1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 3 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 15, 2021

Only 36 teams and two weeks remain in this MHSAA Football Playoffs, and the third round is something of a turning point.

MI Student AidThings always seem to start moving faster from here.

But as we prep for trips Saturday to Marquette for 8-player and neutral sites all over the Lower Peninsula for 11-player, and then to Ford Field in 10 short days, let’s take a few more minutes to appreciate a weekend that saw 10 games decided by eight points or fewer and five 2020 finalists defeated as this year’s contenders took another step.

8-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Suttons Bay 42, Rudyard 36 (OT) The Norseman (12-0) earned their third-straight Division 1 championship game appearance with a game-tying touchdown with 20 seconds left in regulation and the winning score (and defensive stand) in overtime. Rudyard did complete its longest playoff run since 1982 at 9-3, improving substantially on three straight sub-.500 finishes with its most wins since 2009. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

HEADLINER Adrian Lenawee Christian 36, Martin 14 The reigning champion Cougars (12-0) are headed back to the Division 1 Final as well thanks to a 22-0 second-half run led in part by quarterback Ashur Bryja. Lenawee Christian actually scored the final 30 points, capitalizing on a Martin miscue on the last play of the second quarter to get back to even at halftime. The Clippers (11-1) ended their second-straight trip to the Semifinals with their winningest season since 1987. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

8-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Powers North Central 73, Marion 8 The Jets (12-0), despite playing only 11 games on the field (one win was a forfeit), are approaching 700 points this season, and this was their season high. Coincidentally, North Central is scoring nearly the same number of points per game (only seven tenths of a point more) than during last season’s undefeated Division 2 title run. This was Marion’s second-straight trip to the Semifinals, and the Clippers (10-2) finished with their most wins since 1992. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

HEADLINER Colon 42, Au Gres-Sims 6 The Magi (11-1) have played and defeated three previously-unbeaten teams during this playoffs, with this their most substantial win of the set. Quarterback Simon Vinson either ran or threw for a combined five touchdowns, and Colon will look to add a second championship in three seasons after winning Division 1 in 2019. The Wolverines (11-1) completed an incredible turnaround season, having gone 11-1 as well in 2018 but then 3-6 in 2019 and 1-6 a year ago. Click for more from the Sturgis Journal.

11-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Grand Blanc 28, Rockford 27 The Bobcats clinched their first trip to the Finals, and with an exciting finish. Grand Blanc (12-0) scored go-ahead touchdowns four times and Rockford answered all four, but couldn’t add a two-point conversion after pulling within a point of the lead with 55 seconds to play. Elijah Jackson-Anderson ran for two scores for Grand Blanc, and Zak Ahern ran for all four for Rockford (11-1). Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Regional Roundup Rochester Adams 14, West Bloomfield 13 This was closer than Adams’ 35-17 opening-night win over the reigning Division 1 champion, and required the Highlanders (12-0) to come back from a 13-0 halftime deficit while holding the Lakers (10-2) scoreless over the final two quarters. Sterling Heights Stevenson 27, Macomb Dakota 20 This also was a rematch, with Stevenson (10-2) adding to its Week 5 win over Dakota (8-4) thanks in part to a 90-yard fumble return TD by Jordan Ramsey. Belleville 12, Dearborn Fordson 7 The Tigers (11-1) clinched their fourth-straight Regional title with a second win this season over Fordson (9-3), with freshman Bryce Underwood throwing two touchdown passes to Deshaun Lee.

11-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Traverse City Central 42, Caledonia 14 Not much has slowed the Trojans (11-1) over the last three months, and they claimed their second-straight Regional title amid a blizzard with Josh Burnham leading the way with four rushing touchdowns. The Fighting Scots had been giving up only 13 points per game, but Central put up at least 42 for the sixth straight week. Caledonia finished 10-2, their winningest season since 2008.  Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Regional Roundup South Lyon 29, Portage Central 23 (OT) The Lions (12-0) scored and converted a two-point pass with 18 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, then went on to clinch their first Regional title since 2004. Portage Central (9-3) finished its winningest run since 2016. Livonia Franklin 43, Waterford Mott 26 The Patriots’ story just keeps getting better as they improved to 7-5 with their fourth-straight win. Mott finished a nice turnaround season at 7-5 after going 2-4 a year ago. Warren De La Salle Collegiate 45, Roseville 14 The Pilots (11-0) have won all but one of their games this season by double digits, and this one ranks high as Roseville (7-5) had given up more than 15 points once this fall and had scored fewer than 35 points only three times.

11-Player Division 3

HEADLINER Mason 20, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 17 Freshman Cason Carswell’s touchdown pass to Derek Badgley with 10 seconds to play lifted the Bulldogs (10-2) to their first Regional championship and first 10-win season. Carswell threw for two scores total, and Mason’s defense slowed a Brother Rice offense that had averaged 30 points per game entering the evening. The Warriors (8-4) were coming off their first District title since 2014 and finished with their winningest campaign since that fall. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Regional Roundup DeWitt 42, Cedar Springs 14 The reigning champion Panthers (11-1) scored the first 28 points in earning their fourth-straight Regional title. Cedar Springs finished 9-3, its only losses to teams that also won District championships. St. Joseph 49, Parma Western 13 The Bears are becoming one of the playoffs’ most intriguing bounce-back stories, having now won their first Regional title since 2007 after entering the tournament with four straight defeats. Western (8-4) also entered the postseason off a loss before winning its second District title in four years. Detroit Martin Luther King 28, Allen Park 7 Dante Moore threw three first-half touchdown passes, and the Crusaders (11-1) held Allen Park scoreless until the fourth quarter. The Jaguars finished 9-3 for the third time in four seasons.

