1st & Goal: 2021 8-Player Finals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 17, 2021

Saturday’s 8-Player Football Finals would struggle to feel more familiar.

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After a year away, the Division 1 and 2 championship games will be returning to Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University. Three of four finalists will be playing for titles for the second-straight season – Adrian Lenawee Christian and Powers North Central are returning champions, and Suttons Bay a returning runner-up – while Colon also will play again on the final day after making the Finals in 2019.

Lenawee Christian (12-0) and Suttons Bay (12-0) will kick off the day in Division 1 at 11 a.m., followed by North Central (12-0) and Colon (11-1) approximately 2 p.m. Both games will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv, and replayed on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel Nov. 25 beginning at 7 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason. Statistics are through Semifinals unless noted.

Division 1

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Bill Wilharms, ninth season (69-24)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: 8-Player Division 1 champion 2020.
Best wins: 36-14 over No. 3 Martin in Semifinals, 41-0 (Regional Final) and 41-20 over No. 6 Britton Deerfield, 47-21 over Division 2 No. 7 Colon.
Players to watch: QB/CB Ashur Bryja, 5-8/150 sr. (1,862 yards/27 TDs passing, 681 yards/15 TDs rushing); RB/DB/K/P Clay Ayers, 5-10/170, sr. (816 yards/16 TDs rushing, 395 yards/5 TDs receiving); WR/LB Elliott Addleman, 6-5/195, sr. (777 yards/12 TDs receiving). OG/DL Jacobus Kegerreis, 5-9/185, sr.
Outlook: Lenawee Christian has yet to lose an 8-player game since switching from 11-player, building a combined 23-0 record over the last two seasons that includes a 47-0 win over Suttons Bay in last season’s Division 1 Final. The closest an opponent has come over those two seasons is 16 points. The Cougars graduated last season’s standout running back and quarterback and haven’t missed a beat, outscoring their opponents by an average score of 51-8. The offense is easy to praise and understandably so, but the defense deserves substantial credit – through the Regional Final, Lenawee Christian was allowing 2.6 yards per rush and teams to complete only 31 percent of their pass attempts. Kegerreis and Ayers were all-state first team selections as juniors, Ayers as a kicker.

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Garrick Opie, fourth season (43-4)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 runner-up 2019 and 2020, 11-player Division 6 runner-up 2004.
Best wins: 42-36 (OT) over No. 12 Rudyard in Semifinal, 53-18 over No. 4 Indian River Inland Lakes in Regional Final, 49-8 (Regional Semifinal) and 48-18 over No. 16 Mesick, 46-0 over No. 7 Munising, 45-0 over Division 2 No. 3 Marion.
Players to watch: RB/DB Hugh Periard, 6-0/175, sr. (1,028 yards/19 TDs rushing); RB/DB Shawn Bramer, 6-2/200, jr. (1,725 yards/24 TDs rushing, 892 yards/8 TDs receiving); QB/DB Dylan Barnowski, 6-0/155, jr. (1,570 yards/24 TDs passing); OL/DL Cameron Alberts, 6-1/290, sr.  
Outlook: Suttons Bay will be playing in the Division 1 championship game for the third-consecutive season, and its only losses over the last two seasons have been in those previous two Finals. The Norseman are coming off their closest game over the last two years, with a late hook-and-ladder play helping to save the day in last week’s overtime win over Rudyard. But even counting the 36 points scored by the Bulldogs, Suttons Bay’s defense is again imposing giving up 12 points per game and no more than 18 to any other opponent. The Norseman had intercepted 12 passes this season heading into the Semifinal; meanwhile, Suttons Bay has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only one interception. Senior tight end Brayden Opie is the most sizable target at 6-3 and has caught seven touchdown passes.

Division 2

Record/rank: 11-1, No. 7
Coach: Robbie Hattan, sixth season (48-17)
League finish: Second in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 champion 2019.
Best wins: 42-6 over No. 4 Au Gres-Sims in Semifinal, 29-22 over No. 1 Morrice in Regional Final, 35-13 over No. 6 Portland St. Patrick in Regional Semifinal, 44-24 over No. 12 Climax-Scotts.
Players to watch: QB/DB Simon Vinson, 6-3/185, jr. (1,212 yards/24 TDs rushing, 2,253 yards/37 TDs passing); RB/LB Kaleb Johnson, 5-8/160, sr. (727 yards/10 TDs rushing, 377 yards/3 TDs receiving); WR/DB Justin Wickey, 5-11/160, jr. (1,454 yards/21 TDs receiving).
Outlook: Colon’s first three playoff wins have doubled as the lone losses this season for those opponents, and the Magi face one more opportunity against an undefeated foe Saturday. Their only loss was to Division 1 unbeaten Lenawee Christian, and otherwise only Morrice has come closer than 12 points. Vinson earned an all-state honorable mention last season and has put up passing numbers that rank among the best in MHSAA 8-player history – his 2,253 yards and 37 touchdowns both rank fourth for a single season in their respective categories. Senior Kody Dovey joins Vinson, Johnson and Wickey among two-way starters and has 544 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Leo Gorzinski, fourth season (41-3)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference West
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2020).
Best wins: 73-8 over No. 3 Marion in Semifinal, 65-8 (Regional Final) and 42-0 over T-No. 9 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 64-14 over No. 11 Pellston in Regional Semifinal, 65-0 over T-No. 9 Lake Linden-Hubbell.
Players to watch: QB/LB Luke Gorzinski, 5-9/175, jr. (1,009 yards/17 TDs rushing, 926 yards/12 TDs passing); RB/DT Wyatt Raab, 5-7/170, sr. (925 yards/23 TDs rushing, 3 TDs receiving); RB/LB Alex Naser, 5-8/155, sr. (159 yards, 3 TDs receiving); OT/DE Lane Nehring, 6-0/280, sr.
Outlook: North Central dominated Division 2 in winning the championship last season, and has been even better this fall. Last week’s Semifinal win over Marion pushed the Jets’ average score this season to 62-4, and only Pellston three weeks ago has put up more than eight points on a defense that starts six seniors. The playmakers will be plenty familiar to anyone who watched last season’s championship games. Luke Gorzinski made the all-state first team last season and set a record for total offense in an 8-Player Final with 455 yards passing and rushing combined – also running for four touchdowns and throwing for three more – and Raab scored four times as the Jets set an 8-Player Finals record for scoring in the 70-48 win over Portland St. Patrick.

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Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)