1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 11, 2021

The 8-player football season is down to its final six games, and the 11-player season is down to its final three weeks – and every matchup at this point in the MHSAA Playoffs has a story to tell.

MI Student AidWe preview 12 of those below, switching things up with the 8-Player Semifinals first as we join those contenders in preparing for next weekend’s trip to the Finals at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome.

All four 8-Player Semifinals and 31 of 36 football games total this weekend will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting the 11-player Division 1 matchup between Rochester Adams and West Bloomfield. Click for how to watch.

8-Player Division 1

Martin (11-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (11-0), Friday

Lenawee Christian’s winning streak since switching to 8-player last season has reached 22 games, and they have yet to win one by only single digits – Climax-Scotts came closest this fall in a 16-point Week 6 loss. But all of that could change this week; Martin has put together two perfect regular seasons over its three in 8-player, and Mendon (in losses by eight and 19) is the only team to get within 40 points of the Clippers this season.

Rudyard (9-2) at Suttons Bay (11-0), Saturday

By defeating previously-unbeaten Indian River Inland Lakes 53-18 last week, Suttons Bay ran its record over the last three seasons to a combined 33-2, with both losses in Division 1 championship games. No one has gotten closer than 18 points to the Norseman this fall, and the last nine wins have all been by at least 30 points. Enter Rudyard, which is holding opponents to only 11 points per game and features a two-way threat on offense in senior quarterback EJ Suggitt (853 yards/17 TDs passing, 362 yards/11 TDs rushing). The Bulldogs have avenged both of their regular-season losses during the playoffs.

8-Player Division 2

Marion (10-1) at Powers North Central (11-0), Saturday

To say the Jets have been unchallenged this season is becoming an understatement – they’ve outscored their 10 opponents on the field by an average of 61-4, and they too have won 22 straight games. But Marion is enjoying historic success, reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 1992 with the only loss to Suttons Bay (see above) and no other opponent getting closer than 15 points. Junior quarterback Mason Salisbury can do it all; he’s run for 1,567 yards (11 per carry) and 30 touchdowns and thrown for another 908 yards and 12 scores.

Colon (10-1) at Au Gres-Sims (11-0), Saturday

The Wolverines have reached their previous high point, as in 2018 they also entered a Semifinal 11-0 before falling that game to Pickford. This time, Au Gres-Sims features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in senior Mason VanSickle (1,434/21 TDS) and junior Keagan Bender (1,209/16), and VanSickle also has thrown for 2,465 yards and 40 touchdowns – nearly half to senior Evan Saunders (1,061 yards/17 TDs). They surely will test a Colon defense allowing only 12 points per game. But the Magi have seen many of the rest of the best, with the only loss to Lenawee Christian (see above) and wins the last two weeks over previous unbeatens Portland St. Patrick and Morrice.

11-Player Division 1

Dearborn Fordson (9-2) at Belleville (10-1), Saturday

Fordson’s two losses this season were by a combined five points, and the first came Week 5 against Belleville 21-19 in a game that ended up helping the Tigers finish atop the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East. The Tractors’ defense has been sound – they are giving up only 17 points per game, and those 21 tied Belleville’s second-lowest output of the season. But Fordson’s challenge of scoring more in this rematch faces a tough obstacle as well with the Tigers giving up only 13 points per game this season including a combined 19 over their last three games.  

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY West Bloomfield (10-1) at Rochester Adams (11-0), Macomb Dakota (8-3) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (9-2). SATURDAY Grand Blanc (11-0) at Rockford (11-0).

11-Player Division 2

Traverse City Central (10-1) at Caledonia (10-1), Friday

Central has followed up last season’s first Semifinal trip since 1998 with a record offensive performance. The Trojans’ 537 points are their most since at least 1950 (according to Michigan-football.com), and they’ve scored 49 or more five straight games and 42 or more in nine games total. Caledonia may not be fazed. The Fighting Scots are giving up 13 points per game, and that includes allowing only 17 to Rockford (averaging 40 per game) and 12 to Muskegon Mona Shores (44 ppg) over the last five weeks. But the comparison also cuts the other way; Central’s defense is giving up just 13 points per game as well, and Caledonia’s offense is grinding out 35.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Portage Central (9-2) at South Lyon (11-0), Livonia Franklin (6-5) at Waterford Mott (7-4). SATURDAY Roseville (7-4) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (10-0).

