1st & Goal: 2022 11-Player Semifinals Preview
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
November 17, 2022
Snow has blanketed the majority of the state over the last few days. But it’s nearly a guarantee that the players on the field for this weekend’s 11-player Semifinals will be the last to notice it’s gotten wetter and colder outside.
They’re focused on getting to Ford Field, and a snowy mid-November game is just part of the unique path traveled by championship contenders in Michigan.
All 16 Semifinals will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription, with Friday’s Belleville/Detroit Cass Tech game in Division 1 to be broadcast live on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel. The other 15 Semifinals will be played Saturday; click for the full schedule.
Below is a look at all 16 games that will determine this season’s Finals matchups.
Detroit Cass Tech (9-3) vs. Belleville (12-0) at Novi – FRIDAY
Cass Tech has won eight straight games, with its last five victories as impressive a string as anyone has conquered statewide. Senior quarterback Leeshaun Mumphfield (1,712 yards/25 TDs passing) is a proven leader and has standouts like senior running back Sean Hodges (846 yards/12 TDs rushing) and freshman Corey Sadler Jr. (665 yards/8 TDs receiving) to take away some of the playmaking pressure. Belleville’s 23-game winning streak is on the line, and the reigning champion has plenty of big-game experience too with sophomore quarterback Bryce Underwood (2,479 yards/34 TDs passing) and junior running back Jeremiah Beasley (1,088 yards/23 TDs rushing) showing the way.
Clarkston (10-2) vs. Caledonia (11-1) at DeWitt
These teams have combined to run for 7,458 yards this season, perhaps the best fit for what weather conditions might provide this weekend. Caledonia has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers – junior running back Brock Townsend (1,130/16 TDs) and senior quarterback Mason McKenzie (1,441/19), who also has thrown for 1,356 yards and 19 touchdowns. Clarkston’s top five runners all average at least seven yards per carry, but senior running back Ethan Clark is shouldering the load with 2,542 yards – at 10.1 per carry – and 30 touchdowns on the ground. Both teams have avenged a regular-season loss during the playoffs, Caledonia to Rockford and Clarkston to Davison.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (12-0) vs. Dexter (12-0) at Portage Northern
Dexter is playing for its first championship game berth, and Forest Hills Central for its first since 1994. A Rangers defense giving up only 7.9 points per game will face its strongest challenge as senior running back Cole Cabana (1,433 yards/26 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Reeves Taylor (2,248 yards/30 TDs passing) give the Dreadnaughts a variety of options on the offensive side of the ball. Not that FHC doesn’t have the same, especially with senior quarterback Justin Osterhouse’s ability to make plays rushing (654 yards/15 TDs) and throwing (1,070 yards/13 TDs passing). Dexter’s defense has been similarly special too, giving up only 9.3 ppg.
Birmingham Groves (9-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (11-1) at Troy Athens
Groves had rebounded off 3-6 and 2-7 seasons and accelerated after a 4-3 start to return to the Semifinals, impressing especially with last week’s 32-25 win over Livonia Franklin. Senior running back Josh Woods went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in that victory, and Franklin was the first team in six weeks to score more than 12 points on the Falcons. Reigning champion De La Salle has put up more than 4,600 yards in total offense and will challenge Groves beginning with senior quarterback Brady Drogosh, who has thrown for 1,839 yards and 33 touchdowns and run for 1,088 yards and 13 scores. The Pilots have allowed more than 16 points just once, in their lone loss two months ago.
DeWitt (9-3) vs. Muskegon (10-2) at Greenville
This will be the fourth time these two have matched up over the last six seasons and third time in Semifinals over the last four years. The Big Reds’ losses this fall were to De La Salle and Zeeland West, the latter avenged last week. Their top playmakers are all juniors – quarterback M’Khi Guy leads in rushing (1,297 yards/18 TDs) and passing (614 yards/10 TDs), while Destin Piggee (318 yards/4 TDs receiving, 713/5 rushing) and Jakob Price (863 yards/14 TDs rushing) provide plenty of options. All three of DeWitt’s losses were by seven or fewer points, and the Panthers have grown up quickly this fall after several leaders graduated from the teams that reached Finals the last two seasons. Senior Bryce Kurncz does a lot of everything, leading the team in rushing (1,395 yards/17 TDs) and receiving (727 yards/11 TDs) while also throwing for four scores, returning punts and starting on defense. A variety of others contribute too, including sophomore Abram Larner who is second on the team in rushing and receiving yardage.
