1st & Goal: Playoff Week 4 Preview
January 8, 2021
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There are a lot of ways to describe what Michigan’s football contenders will restart Saturday, and how it will be talked about for years and perhaps generations to come.
But at the end of it all, it’s pretty simple: It’s great to be talking about the football playoffs again.
Consider this as much a catching-up as a preview of the 8-Player Semifinals and glances at many of the most intriguing 11-Player Regional Finals, all to be played Saturday. Be sure to also take advantage of the opportunity to quickly find your stride this weekend by tuning in, with every game to be streamed live thanks to a variety of sources – Click for the list of broadcasts.
Visit the MHSAA Football Playoff Home for the entire schedule for this weekend, scores as they come in and what’s next as we follow these long-awaited final few weeks of the season.
Martin (8-1) vs. Adrian Lenawee Christian (9-0) at Adrian College
Two seasons ago the Clippers stormed through a perfect regular season in their first of 8-player, and this season Lenawee Christian followed the same plan. The Cougars are averaging 200 yards rushing per game on more than nine yards per carry, with Jameson Chesser averaging better than 10 yards per carry on the way to 1,055 total. Martin’s only loss was a forfeit, and also led by a 1,000 rusher in Gabe Meyers, who is averaging 11.7 per carry for a team rolling up 300 yards per game on the ground.
NOTE: Suttons Bay will advance with Indian River Inland Lakes forfeit.
Marion (8-1) vs. Powers North Central (9-0) at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome
North Central is playing to reach the championship game for the first time since claiming back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, and the Jets are paced by an excellent defense and multi-threat quarterback Luke Gorzinski – he leads the team in rushing (791 yards, 16 touchdowns) and has thrown for 1,105 yards and 17 scores. Marion’s only loss came in its season opener to Mesick on the way to the program’s first Semifinal since 1992. The Eagles also mix tough defense with dynamic quarterback play, with Mason Salisbury piling up 1,260 yards and 19 TDs rushing and 614 and 10 scores passing.
Kinde North Huron (8-1) vs. Portland St. Patrick (9-0) at Portland High School
Portland St. Patrick has been as close as anyone to winning a championship lately, with this its fourth-straight Semifinal and fifth of the last nine seasons. The Shamrocks defeated reigning Division 1 champion Colon 44-34 to advance to this round this time. This is North Huron’s second Semifinal appearance in four seasons after the Warriors fell to St. Patrick in a 2017 meeting to reach the championship game. North Huron’s only loss this fall was to a Mayville team that fell to Lenawee Christian in the Division 1 Regional Finals.
Detroit Cass Tech (9-0) at Belleville (9-0)
Five of eight teams remaining in Division 1 are undefeated, and this is one of two matchups of unbeaten teams. The Tigers have won two straight Regional titles, while the Technicians are seeking their first since 2017 but have won eight over the last decade. Yet despite their shared elite success over the last five seasons especially, this will be their first matchup at least in modern history. Belleville will see how its offense, averaging 51 points per game, stacks up against a Cass Tech defense giving up slightly more than seven.
Other Regional Finals: Saline (8-1) at Rockford (7-0), Detroit Catholic Central (9-0) vs. Davison (9-0) at Lapeer, Romeo (5-4) at West Bloomfield (8-1).
Muskegon Mona Shores (9-0) at East Lansing (8-0)
The reigning Division 2 champion Sailors must hit the road as they seek their third consecutive Regional championship. They went into the pause with two straight one-score wins and take on a Trojans team that has given up more than one score in a game only once. East Lansing’s wins all have come by double digits, but its offense must play a big role again as Shores will present the impressive defense its toughest challenge this season.
Other Regional Finals: North Farmington (7-2) vs. Traverse City Central (8-1) at Thirlby Field, Oak Park (4-5) at Livonia Churchill (6-2), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (5-4) at Warren Mott (7-1).
River Rouge (7-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (6-3)
These two matched up for one of the most memorable playoff games of 2018, as King won 7-6 in a Division 3 opener on the way to claiming the championship in that division a month later. King moved to Division 2 last season and fell to Mona Shores in the Final, while Rouge claimed the Division 3 title. As they meet again, the Panthers are hoping to find their November momentum; after losing the East Lansing in Week 5 they ran off four straight shutouts at the front end of a dominating run. King may be their toughest challenge again, having lost only to Shores and twice to Cass Tech.
