1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 28, 2022

Everything begins anew this weekend for Michigan’s remaining football hopefuls.

MI Student AidThat isn’t entirely true, of course. Only 288 varsity teams are still playing based on what they accomplished during the regular season, and those teams are matched up in their Districts according to how they performed over the last nine weeks.

But at the same time, all 288 have a championship opportunity as playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-Player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for every division.

Of 144 games being played this weekend, 122 will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting the Detroit Cass Tech/West Bloomfield Division 1 District opener at 7:30 p.m. on the BSD Extra channel.

See below for a glance at an especially notable playoff opener in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at West Bloomfield (8-1)

These continue to be two of the most high-profile programs in the state, and this will be their first meeting since the 2017 Semifinals when West Bloomfield advanced with a 9-7 victory. Both have strung together solid wins especially over the last two weeks, with the Lakers coming off victories over Southfield Arts & Technology and Utica Eisenhower and Cass Tech defeating Detroit Martin Luther King and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. The Technicians gave up only 14 points in both of those victories, and West Bloomfield’s offense (34 ppg) may be facing its biggest test.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (7-2) at Brighton (8-1), Lapeer (7-2) at Clarkston (7-2), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-2) at Romeo (7-2), Detroit Catholic Central (6-2) at Dearborn (7-2).

11-Player Division 2

South Lyon (6-3) at South Lyon East (7-2)

Just a week ago, South Lyon East broke a four-game losing streak against its rival – and now they’re meeting again on the same field. That 27-21 triumph was only the second win for the Cougars in 15 tries against the Lions since East began playing varsity football in 2008, a year after it opened with only underclassmen. But this fall under second-year coach Jacob Topp, the Cougars have posted their winningest regular season despite facing five eventual playoff teams. The Lions – who made the Semifinals last season – faced five as well and surely are driving even harder after losing the last two weeks by a combined seven points.   

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Lansing (6-3) at Battle Creek Central (7-2), Grosse Pointe South (6-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (8-1) at Wayne State University, Traverse City Central (5-4) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2). SATURDAY Saginaw Heritage (7-2) at Waterford Mott (7-2).

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (5-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-3)

These are two more of the state’s most high-profile programs, but they’re plenty familiar with each other after facing off the playoffs the last two seasons with King last year’s victor and Rouge coming out on top in 2020. After both matchups, the winner eventually reached Ford Field. The Panthers are slightly more than two touchdowns from perfection this fall, having lost their games by a combined 15 points. Often recognized more for a high-powered offense, Rouge is giving up only 8.5 points per game on defense despite facing another strong schedule. That should make for an interesting matchup for King standout quarterback Dante Moore and an offense averaging 36 points per game but coming off losses to Cass Tech and Ohio powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord (6-3) at Mount Pleasant (8-1), Haslett (6-3) at Linden (5-4), Lowell (6-3) at Zeeland West (8-1), Parma Western (6-3) at Jackson (5-4).

11-Player Division 4

Freeland (7-2) at North Branch (8-1)

The strengths of a pair of Saginaw/Thumb-area leagues will be tested as North Branch was a co-champion of the Blue Water Area Conference and Freeland finished second in the Tri-Valley Conference 10. Aside from its Week 7 loss to Armada, the Broncos didn’t have another game closer than 14 points – and the two do share a recent opponent with North Branch defeating Croswell-Lexington 35-21 in Week 8 and Freeland falling to the Pioneers last week 41-34. That said, the Falcons have made the Semifinals the last two seasons and have plenty of know-how when it comes to this time of year.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Big Rapids (7-2) at Whitehall (9-0), Chelsea (5-4) at Charlotte (8-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (3-5) at Croswell-Lexington (7-2), Carleton Airport (7-2) at Tecumseh (9-0).

11-Player Division 5

Howard City Tri County (7-2) at Belding (8-1)

Belding is enjoying its winningest season since a District title run in 2017, while Tri County is hoping to continue building on last year’s 9-2 finish that was its winningest since 2004. Both have kept the scoreboard moving. The Vikings are enjoying their best offensive season in recent memory, averaging 44 points per game, and Belding is right there too averaging nearly 42. Both are league champions but took good losses late – Tri County to Big Rapids and Muskegon Catholic Central over the last three weeks and Belding to Cadillac in Week 7.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kingsley (7-2) at Kingsford (6-3), Olivet (7-2) at Portland (8-1), Williamston (7-2) at Corunna (7-2), Flint Hamady (8-1) at Armada (7-2).

