1st & Goal: 8-Player Finals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 15, 2021

Four undefeated teams will be the first to play for championships to cap the longest football season in MHSAA history.

Adrian Lenawee Christian and Suttons Bay in Division 1 and Portland St. Patrick and Powers North Central in Division 2 will take the field at Brighton’s Legacy Center on Saturday with this season’s two 8-player titles on the line. They returned to action last week after a nearly two-month pause due to COVID-19.

Suttons Bay and Portland St. Patrick are the 2019 runners-up in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively. Adrian Lenawee Christian is new to the format this season and like Suttons Bay is playing for its first football title. North Central, meanwhile, is the only program to win multiple 8-player championships since the format was added in 2011, and the Jets are back at the Finals for the first time since their repeat run in 2016.

Kickoff for the Division 2 game is 2 p.m., with the Division 1 game following approximately 5:30 p.m. Spectators remain limited, but both games will be broadcast live on the FOX Sports Detroit Facebook page, and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel Jan. 21 beginning at 8 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason.

Division 1

 10-0, No. 3
Coach: Bill Wilharms, eighth season (59-21)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 49-0 over No. 1 Morrice in Regional Final, 47-12 over No. 8 Martin in Semifinal, 78-14 over No. 4 Mayville in Regional Semifinal, 24-6 over Division 2 No. 5 Colon.
Players to watch: RB/LB Jameson Chesser, 5-10/170, sr. (1,179 yards/29 TDs rushing, 506 yards/4 TDs receiving); QB/CB Landon Gallant, 5-10/155, sr. (1,331 yards/23 TDs passing, 388 yards/6 TDs rushing); OG/NG Coby Kegerreis, 5-8/185, jr.; C/DE Joey Breckel, 6-1/240, sr.
Outlook: Lenawee Christian’s 8-player debut couldn’t have gone better on the field, as the Cougars have won only one game by fewer than 35 points. That was an 18-point victory over league foe Colon, last season’s Division 1 champion, and Saturday the Cougars can make it a repeat for the SCAA Division A. Chesser – who also has thrown for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts – made the all-state first team and scored five times against Martin in the Semifinal. Kegerreis also made the all-state first team, as did junior kicker Clay Ayers (41 of 48 XP), and Breckel earned honorable mention. Those four and Gallant also start on a defense that’s given up only 46 points over 10 games.

 10-0, No. 1
Coach: Garrick Opie, third season (30-2)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 runner-up 2019, 11-player Division 6 runner-up 2004.
Best wins: 38-22 over No. 8 Gaylord St. Mary in Regional Final, 35-0 over Brethren, 39-20 and 44-0 (Regional Semifinal) over Whittemore-Prescott.
Players to watch: RB/DB Hugh Periard, 6-0/175, jr. (799 yards/13 TDs rushing, 217 yards/3 TDs receiving); QB/DB Nate Devol, 6-0/175, sr. (901 yards/15 TDs passing, 301 yards/2 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions on defense); RB/LB Shawn Bramer, 6-2/195, jr. (622 yards/11 TDs rushing, 60 yards/1 TD receiving); OL/LB Michael Wittman, 6-4/230, sr.
Outlook: Suttons Bay is returning to the Division 1 championship game after falling short in a 26-14 defeat to Colon in 2019. The Norsemen have won all of their games by double digits, with a defense giving up only 7.6 points per game and a rushing attack that has piled up 2,506 yards over nine games (last week’s Semifinal win was a forfeit by Indian River Inland Lakes). Wittman made the all-state first team as a linebacker. Starting tight ends Jake Murphy and Brayden Opie add another element to the attack – both have caught 15 passes, with Murphy scoring on five and Opie on six.

Division 2

 10-0, No. 1
Coach: Patrick Russman, 13th season (96-39)
League finish: Does not play in the league.  
Championship history: 8-player Division 2 runner-up 2019 and 2017, 11-player Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1997 and 1991.
Best wins: 44-34 over No. 5 Colon in Regional Final, 34-12 over No. 7 Kinde North Huron in Semifinal, 52-19 over No. 4 Burr Oak, 26-22 over Division 1 No. 6 Merrill.
Players to watch: QB/DB Connor Cross, 6-3/190, sr. (1,245 yards/21 TDs passing, 429 yards/9 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions on defense); RB/LB Derec Fedewa, 5-10/185, jr. (1,369 yards/19 TDs, 311 yards/5 TDs receiving); WR/LB Braxton Teachworth, 6-3/190, jr. (193 yards/3 TDs  receiving); OL/DL Chase Fitzsimmons, 6-3/240, sr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks have come within a win of the Division 2 championship twice over the last four seasons, and will make a run at it again with an offense featuring all-state first teamers at quarterback and running back. Cross and Fedewa have piled up big numbers this fall, as has leading receiving Shane Cook (502 yards/9 TDs), for a team scoring 43.5 points per game. But the key Saturday could be an opportunistic defense that has taken advantage of 28 turnovers – including 19 fumble recoveries – and allowed conversions on only 19 percent of opponent third downs. Fitzsimmons and Teachworth earned all-state honorable mentions, Teachworth at linebacker.

 10-0, No. 2
Coach: Leo Gorzinski, third season (28-3)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference West
Championship history: 8-player champion 2016 and 2015.
Best wins: 55-8 over No. 3 Cedarville in Regional Final, 50-2 over No. 8 Marion in Semifinal, 50-8 over Stephenson, 52-8 over Lake Linden-Hubbell in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: QB/LB Luke Gorzinski, 5-9/170, soph. (1,163 yards/18 TDs passing, 909 yards/20 TDs rushing); WR/LB Ian Gorzinski, 5-11/165, sr. (362 yards/5 TDs receiving, 101 yards/3 TDs rushing); RB/LB Alex Naser, 5-8/165, jr. (312 yards/7 TDs rushing, 301 yards/7 TDs receiving, 2 TDs on kickoff returns); OL/DL Carter Eichmeier, 6-2/190, sr.
Outlook: The Jets will match St. Patrick’s all-state quarterback with the other all-state first-team signal-caller this season in Luke Gorzinski, who is coming off four touchdown runs and a scoring pass in the Semifinal. He keys an offense that has outscored opponents 280-8 in the first quarter alone and 539-60 in nine games overall (one win was a forfeit). Eichmeier also made the all-state first team as North Central won all but one of its games by more than 40 points. In addition to the sparse points given up, the Jets are allowing only 114 yards per game.

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.)