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
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
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.
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.
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.
-- 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.
-- 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.
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.
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
In a year
that saw repeat champions in three of the four classes &SHY; Traverse
City in A, Farmington Hills Harrison in B, Detroit St. Martin
de Porres in C &SHY; 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 &SHY; 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 &SHY; two running and two receiving &SHY; 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.
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
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.
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 is the historian
for the MHSAA. To submit story ideas and potential statistical
records, write to Pesch at 1317 Lakeshore Drive, Muskegon, MI