11-Player Division 6

Calumet (6-3) at Menominee (5-4)

These two both made it count down the stretch to earn longer seasons. Calumet has won three straight, including two matchups over playoff teams, and its losses are against arguably the three best teams from the Upper Peninsula this fall. Menominee held off Kingsford 42-41 last week after losing two in a row, but its offense has been rumbling with 42 or more points both of the last two weeks – raising its season average to 31. Calumet has been on a similar ride, scoring at least 35 points over those last three games – about a touchdown above its season average of 28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kent City (7-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (7-2), Buchanan (8-1) at Constantine (8-1), Ovid-Elsie (7-2) at Almont (6-3), Detroit Voyageur College Prep (7-2) at Ecorse (8-1).

11-Player Division 7

Ravenna (6-3) at North Muskegon (8-1)

This is a rematch of a Week 7 game won 28-7 by North Muskegon on its way to claiming the West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. These two annual league opponents also met in a District opener last season, won 7-6 by the Bulldogs. The Norsemen have tied their winningest season since 2006 and haven’t lost since a season-opening two-point defeat to Muskegon Catholic Central. The offense is scoring 40 points per game and the defense is giving up eight and hasn’t allowed more than seven to an opponent in a month. Ravenna bounced back from two straight losses with a big win last week over Hart.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bath (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-4), Bad Axe (6-3) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (8-1), Union City (7-2) at Hudson (8-1), Homer (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (6-3).

11-Player Division 8

Harbor Beach (8-1) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-1)

These two are part of one of the most competitive Districts in any division, making this one of the top openers of the weekend statewide. On the other side of the bracket, Ubly (9-0) hosts Saginaw Nouvel (6-3), and whichever team advances to Regionals surely will have earned it and then some. MLS’s only loss was to Division 7 contender Ithaca, and its best win was over another Division 8 contender in Marine City Cardinal Mooney – plus MLS defeated Nouvel 55-7 in Week 6. Harbor Beach’s only defeat came to Ubly, but otherwise only Division 7 Cass City put up much of a challenge – and a 28-7 win over Division 7 Bad Axe two weeks ago was especially notable.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bark River-Harris (7-2) at St. Ignace (7-2), Carson City-Crystal (8-1) at Fowler (8-1), White Pigeon (6-3) at Centreville (6-3), Addison (5-4) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-0).

8-Player Division 1

Newberry (8-1) at Rogers City (9-0)

These two are part of a super-strong Regional – Munising (9-0) hosts Norway (6-3) on the other side. The Hurons finished their first perfect season since 1998 and really started to impress after midseason, with none of their last four opponents getting closer than 16 points as they averaged 57 points per game over the string. Newberry’s loss came all the way back in Week 2, when it was the only team this season to hang with Munising. Newberry hasn’t allowed a point in three straight games and four of its last five, taking its defensive average down to 7.4 points allowed per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Deckerville (6-3) at Kingston (9-0), Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (8-1) at Brown City (8-1), Fulton (7-2) at Breckenridge (7-2).

8-Player Division 2

Mendon (7-2) at Climax-Scotts (8-1)

Climax-Scotts was one of the elite small-school 11-player programs in Michigan during the first two decades of the 2000s, and although the Panthers made the 8-player Division 2 Semifinals in their first season in the format in 2019, this season feels like potentially a bigger step toward winning a championship. Climax-Scotts’ only loss was by five to undefeated Colon, and it joined Colon in handing two-time reigning Division 1 champion Adrian Lenawee Christian a defeat this fall. Mendon seems on a similar track. The Hornets dominated small-school 11-player football for years and debuted in 8-player with an 8-3 finish a year ago. But with their two losses this season by a combined eight points to teams that are a combined 16-2, Mendon may too be on the verge of something substantial.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Posen (7-2) at Marion (9-0), Central Lake (7-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (7-2), Morrice (7-2) at Peck (7-2).

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PHOTO Traverse City Central applies the pressure as Mount Pleasant gets off a pass during the Oilers’ Week 4 win over the Trojans. (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.)