11-Player Division 3

Cedar Springs (9-2) at DeWitt (10-1), Saturday (at Grand Ledge)

Cedar Springs’ 21-14 win over Muskegon last week may have resulted in some double takes – the Big Reds had won nine straight District titles – but the result definitely falls in with the Red Hawks’ body of work this season. Grand Rapids Catholic Central puts up a strong argument as one of the best teams in Michigan regardless of division, the Cedar Springs fell to the Cougars by just a point in Week 8. The other loss came to Rockford. The question this time will revolve around how much the Red Hawks’ defense can match DeWitt’s offense, which averages 48 ppg. Muskegon averaged 46 before last week’s meeting, but the Panthers put up 50 on previously-undefeated Mount Pleasant in their District Final.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Parma Western (8-3) at St. Joseph (7-4), Mason (9-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (8-3) (at Lawrence Tech), Allen Park (9-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (10-1).

11-Player Division 4

Detroit Country Day (7-3) at Chelsea (11-0), Friday

Country Day’s record really is irrelevant at this point; the Yellowjackets’ losses were to Division 2 South Lyon and Division 3 Brother Rice and Harper Woods, and South Lyon and Brother Rice are still playing. More telling might be how Country Day has played over the last five weeks – the reigning Division 4 champion is 4-1 giving up 13 points per game and having scored a combined 84 over its first two playoff contests. It’s a good match for how Chelsea has been looking consistently all season; the Bulldogs are giving up 12 points per game and scoring 43, and that’s with only one game under 40 this fall.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Cadillac (9-2) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (11-0) (at Jenison), Grand Rapids South Christian (8-3) at Edwardsburg (11-0), Croswell-Lexington (10-1) at Freeland (10-1).

11-Player Division 5

Kingsley (10-1) at Frankenmuth (11-0), Saturday

A rematch of last season Division 5 Final with Grand Rapids Catholic Central is a possibility for next week, but the Eagles cannot overlook a Kingsley team that has reached at least Regional Finals three of the last four seasons and is eight points from also being undefeated this fall. The Stags lone loss was 38-30 to Division 7 contender Traverse City St. Francis, and minus that game Kingsley is giving up only 7.8 points per contest. Frankenmuth’s defense should be ready to match – the Eagles are giving up only 9.3 points per game – but must be ready for a close game that could resemble their wins over New Lothrop, Freeland and Goodrich.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Muskegon Oakridge (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-0), Kalamazoo United (8-3) at Portland (9-2), Corunna (7-4) at Marine City (11-0).

11-Player Division 6

Montague (8-3) at Lansing Catholic (10-1), Saturday

Reigning champion Montague has worked its way back to this point, and a broader look at the Wildcats’ season shows they’ve really been in the mix all along. Montague earned a share of the West Michigan Conference title, which is never a small feat, and the losses came to teams in Division 4 (Edwardsburg, Whitehall) and Division 5 (Portland) that all are still playing after winning District titles. The Cougars impressed in a big way with last week’s 28-8 win over previously-undefeated Millington, and an offense averaging 34 points per game may need to be the difference this time. Both teams are giving up only 14 points per game.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Michigan Center (10-1) at Clinton (9-2). SATURDAY Calumet (9-2) at Standish-Sterling (9-2), Ecorse (8-3) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-2).

11-Player Division 7

Lawton (11-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (10-1), Friday

The Blue Devils put together their second perfect regular season in three years this fall, and a win this weekend would plant a major exclamation mark on that recent work. Lawton is seeking its first Regional title and rolling, especially on the defensive side of the ball where its giving up only 8.5 points per game. This will be MCC’s seventh-straight game against a playoff team, which makes its 34 points scored and 14 points allowed per game even more impressive. The Crusaders are seeking their first Regional title since 2016’s undefeated Division 8 run.  

Other Regional Finals SATURDAY Ishpeming Westwood (10-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (9-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (11-0), Detroit Loyola (6-4) at Jackson Lumen Christi (10-1).

11-Player Division 8

Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (10-1), Saturday

While not this group of players, Whiteford as a program has familiarity with this level of the tournament having made consecutive Finals in 2016 and 2017 and winning Division 8 to cap the latter run (when the Bobcats also defeated Everest in a Regional Final). But this will be Whiteford’s first playoff game this season against a team from outside its league. Everest has that bit of unfamiliarity on its side, and has been on its game outscoring its first two playoff opponents by a combined 88-0. The Mountaineers reached the Semifinals last season but were unable to play that round – so surely there’s some added motivation to return.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (10-1) at Beal City (10-1), Breckenridge (9-2) at Ubly (11-0), White Pigeon (10-1) at Hudson (11-0).

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PHOTO Marion quarterback Mason Salisbury (7) works to get to the edge during a Week 8 win over Vestaburg. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.) 

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.)