By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
With absolute certainty, we can say this recently-concluded football season was like no other during the nearly 100-year history of the MHSAA.
But after just more than five months, and amid COVID-19, it was played to completion – with 8-Player Finals on Jan. 16 at Brighton’s Legacy Center and 11-Player Finals Jan. 22-23 at Ford Field in Detroit.
Second Half again covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the championship weekends. See also below highlights from State Champs Sports Network.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: West Bloomfield 41, Davison 0
Led by Donovan Edwards’ 257 yards and three touchdowns rushing, West Bloomfield won its first Finals championship with a shutout of the 2019 champion Cardinals. Much more on Edwards below, but the Lakers’ effort on the other side of the ball can’t be overlooked – the shutout was the team’s sixth of the season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon Mona Shores 25, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 19
After winning its first championship in 2019, Mona Shores earned another in its encore led again by quarterback Brady Rose. Rose had started last season’s Final in place of an injured all-stater, but he was hardly unknown this time – and still ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard sprint during the fourth quarter that helped wrap things up for the Sailors.
11-Player Division 3: DeWitt 40, River Rouge 30
DeWitt finished off the longest football season in MHSAA history with its first championship, earning it against a River Rouge team looking to repeat after winning its first title in 2019. Quarterback play was on display in this finale as well, with DeWitt’s Tyler Holtz and Rouge’s Mareyohn Hrabowski putting up big numbers.
11-Player Division 4: Detroit Country Day 13, Cadillac 0
With youngest son Danny a major contributor, Country Day coach Dan MacLean led the Yellowjackets to their first Finals championship since 1999. Country Day kept first-time finalist Cadillac to just 166 total yards, and the shutout was the Yellowjackets’ third straight.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 48, Frankenmuth 21
The Cougars added their fourth championship in five seasons, this one their first in Division 5 after winning previously in Division 4. GRCC quarterback Joey Silveri accounted for six touchdowns in a Final for the second-straight season as his team built a big early lead against the first-time finalist Eagles.
11-Player Division 6: Montague 40, Clinton 14
Strong quarterback play and a father-son connection both came into play in Division 6 as well as senior Drew Collins led dad Pat’s team to its first Finals championship since 2009. What Drew said after told the story of the entire season restart: “Everybody on this football team, coaches, players, trainers – everybody on this football team loves high school football. I love high school football. I love these coaches. I love my friends on the team. I love everybody on the team. I love the community. It’s bittersweet when you win a state championship when you’re a senior because it’s all over.”
11-Player Division 7: New Lothrop 42, Traverse City St. Francis 35
The Hornets’ Julius Garza put up one of the most impressive individual performances of the weekend, scoring three ways for a total of four touchdowns. New Lothrop got up early and then held off a St. Francis comeback to claim its second championship in three seasons.
11-Player Division 8: Centreville 22, Ubly 0
Centreville’s shutdown defense put together one more awe-inspiring performance to help the Bulldogs’ to their first championship. Centreville ran its state-best points-allowed-per-game average to 2.9 with its seventh shutout in 10 games played.
8-Player Division 1: Adrian Lenawee Christian 47, Suttons Bay 0
The Cougars put an exclamation point on a dominating first season of 8-player football with their first Finals championship in the sport, either format. Lenawee Christian not only performed well offensively but held Suttons Bay to 52 yards total. The Norsemen finished Division 1 runners-up for the second-straight season.
8-Player Division 2: Powers North Central 70, Portland St. Patrick 48
The Jets claimed their third championship in what was the highest-scoring 8-player championship game in the decade-long MHSAA Finals history of this format. More on that below, and also on North Central quarterback Luke Gorzinski and St. Patrick quarterback Connor Cross, who were among those to put up giant numbers. The Jets also feature a father/son combo, with Luke the son of head coach Leo Gorzinski.
As one might imagine, the highest-scoring game in 8-Player Finals history was filled with record book accomplishments. North Central’s 70 points were the 8-Player Finals record for one team, and the combined 118 points were 19 more than the previous record set in Peck’s 67-32 win over Rapid River in 2013. The teams’ 933 combined total yards ranks third on that 8-Player Finals list, while North Central’s 22 first downs was tied for second and St. Patrick’s 21 first downs ranked fourth. Neither team punted, making for another first in 8-player championship games. The game was not only the highest-scoring 8-Player Final, but the third-highest scoring 8-player game in MHSAA history (including regular season), missing tying that record by only six points.
