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 

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.

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

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.  

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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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.)