1st & Goal: 2022 8-Player Finals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 18, 2022

We will award a first-time 8-Player Football Finals champion Saturday at North Michigan University’s Superior Dome. We also may watch an incredible winning streak grow to include a third-straight title – or witness an epic ending to that run with another first-time champion in this format.

MI Student AidBoth games are filled with story lines, kicking off with Martin and Merrill facing off in Division 1 at 11 a.m. and Powers North Central vs. Mendon following at 2 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased online through NMU or at the door – click for details – and both games will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv and replayed on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel Nov. 24 beginning at 8 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a look at all four finalists. Statistics do not include Semifinals.

Division 1 

MARTIN
Record/Rank: 10-2, No. 3
Coach: Brad Blauvelt, fifth season (45-10)
League finish: First in Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1
Championship history: 11-Player Class D champion 1987.
Best wins: 56-14 over No. 8 Adrian Lenawee Christian in Regional Final, 42-8 (Semifinal) and 49-6 over No. 9 Brown City, 50-6 over No. 10 Gobles, 30-28 over Division 2 No. 7 Mendon.
Players to watch: QB/LB JR Hildebrand, 6-0/180 sr. (1,518 yards/25 TDs rushing, 1,254 yards/25 TDs passing); RB/CB Karter Ribble, 5-10/180 sr. (430 yards/9 TDs rushing, 366 yards/6 TDs receiving); TE/LB Sam Jager, 6-1/180 sr. (426 yards/6 TDs receiving); WR/CB Drake Buell, 5-11/130 sr. (165 yards/3 TDs receiving).
Outlook: After putting Lenawee Christian’s pursuit of a third-straight championship to an end, Martin is lined up for its opportunity bringing a combined 39-6 record since making the move to 8-player in 2019. Hildebrand earned an all-state honorable mention last season, and he’s surrounded by playmakers also including junior receiver Taegan Harris (392 yards/4 TDs receiving) and senior running back Braeden Shanley (529 yards/6 TDs rushing). Martin’s losses were to Bridgman and Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, which both finished 9-0, and the Week 9 defeat to Bridgman was by just a point.

MERRILL
Record/Rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Christian Wiley, eighth season (50-28)
League finish: First in Central Michigan 8-Man Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 22-20 over No. 1 Munising in Semifinal, 68-28 (Regional Final) and 36-14 over Breckenridge, 52-12 over Division 2 No. 9 Morrice.
Players to watch: QB/DB Joel Tack, 6-0/145 sr. (1,518 yards/26 TDs passing, 1,846 yards/27 touchdowns rushing); WR/DB Denver Coty, 6-0/155 sr. (415 yards/7 TDs receiving); RB/LB Sawyer Jordan, 5-9/140 sr. (722 yards/8 TDs rushing); OL/LB Cameron Raftery, 5-11/210 sr.
Outlook: Merrill went a solid 11-6 over the last two seasons but has won more games and scored nearly as many points this fall as those two combined. Tack is a substantial pace-setter on offense, and he had another 263 yards and a touchdown passing and 131 yards and two scores rushing against Munising in the Semifinal. The previously-undefeated Mustangs were the only team to get closer than 22 points to the Vandals this season. Raftery earned an all-state honorable mention at linebacker in 2021. Senior flanker Kaleb Walker (504 yards/10 TDs receiving, 9.4 yards per carry rushing) is another player to watch.

Division 2

MENDON
Record/Rank: 10-2, No. 7
Coach: Robert Kretschman, seventh season (58-19)
League finish: Second in Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1
Championship history: 11 MHSAA 11-Player titles (most recent 2011), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 30-14 over No. 9 Morrice in Semifinal, 46-44 over No. 2 Colon in Regional Final, 44-18 over No. 3 Climax-Scotts in Regional Semifinal, 36-6 over Division 1 No. 10 Gobles.
Players to watch: RB/DB Evan Lukeman, 5-9/155 sr. (1,180 yards/17 TDs rushing); QB/DB Luke Schinker, 6-0/160 sr. (560 yards/8 TDs passing); FB/DB Jack McCaw, 5-8/165 jr. (1,674 yards/22 TDs rushing, 2 TDs passing); TE/DB Gabe Haigh, 6-2/205 sr. (360 yards/8 TDs receiving).
Outlook: It was only a matter of time before longtime 11-player small-school power Mendon found this level of success in 8-player as well. The Hornets’ only losses this season were to Martin in the season opener and Bridgman two weeks later, and since only Colon has come closer than two touchdowns. Lukeman earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is part of a dynamic 1-2 combo with McCaw, who added another 198 yards and three touchdowns rushing against Morrice last week. Schinker also had four interceptions from his defensive back spot entering the Semifinal.  

POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record/Rank: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Leo Gorzinski, fifth season (54-3)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference West
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2021).
Best wins: 36-12 over No. 4 Marion in Semifinal, 42-0 over No. 5 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 68-8 over Norway.
Players to watch: QB/DB Luke Gorzinski, 6-0/185 sr. (1,301 yards/19 TDs passing, 1,215 yards/20 TDs rushing); WR/DB Lane Gorzinski, 6-0/170 soph. (299 yards/5 TDs rushing, 7 TDs receiving); RB/LB Dillon Raab, 5-8/170 sr. (474 yards/7 TDs rushing, 305 yards/4 TDs receiving); OL/DL Max Nason, 6-0/255 jr.
Outlook: With 36 straight wins over the last three seasons, the two-time reigning champion Jets broke their previous 8-player record 27-game winning streak. This will be the final high school game for Luke Gorzinski, who has quarterbacked North Central throughout the streak and was named 8-player Player of the Year as a junior by The Associated Press. He’s led this year’s team to average 57 points per game, and he also starts for a defense that’s giving up 3.7 points per contest. He and Raab both had returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and junior Jacob Gorzinski had four punt return TDs heading into the Semifinal.

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Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 27, 2022

DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.

“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.

King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.

The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.

Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.

The Crusaders never looked back.

“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”

Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.

Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.

“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.

Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.

Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.

Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.

Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.

“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.

“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.

King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).

King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.

“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”

Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.

It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.

“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.

“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”

Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”

“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.

“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.

Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.

“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.