Also as noted above, all-state quarterback play was on display for both 8-player Division 2 finalists. North Central QB Luke Gorzinski totaled the second-most rushing yards, 299, in an 8-Player Final, and with 156 yards passing set the total offense record at 455. St. Patrick QB Connor Cross, with 397 total yards, is fourth on that list. Cross’s 374 passing yards were second-most in an 8-Player Final, as were his six passing touchdowns, and he earned the first listings with 25 completions and 38 pass attempts. Shamrocks receiver Shane Cook, meanwhile, set the record with 13 receptions for the second-most receiving yardage, 179. North Central as a team finished with the third-most rushing yards, 373 on 37 attempts, and third-most rushing touchdowns with six. St. Patrick as a team was second for team passing yards and touchdowns.
Gorzinski wasn’t the only offensive star for the Jets; teammate Wyatt Raab finished with the third-most points scored in an 8-Player Final, 32, on four touchdowns, three two-point conversions and a safety. Gorzinski did finish with the fourth-most points, 28, on four touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Both made the total touchdowns list with four apiece.
The 8-Player Division 1 Final made the record book as well, in two categories. Lenawee Christian as a team defense posted the lowest number of yards allowed, just 52. And Cougars quarterback Landon Gallant also made the total offense list with 326 yards – 59 rushing and 267 passing.
New Lothrop’s Julius Garza was among individual standouts from the 11-Player Finals, tying for fourth with 26 points scored – on four touchdowns and a two-point conversion – and also tying for fourth for touchdowns in a game, in Division 7.
West Bloomfield’s Jake Ward made all three kicking lists for 11-player, tying for third with two field goals in a game, ranking fourth for longest with a 45-yarder, and making the extra points list with five in the Division 1 Final. Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Jack Barlow tied for fourth on that extra points list with six in the Division 5 game.
The Lakers’ Donovan Edwards was another of the stars of the weekend, with his 257 yards rushing ranking eighth all-time for an 11-Player Final – and while coming on just 14 attempts in Division 1.
Montague’s Drew Collins made the 11-player passing yards list with 244, coming on 15 completions in the Division 6 game. Three of those went for touchdowns to teammate Samuel Smith, who tied the record held by nine others for touchdown catches in an 11-Player Final.
DeWitt quarterback Tyler Holtz tied for fifth on the passing touchdowns list with four in Division 3. Opposing quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski from River Rouge made the total yardage list with 321 – 94 rushing and 227 passing. New Lothrop’s Cam Orr also made the total yardage list with 344 – 122 rushing and 222 passing.
While quarterbacks starred in many cases, the run game was hardly left behind. In addition to Edwards’ performance for West Bloomfield, Clinton had the fifth-most rushing attempts in 11-player championship game history with 65, for 358 yards. Clinton also tied the record with just one pass attempt, with West Bloomfield tying for fifth on that list with two throws. Those two and Cadillac all tied the 11-Player Finals record by recording zero completions – they brought that all-time list to 21 teams that didn’t complete a pass in an 11-player title game.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Division 5 also became the 28th 11-player finalist to go an entire game without punting.
The Division 6 Clinton/Montague matchup also finished as one of the least-penalized in MHSAA 11-Player Finals history. The two teams combined for just 10 penalty yards, coming on one Clinton penalty. Montague was not penalized in the game.
Stories Behind the Scores
The Longest Season: Due to COVID-19, this season started on time, stopped, restarted, stopped again in mid-November, and restarted one more time with rapid testing the final week of December with playoffs ending over two weekends in mid-January. There are many reasons to want to forget the last year, and many much sadder circumstances. But the perseverance of all Fall athletes and families, coaches, administrators and support staff; along with the testing program provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, made for a memorable story that surely will be recalled for years to come.
First finishing 1st: West Bloomfield in 11-Player Division 1, DeWitt in Division 3 and Centreville in Division 8, and Adrian Lenawee Christian in 8-Player Division 1 all won their first MHSAA Finals in this sport. Cadillac in Division 4 and Frankenmuth in Division 5 made their first championship game appearances.
Edwards’ excellent ending: Edwards was slated to join University of Michigan’s football program as an early enrollee in January. But first, he wanted to finish his high school season, and career, with the Lakers. He led them to their first championship, with one of the top rushing performances in Finals history, and as arguably the biggest headliner from the weekend at Ford Field – likely gaining a few more fans along the way as well.
Many ways to win: As noted above, defense still works – four of 10 Finals were shutouts, and Centreville’s season-long performance was incredible. Also noted above, champions won both running and passing. But a final fun note on offense – seven of 10 champions this season scored 40 or more points in their championship games. That’s compared to two in 2019, five in 2018 and five in 2017.
(Click for more photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)