1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 28, 2021

From an up-close point of view, at just more than half of Michigan’s football-playing high schools, three months of football season ended last weekend.

MI Student AidBut from a mile-high perspective, 20 teams have played just slightly more than half their games this fall – and 288 begin this weekend with the opportunity to add onto their seasons and finish among that fortunate few.

Playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for each division. More than 100 of the 144 total playoff football games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at Troy appearing on the Bally Sports Detroit primary channel tonight – click for more on how to watch.

Below are glances at games that especially pop off the page in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Howell (7-2) at Hartland (7-2)

The co-champions in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West meet again, after Hartland won the regular-season matchup 29-7 on Oct. 1. Those remain the most points given up by a Highlanders defense allowing an average of 11.9 per game, while the Eagles’ defense finished the regular season giving up an average of just 9.6 (and only five per game not counting a 46-9 Week 9 loss to No. 6 Belleville). This time Howell will have running back August Johanningsmeier, a Western Michigan recruit, who didn’t play during the first meeting.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (6-3) at Troy (8-1), Ann Arbor Huron (8-1) at Belleville (8-1), Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (7-2), Lapeer (7-2) at Rochester Adams (9-0).

11-Player Division 2

Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-1)

Two-time reigning Division 2 champion Mona Shores is facing a playoff road that may not include a home game. But while that adds to the challenge, the Sailors are plenty familiar with elite opponents – their losses this fall were to Division 3 top-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King and No. 5 Muskegon High. This week’s trip is especially intriguing, however – Forest Hills Central barely fell to Shores 28-25 during the last year’s playoffs and by just six points in a 2018 playoff matchup, and won their 2017 postseason meeting. The Rangers’ only loss this fall was early by four points to Division 1 No. 4 Grand Blanc.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (5-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3), Port Huron (6-3) at Port Huron Northern (7-2), Bay City Western (7-2) at Midland Dow (6-3), East Lansing (6-3) at Milford (7-2).

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (6-2) at Harper Woods (7-2)

These are familiar opponents with this their eighth meeting over the last 14 seasons, including as members together of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue from 2017-19. River Rouge has won the last five of those matchups and is continuing to build on a decade as a Finals contender as it looks to return to Ford Field for the third-straight season. But Harper Woods has been climbing. Two of those losses to Rouge in the MMAC Blue were league title deciders, and the Pioneers have made the playoffs four straight seasons (including all-in 2020) with their lone defeats this fall to Division 2 top-ranked Warren De La Salle Collegiate and Division 3 qualifier Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marquette (7-2) at Mount Pleasant (9-0), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-4) at Flint Kearsley (6-3), Warren Fitzgerald (8-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1), Riverview (9-0) at Allen Park (7-2).

11-Player Division 4

Whitehall (7-2) at Sparta (7-2)

The Spartans somewhat quietly put together a fourth-straight winning season with their two defeats this fall coming over the first three weeks and by a combined eight points. The first of those losses was opening night to Muskegon Oakridge, 22-21, which went on to defeat and then share the West Michigan Conference championship with Whitehall. The Vikings are coming off a 10-point loss at 8-1 Reed City, but can boast wins over Montague and Kalamazoo United to go with their league title share.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Spring Lake (6-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (6-3), Goodrich (7-2) at Freeland (8-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-2) at Croswell-Lexington (8-1). SATURDAY Detroit Country Day (5-3) at Redford Union (8-1).

11-Player Division 5

Comstock Park (9-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-1)

Houseman Field will host one of the most intriguing matchups statewide regardless of division. Both teams have four wins over others in these playoffs. Comstock Park bounced way back this fall from three straight one or two-win seasons to finish ahead of Sparta (see above) in winning the Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver title. The Panthers are plenty familiar with West Catholic after losing to the Falcons in last season’s playoffs and playing them either as part of the same league or nonconference the 12 seasons prior. West Catholic’s only loss this fall was to eventual O-K Blue champion Hudsonville Unity Christian, and the Falcons handed Division 7 contender Muskegon Catholic Central its lone loss.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clare (6-3) at Gladwin (9-0), Kingsford (6-3) at Kingsley (8-1), Olivet (7-2) at Williamston (6-3), Corunna (5-4) at Flint Powers Catholic (3-6).

