WARNING: Football Semifinals Ahead

The MHSAA Semifinals Have Provided Some of the Most Heart-Stopping Moments Enroute to the Silverdome

The path to the Silverdome is laden with obstacles: Over-confident favorites and upset-minded underdogs; menacing defenses, unexpected offenses and controversial calls; fumbles, interceptions, dropped passes and missed field goals; bizarre weather pattern s and unpredictable field conditions. The semifinal round of the MHSAA Playoffs has provided many revered gridiron confrontations. The following are some of the classics.

Hudson 24, Kalamazoo Hackett 14 — Class C at Houseman Field, Grand Rapids, Saturday, November 15, 1975 — It had all began innocently enough on September 20, 1968, with a 33-0 victory over Clinton. There were no MHSAA Playoffs then. Seven seasons and 70 games later, the pressure was phenomenal. The Hudson Tigers were on the brink of besting a national record for consecutive victories. The streak was put on the line in the first round of the first-ever MHSAA gridiron playoffs.In 1969, 1970, and 1971, despite unbeaten marks, Hudson had finished as runner-up for the mythical state championship in the a nnual Associated Press poll. By 1972, the streak was getting difficult to ignore. The Tigers were selected Class C mythical state titlist in 1972, 1973, and 1974. Undefeated through the 1975 regular season, Hudson’s playoff point totals qualified the team for the postseason. Consisting of only two rounds in the playoff’s first year, the Tigers were pitted against once-beaten Kalamazoo Hackett. The team’s pursuit of the record received national attention during the week leading up to the contest. T he Today Show and People magazine highlighted the media which chronicled the story of the little town located south of Jackson. All eyes were focused on the game. Coach Tom Saylor’s squad delivered again, defeating Hackett by 10 points. Sports Illustrated featured the team’s accomplishment following the win. The steak ended at 72 consecutive victories one week later with Hudson’s loss to Ishpeming in the MHSAA Finals. The record withstood attack for 22 years until this season, when Concord DeLaSalle (Calif.) High School eclipsed the mark on Nov. 7.

Traverse City 7, Trenton 6Class A at Sexton High School’s Memorial Field, Lansing, Saturday, November 19, 1978 — The game’s only two touchdowns came within a three-and-a-half minute span in the second quarter. The Trenton Trojans marched 80 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by David Mehrhof with 5:04 to play in the quarter. The Trojans of Traverse City r esponded on the next series, rolling 68 yards in seven plays, capped by a 46-yard Brian Blevins to Jeff Whiting pass for the score. Rick Scussel’s extra point was accurate. Then the defenses took over. Traverse City, unranked by the Detroit Free Press at the end of the regular season, ran 52 of its 63 plays within Trenton territory, yet were held to a single touchdown. Trenton, ranked third in the Free Press poll, ran 44 plays from scrimmage— 38 within its own territory. “This is a team of destiny,” said Traverse City coach Jim Ooley in the Traverse City Record-Eagle after the game. “Other teams have more talent... other teams have higher ratings...other teams are supposed to win. But we’re playing for the state title. All these kids know is how to win.”

Escanaba 15, Dearborn Fordson 14Class A at Sexton High School’s Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Lansing, November 21, 1981 — For Escanaba coach Jerry Cvengros, the question was not if his Eskymos should try for the two-point conversion, but how. “I didn’t want to go into overtime with everything even. Fordson’s a ball-control team, and they would be difficult to hold inside the 10. When you’re from the U.P., you’ve got to go for it. God’s on your side.” Escanaba had just scored on a drive that required divine intervention. Trailing 14-7 late in the fourth quarter, the Eskymos were faced with a third-and-18 situation fro m their own 9-yard line. Tailback Dean Altobelli took a screen pass and picked up 10 yards before being knocked to the ground. But the referee stated Fordson had tackled with the helmet, and hit the Tractors with a 15-yard penalty. Another 15-yards we re tacked on for arguing the call, and Escanaba was still alive. Five plays later, quarterback Kevin Tapani hit Paul DeMay for a 25-yard touchdown to pull Escanaba within a point and set up the critical two-point conversion. Tapani bootlegged right, dr awing the attention of the Fordson coverage, then hit Tim Nault, all alone in the end zone, for the conversion and a trip to the finals.