11-Player Division 4

HEADLINER Chelsea 27, Detroit Country Day 20 Arguably the most jaw-dropping play of the weekend decided this Regional Final, as Chelsea blocked a late Country Day field goal attempt and Jason Skoczylas brought it back for the game-winning touchdown. Chelsea (12-0) advanced to the Semifinals for the fourth consecutive season, with this their first single-digit win of the fall. The reigning champion Yellowjackets (7-4) had played in the last two Division 4 Finals. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.

Regional Roundup Hudsonville Unity Christian 53, Cadillac 22 The Crusaders (12-0) reached 50 points for the fifth-straight week while ending the season for last year’s Division 4 runner-up – although the Vikings (9-3) did finish with their most wins since 2014. Edwardsburg 28, Grand Rapids South Christian 14 The Sailors (8-4) were able to hold the Eddies to their fewest points scored this season, but Edwardsburg (12-0) continued its streak of all double-digit wins this fall. Freeland 42, Croswell-Lexington 22 The Falcons (11-1) repeated as Regional champions, pulling away with 20 unanswered points in the second quarter. The Pioneers (10-2) hadn’t fallen since Week 1 and finished with double-digit wins for the first time since 2012.

11-Player Division 5

HEADLINER Frankenmuth 33, Kingsley 18 The Eagles (12-0) repeated as Regional champs by scoring the game’s final 19 points over the last 20 minutes. The teams combined for only 378 yards and Kingsley (10-2) had given up more than 20 points only one other time this fall. But Frankenmuth’s Cole Lindow scored both of his touchdowns during that closing run and managed 127 yards on the ground. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Regional Roundup Grand Rapids Catholic Central 25, Muskegon Oakridge 6 The Cougars (12-0) navigated a blizzard as well to win a sixth-straight Regional title as both teams scored season lows. Oakridge finished 9-3, all three defeats to District champs. Portland 21, Kalamazoo United 0 The Raiders are headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2018 after shutting down a Titans offense that averaged 39 points per game heading into the day. United finished 8-4. Marine City 21, Corunna 14 The Mariners (12-0) still haven’t given up more than 14 points this season, holding off a late rally this time to win their second Regional title in four years. Corunna (7-5) concluded its best season since 2016.

11-Player Division 6

HEADLINER Lansing Catholic 31, Montague 13 The reigning champion Wildcats scored first, but Lansing Catholic (11-1) then ran off 31 unanswered points on the way to earning a third-straight Regional title. Montague finished 8-4, having rebounded to win a fifth-straight District title after losing its final two games of the regular season. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Regional Roundup Standish-Sterling 34, Calumet 7 The Panthers continued another of the incredible turnarounds this fall, improving to 10-2 with their first Regional title since 2008 after going 1-6 last season. Calumet’s nine-game winning streak was halted, but the Copper Kings rebounded impressively after an 0-2 start. Michigan Center 27, Clinton 14 After falling in a Regional Final last season, the Cardinals (11-1) took the next step earning their first Semifinal berth and did so against last season’s Division 6 runner-up. Clinton finished 9-3. Warren Michigan Collegiate 38, Ecorse 16 The Cougars also followed up a Regional loss last season by advancing this time, scoring the most points given up by an Ecorse defense that had allowed only 11 per game on average. The Raiders finished 8-4, improving on their 2-5 finish from a season ago.

11-Player Division 7

HEADLINER Lawton 41, Muskegon Catholic Central 22 The Blue Devils are enjoying their best season, and this might have been the highlight so far. Lawton won its first Regional title, handing the perennial power Crusaders (10-2) just the second defeat of their best season since 2016. Lawton (12-0) already had set a program record for wins with the District Final victory the week before. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Regional Roundup Traverse City St. Francis 48, Ishpeming Westwood 20 The reigning Division 7 runner-up Gladiators (12-0) broke away in the second half, outscoring the Patriots 27-6 during the final two quarters. Westwood finished 10-2, its first season with double-digit wins, and also earned its first District title. Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 0 The Pirates (12-0) posted their fifth shutout of the season, lowering their points allowed average to 5.6 per game. Laker finished 9-3, five wins better than a season ago. Jackson Lumen Christi 35, Detroit Loyola 18 The Titans (11-1) won their fifth Regional title in six seasons, outscoring the Bulldogs 14-0 during the second half. Loyola finished 6-5, having reached the Regional Finals for the third-straight season despite opening 2-3.

Beal City/Carson City-Crystal football

11-Player Division 8

HEADLINER Hudson 8, White Pigeon 0 The Tigers’ defense came through again when it counted most, posting its seventh shutout as they won their first Regional title since 2011. Hudson (12-0) lowered its points allowed average to 5.8 per game, stopping an offense that averaged 38 points per entering the day. White Pigeon finished 10-2, reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 1980. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

Regional Roundup Beal City 34, Carson City-Crystal 14 The Aggies (11-1) have won 11 straight and now their second Regional title in three seasons. The Eagles (10-2) reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2013. Ubly 65, Breckenridge 6 The reigning Division 8 runner-up Bearcats (12-0) are a win away from returning to Ford Field after going over 50 points for the fifth time in 11 games played on the field (one win was by forfeit). Breckenridge finished 9-3 with league and District titles. Ottawa Lake Whiteford 38, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 12 The Bobcats (11-1) are headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2017. Everest finished 9-3, reaching nine wins for the fifth time in six seasons.

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.

PHOTOS [1] DeWitt's Bryce Debri (21) works to pull away from a defender's grasp during his team's Division 3 win over Cedar Springs. [2] Beal City's Cayden Smith (19) attempts to elude a Carson City-Crystal defender in a Division 8 Regional Final victory. (Photos by Jamie McNinch [1] and High School Sports Scene [2].) 

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.)