11-Player Division 6

Michigan Center (8-1) at Jonesville (9-0)

This is a rematch of last season’s District Final won by Michigan Center 28-22, and they just missed seeing each other in the Big 8/Cascades crossovers of this year’s Week 9. Jonesville won the Big 8 Conference this fall, and then edged Cascades champion Addison 20-14 last Saturday in the Comets’ only game this season closer than 16 points. Michigan Center was second in the Cascades after a one-point Week 4 loss to Addison, but since the Cardinals have shined in close games winning three by eight points of fewer.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Calumet (7-2) at Menominee (5-4), Boyne City (8-1) at Grayling (7-2), Erie Mason (5-4) at Ida (7-2), Detroit Pershing (5-4) at Detroit Southeastern (6-3).

11-Player Division 7

Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-2) at Reese (8-1)

All three co-champions of the Greater Thumb Conference West play in the same District, and these two are meeting again after Reese won the Week 7 matchup 27-18. The Rockets are enjoying their first winning season since 2013, losing only to Bad Axe – the third co-champion in the GTC West. Laker has enjoyed more recent success, with this its sixth-straight playoff appearance. The Lakers edged Bad Axe by a point Week 8 to create the shared league title. Bad Axe travels to Hemlock on the other side of the District bracket.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY New Lothrop (6-3) at Montrose (7-2), Lutheran Westland (8-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1), Bad Axe (7-2) at Hemlock (5-4). SATURDAY East Jordan (7-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (8-1).

11-Player Division 8

Centreville (7-2) at Addison (8-1)

Four of the top 14 teams in Division 8 playoff points are in the same District (Reading and Hudson are on the other side). Addison entered as the No. 3 team and Centreville is No. 10 and also the reigning Division 8 champion. As noted above, Addison’s lone loss came last week to Division 6 No. 11 Jonesville, and Centreville’s defeats came to a pair of Division 7 teams including No. 6 Muskegon Catholic Central. Both are league champions and have put up similar numbers overall this fall – but the difference may be found when Addison is on offense (averaging 43.8 points per game, but 48 not counting the Jonesville loss) and Centreville is on D (12 points allowed per game, but only 8.6 after opening night.)

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowler (6-3) at Flint Beecher (4-5), Reading (6-3) at Hudson (9-0). SATURDAY Bark River-Harris (6-3) at Beal City (8-1), Frankfort (6-3) at Iron Mountain (6-3).

8-Player Division 1

Rogers City (8-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (9-0)

Inland Lakes dove into 8-player last season with great success, and Rogers City is following the same path in its first season this fall while the Bulldogs have been even better in their encore. Inland Lakes reached the Division 1 Semifinals in 2020 and is coming off its closest game of this season, a 14-point win over Gaylord St. Mary. Rogers City is coming off its defeat – 44-36 to Newberry – but didn’t give up a point in September and won its first three games of October against teams sitting now at .500 or better.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Rudyard (7-2) at Munising (7-2), Tekonsha (7-2) at Martin (9-0). SATURDAY Britton Deerfield (8-1) at Deckerville (7-1).

8-Player Division 2

Colon (8-1) at Portland St. Patrick (9-0), Saturday

These have been two of the most dominating 8-player programs in the state over the last four years, with Portland St. Patrick defeating the Magi 44-34 last season in a Regional Final on the way to the Shamrocks finishing Division 2 runners-up for the third time in four seasons. Colon was the Division 1 champion in 2019, and its only other losses over the last two seasons were to reigning Division 1 champion and current favorite Adrian Lenawee Christian. Portland St. Patrick long has thrived offensively, scoring 43.6 points per game this fall, while Colon has established itself as a defensive juggernaut over the last three seasons and has given up 11 points per game with five shutouts.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mio (6-3) at Hillman (6-3), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-2) at Kinde North Huron (9-0). SATURDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-2).

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO Edwardsburg, here on offense against Otsego, brings a 9-0 record into the Division 4 playoffs. (Photo by Gary Shook.) 

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.)