Detroit Martin Luther King (8-3) vs. Mason (12-0) at Westland John Glenn
The reigning Division 3 champion King is seeking to reach the Finals for the fourth time in five seasons, which included 2019 in Division 2. Senior quarterback Dante Moore is the name everyone knows, and rightly so as he’s thrown for 1,787 yards and 24 touchdowns in his fourth season directing the offense. But senior running back Sterling Anderson Jr. is another of many to note, as he’s run for 918 yards and 12 scores and caught 36 passes including four for touchdowns. Mason is certainly less familiar statewide at this point; this will be the Bulldogs’ second Semifinal in two seasons as they seek their first Finals appearance. But they’re starting to gain plenty of attention, especially sophomore quarterback Cason Carswell (2,141 yards/33 TDs passing) and junior running back AJ Martell (1,221 yards/20 TDs rushing).
Edwardsburg (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (12-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek
A season that started differently than usual for Edwardsburg with a loss is shaping up the same as the rest lately as the Eddies will play in their third straight and sixth Semifinal over the last seven seasons – and with that opening-night opponent, Grand Rapids West Catholic, still playing as well. Edwardsburg again relies on the run game – it’s thrown 21 passes, but rushed for 4,343 yards led by senior backs Brett Allen and Andrew Colvin, who have combined for 1,957 yards and 27 scores on the ground. South Christian has followed the lead of senior quarterback Jacob DeHaan to its first Semifinal since 2014. He’s run for 949 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 2,308 yards and 28 scores.
Goodrich (11-1) vs. Riverview (12-0) at Rochester
Goodrich is another team that didn’t get down after a season-opening loss, as the Martians won their next 11 games to reach the Semifinals for the first time. They have been balanced almost to the yard with just north of 1,600 rushing and 1,600 passing. Senior running back Jace Simerson has shouldered much of the load running for 1,130 yads and 15 touchdowns, with senior quarterback Gavin Hart balancing that out with 1,612 yards and 19 scores through the air. They’ll go against a Riverview team that’s won two straight games where the Pirates and their opponents have combined for 80 or more points. Jacob Shank (1,603 yards/28 TDs rushing), Anthony Bowman (1,026/11) and Max Lockhart (892/10) lead a ground game averaging 8.8 yards per carry.
Gladwin (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) at Ithaca
Grand Rapids Catholic Central has won the last two Division 5 championships and the 2019 Division 4 title before that – and while most of the star power has turned over since last year, the new playmakers have provided similar results. Junior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon is averaging nine yards per carry for 1,406 total and 17 touchdowns on the ground, while junior quarterback Connor Wolf has thrown for 2,622 yards and 30 scores. No opponent has gotten closer than 19 points since the Cougars’ 36-34 loss to South Christian in Week 6. Gladwin can turn to a defense that’s given up only 8.4 points per game and 4.1 yards per play. The Flying G’s will also employ several options offensively, with senior Earl Esiline at 1,048 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing, senior running back Logan Kokotovich at 833 and 11, respectively, and senior quarterback Nick Wheeler having thrown 11 touchdown passes and run for 19 scores.
Detroit Country Day (8-3) vs. Frankenmuth (12-0) at Lapeer
After falling in the Regional Final to eventual Division 4 champion Chelsea last season, Country Day will play in its third Semifinal in four seasons and coming off both its highest-scoring game of this fall and lowest-scoring defensive effort last week in a 44-7 win over Flat Rock. Junior fullback Gabe Winowich (833 yards/11 TDs) has run for nearly half the team’s rush yards, and senior Gabe Zeldes is another intriguing playmaker – he’s caught nine touchdowns passes, returning three of his five interceptions for scores and also found the end zone on a kickoff return. They’ll try to get past a Frankenmuth defense giving up just 5.3 points per game – and not more than seven since Week 3. The Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns this season. They also spread things around on offense, as junior Griffin Barker, senior Sam Barger and senior quarterback Aidan Hoard all have run for at least 10 touchdowns. Hoard also has thrown for 16 scores.