Traverse City 13, Novi 12 — Class A at Houseman Field, Grand Rapids, Saturday, November 19, 1988 — The Trojans of Traverse City marched 73 yards in 13 plays to score on their opening possession, then converted a Novi fumble into another touchdown for a quick 13-0 lead. The Wildcats had been outgained 129 to 24 in the opening quarter. The second quar ter opened in much the same fashion, with another Novi fumble, and quickly Traverse City advanced the ball to the Wildcat 13. This time, however, the Trojans were unable to convert, as an attempted field goal missed the mark. Novi capitalized on their reprieve by marching 80 yards in 12 plays, as quarterback Ken Hendrian scored from a yard out. The attempt for two failed, and the Wildcats trailed by seven. Scoreless throughout the remaining minutes of the second and third quarters, it wasn’t until the waning seconds of the fourth quarter that the game really got interesting. First, Novi scored with 1:12 to play on a 5-yard scamper by Hendrian. The Wildcats went for the win, but Trojan defensive back Doug Hulett intercepted Craig Berry’s halfback pass in the end zone. Traverse City players and fans celebrated wildly. The party was short-lived as Novi recovered an on-side kick at the Trojan 46, and went to work. On the first play from scrimmage, Hendrian found Marc Tolsdorf for a 36-yard gain, and it was first-and- goal at the 10. Halfback Scott Wladischkin picked up four, then Hendrian hit Steve Tashman, who was knocked out of bounds at the 2-yard line. On the next play, Hendrian bobbled the snap, and Traverse City’s Hulett recovered the fumble, to seal the vict ory for the Trojans. Wildcat coach John Osborne stated that his team would have attempted a field goal for the victory if Tashman hadn’t caught the ball at the two. “We haven’t tried one all year. But we were ready to try one. That pass changed our st rategy, though,” said Osborne.

Frankfort 7, Lake Linden-Hubbell 6 (OT)Class D at St. Ignace, Saturday, November 19, 1988 - Scoreless after regulation, Frankfort senior Trevor Martin tossed an 8-yard pass on the second play of the extra frame to Greg Gilbert for the touchdown. Gilbert added the PAT and the Panthers led, 7-0. Lake Linden-Hubbell also connected on second dow n, when quarterback Troy Londo found Rob Cuff in the end zone from 9 yards out. The Lakes opted to try for two points and the win. Running back Mark Gilles clutched Londo’s perfect strike in the end zone, but the ball was jarred loose by Frankfort’s Ty rone Brouillet, and fell to the ground incomplete.

Farmington Hills Harrison 3 , East Grand Rapids 2Class B at Atwood Stadium, Flint, Friday, November 17, 1989 — Who knows how this one might have turned out if Mother Nature had cooperated. In Michigan’s version of the Ice Bowl, the teams were greeted on Friday evening by bitter-cold, a second-half blizzard and a field better suited for hockey. Although the gam e featured the passing talents of Mill Coleman, it was decided on Steve Hill’s 32-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. Rather than risk a fumble late in the game, Coleman opted for a safety late in the contest to preserve the victory . Harrison went on to defeat DeWitt by a single point in one of the all-time classic final contests.

Montague 7, Battle Creek Pennfield 0 — Class CC at Houseman Field, Grand Rapids, Saturday, November 21, 1992 — This was the first game of an outstanding semifinal doubleheader at historic Houseman. The most explosive offense in state history versus a strong defense provided the drama. Montague had held its opponents to a total of 81 points through 11 contests. The Panthers of Battle Creek Pennfield, on the other hand, had racked up 541 points in nine regular-season contests. They continued their reign of terror during the playoffs, pushing their total to 607 points entering the contest. Averaging 55.2 point s per game, many of the 6,000 in attendance were expecting another romp. The opposite proved true. The Wildcats’ Joel Smith broke free for a 52-yard touchdown dash on a fourth-and-one play midway through the third quarter. Then Montague’s defense stop ped the Panthers on three crucial fourth-down plays in the second half—on the Wildcat 14-yard line, the six-inch line, and finally, with less than four minutes to play, at the 30-yard line. The defeat was the first in 27 games for the defending Class CC champs.


Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 28, East Lansing 22 — Class A at Houseman Field, Grand Rapids, Saturday, November 21, 1992 — The second game of the day featured veteran coaches Jeff Smith and Pete Kutches and their respective squads from East Lansing and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. The Trojans, powered by the strong running of Randy Kinder, faced a Reeths-Puffer squad intent on s topping the rush. The Rockets took a 22-14 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the contest on a 66-yard drive capped by a 3-yard run by Stacy Starr. Kinder, staring at a 10-man front for much of the day, responded with his second TD, a 61-yard dash, then added the two-point conversion to tie the game at 22 apiece. The Rockets took less than two minutes to regain the lead. Quarterback Geoff Zietlow, who entered the game with just eight pass completions on the year, found tight end Scott Goudie for a 56- yard gain to the East Lansing 18. At the 6:12 mark, Starr dashed in from 10 yards out for a 28-22 lead, however, the conversion failed. The Rockets defense was tested one more time, but tackled Kinder for a 2-yard loss on fourth down at the Reeths-Puffer 41 with four minutes to play. Kinder, who opened the scoring for the Trojans with a 69-yard run, gained 151 yards on 17 carries, but had nine att empts for losses. Starr ended the day with 193 yards on 22 carries and two touchdown runs. Relatively unheralded entering the contest, Starr’s biggest touchdown would be scored in the Class A Final the following Friday. (See Flashbacks story, page 73).

—Ron Pesch

Ron Pesch is the historian for the MHSAA. Story ideas and potential statistical records submissions are always welcome. Write to Pesch at 1447 Henry Street, Muskegon, MI 49441.