2011 8-Player Final: Carsonville-Port Sanilac Wins Inaugural Title

December 16, 2011

MARQUETTE – Carsonville-Port Sanilac sophomore Dan Rickett emerged from his team’s final huddle of this season, pulled close to an assistant coach and said, “This one says MHSAA this time.”

His Tigers also celebrated a championship last season – a perfect season in fact, but unofficial title because the MHSAA has not yet instituted playoffs for the now 3-year-old sport.

This year, the first playoffs were held. And that made Friday’s 59-20 win over Rapid River at the Superior Dome – and the trophy C-PS then received – mean so much more.

The Tigers are the first MHSAA 8-player football champions.

“All the people saying last year was nothing, this will shut them up,” C-PS senior quarterback Hayden Adams said. “It means a lot more because we actually had to make a run in the playoffs. It’s that much harder, and we had to play that much better every game.

“I think we topped it off at the end of the season.”

A total of 1,433 fans – most wearing Rapid River’s purple and yellow – cheered on the teams in the inaugural game. C-PS finished 12-1 overall to move to 21-1 in coach Tim Brabant’s two seasons. The Rockets finished 11-2 in their first season of 8-player.

The sport was added by the MHSAA in 2009 to provide another option for schools with enrollments so small they had difficulty fielding an 11-player squad. Playoffs were added this season after the necessary 20 schools announced they’d be sponsoring 8-player teams.

That was not lost on either team, even for Rapid River in the loss. The Rockets had won one game each of the last two seasons playing 11-player teams.

“We had never played in the postseason at all since I’ve been here,” Rapid River senior running back Jacob Berglund said. “To make it this far, it’s awesome.”

Offense has reigned in the early stages of the MHSAA 8-player game. The Final kept to that standard.

The teams combined for 901 yards. Adams completed 12 of 17 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns, and ran for 130 more yards and two scores. Two of his scoring passes were to his brother Trevor Adams, also a senior, including a 43-yarder on the second play of the game. Rickett ran for 78 yards and a touchdown on five carries, and also caught six passes for 133 yards and two scores.

The Tigers jumped out to a 19-0 lead and pushed it to 27-6 by the end of the first quarter. But in 8-player football, a 21-point advantage generally is not a safe one.

Rapid River outscored C-PS in the second quarter to get within 39-20 by halftime. After completing just one pass during the first quarter, Rockets sophomore quarterback Jake Pearson threw for 144 yards and two scores during the second.

But then something somewhat unimaginable happened. The Tigers held the Rockets scoreless the rest of the game.

“At halftime we made some adjustments on what we should do when they motioned. We picked it up real fast,” said C-PS senior linebacker Steven Koehler, who finished with a game-high 20 tackles, including 12 solos.

“I think that the fact they had 10 seniors, and the speed. They’re a year older, two years older in some cases,” Rapid River coach Steve Ostrenga listed as reasons his team had difficulties. “You get two more years of development in that respect as far as strength, and their speed was noticeable. I think that was the big key, their speed.”

Half of C-PS’s players were seniors who had served large roles on this and last season’s teams.

“It’s very fun to watch when we have a group of kids who are that athletic, hard working, and very polite. It’s hard for me to send these guys off,” Brabant said. “I get emotional just thinking about it. But … I know they’re going to be very successful in life.”

The Rockets, meanwhile, graduate just seven players, and also had seven freshmen and three sophomores this fall. Said Pearson, “It was a great learning experience. We know what we have to do for next year now.”

“Now all the teams are going to see what we do,” Adams said. “And they’re going to start doing all the things we do.”

Final Stats and Play-By-Play

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)