Negaunee (12-0) vs. Reed City (11-1) at Gaylord
Negaunee enters its first Semifinal since 2003 following just its second single-digit game this season, and Gladstone last week also was the first opponent in five weeks to score on a Miners defense giving up only 6.3 points per game. A pair of 1,000-yard rushers set the pace offensively – senior Nico Lukkarinen (1,124 yards/18 TDs) and junior Kai Lacar (1,082/16 TDs). Reed City most recently played a Semifinal in 2017 and is seeking its first championship game berth. A high-producing offense churns with three rushers with at least 900 yards led by senior running back Bryson Hughes (1,215 yards/15 TDs rushing.)
Clinton (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-1) at Coldwater
Clinton is playing in its second Semifinal in three seasons after last week’s 31-30 win over 2021 runner-up Warren Michigan Collegiate. The Redwolves have capitalized on 29 turnovers by opponents this fall, and also feature a strong running attack with senior back Bradyn Lehman leading with 1,005 yards and 16 TDs rushing plus five receiving scores. West Catholic is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2017 after winning the first three games of these playoffs by an average of 33 points per. Senior running back Timmy Kloska has piled up 1,852 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground.
New Lothrop (10-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Clare
This is a rematch of the 2020 Final, won by New Lothrop 42-35. The Gladiators have won their games this fall by an average of 33 points per after suffering their lone 2021 loss in the Semifinals by seven points to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia. Senior quarterback Wyatt Nausadis is just one of several talented playmakers; he’s run for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns and thrown for 1,192 and 17. New Lothrop’s losses were by a combined three points to a pair of Division 6 league opponents. Junior quarterback Jack Kulhanek provides similar run-pass options, having thrown for 1,682 yards and 25 touchdowns and run for 1,342 yards and 17 scores.
Napoleon (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (9-3) at Chelsea
Both have great stories. Napoleon was 1-8 two years ago, missed the playoffs last season after improving to 6-3, and followed up with this perfect run that has included four wins by eight points or fewer including last week’s over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. Lumen Christi is a frequent visitor to the Semifinals but started this fall 0-3 and hasn’t lost since, edging Lawton 7-6 last week to advance. Senior running back Bart Laretz is the key cog for the Pirates’ offense with 1,973 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. Senior quarterback Joe Lathers (678 yards/15 TDs rushing) and senior running back Derrick Walker (968/15) key another powerful Titans running attack.
Ubly (12-0) vs. Iron Mountain (11-1) at Petoskey
This will be Ubly’s fourth Semifinal in four years as the Bearcats seek their first championship, and last year’s five-point Semifinal loss was their only defeat over the last two seasons. They’ve defeated their opponents this season 49-6 on average, stacking up 4,400 rushing yards led by senior Mark Heilig (1,151 yards/26 TDs rushing) and junior Evan Peruski (1,158/20). Iron Mountain last played in a Semifinal in 2018, and got past Evart 34-33 last week in its first close game since a Week 1 five-point loss to Negaunee. Senior quarterback Joe Colavecchi directs a balanced attack and has thrown for 1,590 yards and 20 scores, and junior Luke Wolfe is the leading rusher and also has five interceptions.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-3) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Brownstown Woodhaven
Everest Collegiate is back at a Semifinal for the second time in three seasons after winning eight of its last nine games – and avenging the lone defeat of that string. An offense that’s run for more than 2,100 yards and thrown for more than 1,500 has posted three of its four highest-scoring games over the last month. Whiteford got through its closest matchup of the season last week, 38-26 against White Pigeon, and has won its games by an average score of 50-13. Whiteford boasts two 1,000-yard rushers plus has enjoyed school record-setting performances from senior quarterback Shea Ruddy (19 TD passes) and junior linebacker Jake Iott.
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PHOTO Ottawa Lake Whiteford's Hunter DeBarr gets up the sideline against Petersburg Summerfield. (Photo by Natalie McCormack.)
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:
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.)