Other Regional Finals: East Grand Rapids (6-3) at Muskegon (8-1), Flint Kearsley (6-3) at Chelsea (9-0). DeWitt will advance with Stevensville Lakeshore forfeit.
Grand Rapids South Christian (8-1) at Edwardsburg (8-0)
The only loss between these two this season was South Christian’s one-point defeat versus Division 5 contender Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Otherwise, neither has faced a single-score game – the Eddies are giving up just a single score per game, on average. Before playing in Division 3 last season, Edwardsburg won Division 4 in 2018 and was runner-up in 2017. But the Sailors may be the team remaining in Division 4 best equipped to match the Eddies’ high-powered attack; the last time South Christian was this potent on offense, it won the 2014 Division 4 title.
Other Regional Finals: Ada Forest Hills Eastern (6-3) vs. Cadillac (6-2) at Traverse City's Thirlby Field, Milan (8-1) vs. Williamston (8-1) at Lansing Catholic, Detroit Country Day (6-2) vs. North Branch (9-0) at Lapeer High School.
Marine City (8-1) at Frankenmuth (9-0)
The Eagles have been looking to break through with three Regional titles over the last four seasons, and the they outscored their first three playoffs opponents by a combined 139-26. That included a 28-0 District Final win over Almont, last season’s Division 5 runner-up. Marine City opened the postseason similarly, outscoring its first three opponents by a combined 121-28 – and that only loss was a forfeit taken Week 9.
Other Regional Finals: Muskegon Oakridge (7-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (8-0), Grosse Ile (6-3) at Lansing Catholic (7-2). Freeland will advance with Reed City forfeit.
Montrose (8-1) at Montague (9-0)
After missing a trip to Ford Field by a one-point loss in last year’s Semifinal, Montague has steamrolled through the majority of this season – only Whitehall in Week 8 (34-31) has given the Wildcats a close game. Montrose’s consistency, meanwhile, deserves more attention – the Rams are picking back up their 11th-straight winning season and hoping for a second Regional title in three seasons. The lone loss this fall was to rival New Lothrop, still rolling in Division 7.
Other Regional Finals: Negaunee (6-3) at Grayling (6-3), Michigan Center (6-1) at Constantine (8-1), Clinton (8-1) vs. Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-0) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
Cass City (9-0) vs. Ithaca (9-0) at Brighton’s Legacy Center
Ithaca has had to navigate one of the most uneven playoff runs of an uneven season all around, with two of its three wins so far coming by forfeit. But the other was a 41-0 victory over Ravenna, and the Yellowjackets have put up an average of 49 points per game, an improvement of 17 ppg from a year ago. Cass City’s run-up to this game was more eventful, as it eliminated previously-undefeated Sandusky and then Hemlock in successive District games. Doing the same this week to Ithaca would put the Red Hawks in the Semifinals for the second-straight season.
Other Regional Finals: New Lothrop (8-0) vs. Detroit Loyola (8-1) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley, Jackson Lumen Christi (5-4) vs. Schoolcraft (8-1) at Portage Central. Traverse City St. Francis will advance with Oscoda forfeit.
Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-0) vs. Iron Mountain (8-1) at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome
Viewing from the statewide lens, this might be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. The Cardinals went into the pause with a 28-21 win over 2019 Division 8 runner-up Beal City, their only game closer than 30 points. Because of forfeits, Iron Mountain has played only three games on the field – but two of those three were double-digit District Semifinal and Final wins. The Mountaineers are playing to make the Semifinals for the second-straight season as well.
Other Regional Finals: Carson City-Crystal (6-1) at Ubly (7-2), Sand Creek (8-1) vs. Centreville (8-0) at Portage Central, Petersburg Summerfield (4-5) vs. Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-0) at Legacy Center.
PHOTOS: Championship contenders East Lansing, on defense, and River Rouge met Sept. 25, with the Trojans winning 21-6. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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:
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.)