Two years earlier, O'Dowd's brother, Tom, quarterbacked Christi to a come-from-behind victory in the 1977 Class B title game.

1980 Coach Al Fracassa's Birmingham Brother Rice squad captured its second title with a 6-0 triumph over Dearborn Fordson in Class A. A 38-yard scoring pass from Dave Yarema to Paul Jokisch highlighted this defensive struggle. Yarema would later star at Michigan State University, while Jokisch carved out a fine career at the University of Michigan.

1981 -- The Thumb Area took home its first MHSAA football crown, as Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port slipped past North Muskegon, 15-6, in Class C.

1982 -- Dearborn Fordson's Kevin Harris made a game-saving tackle of Farmington Hills Harrison tailback John Miller at the 2-yard line on the final play of regulation to force overtime in this Class A classic. After each team scored in the first OT, Harrison kicker Dave Blackmer broke the tie with a 24-yard field goal to lift Harrison to its second consecutive title, 17-14, in the first double overtime contest in Final history.

1983 -- In Class C, senior Keith Harris' spectacular diving catch in the left corner of the end zone with 1:07 remaining in regulation gave Detroit St. Martin de Porres and Coach Ron Thompson a 28-26 victory over Traverse City St. Francis and a second consecutive crown.

1984 -- Tony Koshar's 96-yard touchdown pass to Jim Steinman was the first of three on the day as Gobles raced to a 28-0 lead, then held on to defeat top-ranked Crystal Falls Forest Park, 31-22.

1985 -- Legendary coach Jim Ooley led his Traverse City Trojans to their second Class A title. Doug Lautner ran for two touchdowns in the first half as TC rolled to a 29-3 victory over Troy. Earlier in the year, the MHSAA added a pre-regional round to the playoffs, requiring four victories by a school for the championship.

1986 -- On the final play of the game, Detroit Country Day's Charlie Johnson hit Steve Mann in the back of the end zone to complete one of the most spectacular finishes in Finals history, the Yellowjackets escaped with an 18-14 victory over Muskegon Catholic Central in Class C.

1987 -- Chris Moore's 35-yard field goal in the second quarter provided the only points needed as Ann Arbor Pioneer grabbed its second title in four years, a 3-0 defeat of Detroit Catholic Central in the Class A finale. The game remains the lowest scoring contest in Final history.

1988 -- In a year that saw repeat champions in three of the four classes ­ Traverse City in A, Farmington Hills Harrison in B, Detroit St. Martin de Porres in C ­ Class D saw Schoolcraft capture its lone gridiron crown with a dominating 42-7 win over Frankfort. The win was highlighted Brad Johnson's 87-yard punt return, a Final game mark that still stands.

1989 -- A classic comeback engineered by quarterback Mill "The Thrill" Coleman in his final prep contest gave Farmington Hills Harrison the Class B crown over DeWitt in perhaps the greatest game in Final history.

1990 The MHSAA approved a playoff expansion, again doubling the field of qualifiers by doubling the classes from four to eight. On Friday in the Class C contest, Muskegon Catholic Central scored a 21-6 win over Galesburg-Augusta and Coach Bill Maskill ­ a sentimental favorite. The longtime mentor began his coaching career in 1951 and retired following the 1991 season. He remained the MHSAA leader in prep coaching victories until the fall of 1994. On Saturday, Marion snaked past Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, 33-7, in Class DD. Ross Richards' four touchdowns ­ two running and two receiving ­ set a Final game record, while his 24 points matched Bill Santilli's mark set in 1975 for Crystal Falls Forest Park.

1991 -- Despite frustrating the powerful Detroit Catholic Central defense all day long with its potent option offense, Saginaw Arthur Hill still required a dramatic 12-play, 72-yard drive in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter to earn a 13-12 victory in Class AA. With 1:43 remaining, quarter-back "Marvelous" Marvin Wright faked the handoff and scored around right end for the lead. With 46 seconds to play in the game, Arthur Hill's Howard Foster picked off his second pass of the day to preserve the win.

1992 -- "The Catch." Those two words became synonymous for Muskegon Reeths-Puffer's desperation play in the waning seconds of its Class A showdown with Walled Lake Western. Trailing 18-14, Puffer quarterback Geoff Zietlow pitched to DeMarkeo Hill, who handed the ball to Luke Bates on the reverse. Bates pitched back to Zietlow who lofted a pass down field. Tipped at the 10-yard line, the ball landed in the hands of Rocket Stacey Starr, who dashed into the end zone for the game-winning TD. Mark Naperala's extra point attempt cleared the uprights to give Reeths-Puffer a 21-18 victory in Class A, the school's first gridiron championship. With the win, Pete Kutches became the first to coach two different teams to MHSAA titles, as his 1980 and 1982 Muskegon Catholic Central squads also won titles.

1993 -- Hartford's Dewey Sweat scored four touchdowns as the Indians downed Onsted, 43-14, for the Class CC title. Onsted quarterback John Hutchinson set championship game marks in the comeback attempt, passing for 257 yards and 15 completions, highlighted by a 49-yard TD pass to Micah Wagner.

1994 -- Belding's wildly entertaining 50-41 victory over Detroit Country Day was the talk of the tournament (See Flashbacks story for the details).

1995 -- In Class A, Lapeer West knocked off top-ranked South Lyon in double overtime, 24-21, on a 27-yard field goal by sophomore Jason Lehotan.

1996 -- Ravenna's Benny Clark carried a whopping 49 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns to lead Ravenna to a 30-14 win over Morenci in Class C. The senior running back ended his prep career as the MHSAA's all-time rushing leader with 7,212 yards.

1997 -- Ernie Diaz rushed for a dazzling 241 yards, including dashes of 56 and 47 yards, as Lawrence earned its first-ever MHSAA title in any sport with a 28-6 win over Mio in Class DD.

1998 -- Chesaning and Belding combined for 883 yards in total offense and a crowd-pleasing 50 halftime points as Chesaning ended this crazy contest with a 41-38 win over the defending Class B champs.

1999 -- This season, the MHSAA doubled team participation in the Playoffs. Teams with five victories in eight contests or six wins in nine games earned an automatic berth in the tournament, while 15 teams earned at-large spots to fill out the field of 256 teams.

--Ron Pesch
Ron Pesch is the historian for the MHSAA. To submit story ideas and potential statistical records, write to Pesch at 1317 Lakeshore Drive, Muskegon, MI 49441.