By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – There was no drama because the game had virtually been decided by halftime, so the North Central Jets merely exchanged hugs and pats on the back after erasing a 59-year-old state record Jan. 27.
The Jets shelled neighbor and arch-rival Bark River-Harris 76-29 for their 66th consecutive win. That snapped the MHSAA record set for consecutive wins by fellow Upper Peninsula quintet Chassell from 1956-58, and they reportedly carry the longest active winning streak in the nation with 69 straight victories.
The capacity-plus crowd of about 1,000 cheered the record-setting performance, but the running clock had been going since the first minute of the third quarter and everyone knew the only thing to be determined was the final score.
The only other major excitement also came early, when Jets senior Dawson Bilski converted a three-point play with 17 seconds left in the first half to enter the 1,000-point club. He finished the night with 21 points and 1,002 career points.
The build-up to the win streak had taken precedence over Bilski’s approach primarily because this time of the season spawns several 1,000-point producers, while Chassell’s iconic mark had been in the discussion stages since North Central won its second straight Class D championship in March.
The Jets broke the record the same way they have waltzed through the past four seasons, with stifling defense, balanced scoring and another dunk by 2016 Associated Press Class D Player of the Year Jason Whitens.
Surprisingly some on-lookers have downplayed North Central’s streak, with coach Adam Mercier indicating there were questions about the competitive level of the schedule. Mercier simply pointed out the Jets were 4-0 in back-to-back trips to MHSAA Finals weekend at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center en route to consecutive Class D championships.
Teams can only play the schedule given them, and North Central is enjoying a fourth straight unbeaten regular season, in a conference annually considered the most competitive and balanced in the Upper Peninsula. The only loss during that span came March 18, 2014, when Cedarville won a Class D Quarterfinal 81-79 in Marquette.
The Jets own a 78-game regular season winning streak and are a stunning 94-1 since 2013-14. Their last regular season loss was Feb. 18, 2013, against Munising.
While the regular season success is hard enough to fathom, building a winning streak that is into its third straight season with a different cast each time helps put the record in better perspective.
Not only have the Jets defeated teams in their conference and their region, they have rolled through the district, regional and state tourney rounds unchecked.
In 2014-15, the Jets were 7-0 in the postseason highlighted by lopsided victories over Fulton (71-46) and Morenci (67-47) in East Lansing.
In 2015-16, the Jets were 8-0 in the postseason, crushing Fulton (64-23) and Waterford Our Lady (59-48) at the Breslin Center.
Perhaps the biggest question may never be answered. Will anyone eclipse North Central’s record, wherever it ends? After all, it took 59 years to surpass Chassell’s vaunted 65-win figure. If the Jets reach 80 straight, and the chance of that happening is pretty good, what are the odds of anyone else being that fortunate? This is a record that could realistically never be exceeded with just about everything stacked against such an attempt as the seasons unfold.
While the Jets now possess the state record boys streak, they are only second among schools in Menominee County for the longest win streak in state history.
Carney-Nadeau High School, just six miles south of Powers, owns the state girls record of 78 straight wins (from 1989-91). The Wolves won an amazing 127 consecutive regular season games until falling to Cooks Big Bay de Noc in 1993.
Even more astonishing, North Central and its 115 students own the MHSAA record of 26 straight victories in 8-player football. The Jets, with many athletes on that team who also play basketball, have won the past two 8-player football championships to cap back-to-back 13-0 finishes to the only seasons they have played that version of the gridiron game.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTO: The North Central Jets hold a banner marking their state record 66th consecutive boys basketball victory Jan. 27 after beating Bark River-Harris 76-29. Chassell held the mark of 65 straight wins that was set from 1956-58.
Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
December: Dundee boys basketball - Report
November: Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
October: Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)