8 is More than Enough
December 16, 2011
Carsonville-Port Sanilac has been all in since the beginning of 8-player football as an MHSAA sport three seasons ago.
Rapid River made the switch just this season.
But heading into tonight's first-ever MHSAA Final for the sport, both programs can claim similar rewards from embracing this adjusted version of the state's most popular high school sport.
Despite small enrollments, they can still play the game. And although they've struggled at times in recent years, both teams are winning -- and reaping all of the community support and good vibes that come with success.
Both 11-1, Carsonville-Port Sanilac and Rapid River kick off for the championship at 7 p.m. at Northern Michigan's Superior Dome.
"We can't be happier to have the opportunity to play (8-player) this year. The added success has really brought our team together, and I hope it ends on a good note," Rapid River coach Steve Ostrenga said. "It's great for the kids and great for the community. You always talk about hard work. But when we were 1-8 ... the kids who have been through those tough times, I think they appreciate it more."
Both teams can value that statement.
Rapid River won one game each of the last two seasons and hadn't reached the playoffs since 2002. The school has roughly 120 students now -- 40-50 fewer than when it was having its last run of success near the end of the 1990s.
Carsonville-Port Sanilac went 0-9 before leading the charge into 8-player football in 2009. Although the Tigers had made the playoffs as recently as 2005, winning seasons for the team had been few and far between. But Carsonville-Port Sanilac went undefeated a year ago and beat Bellaire in an unofficial state "championship" game that matched the Tigers -- winners of the Mid-Michigan 8-man Football League -- against the winners of the Bridge-Alliance 8-man Conference.
"It's changed the whole culture of the school," said C-PS coach Tim Brabant, who is in his second season running the program and graduated from the school in 2006. "At first, a lot of people didn't buy into it. But as we went undefeated last year, and with what we've done this year, we've gotten complete community support and a buy-in across the board."
Recently, that's included 240 people showing up at last week's pancake breakfast to raise money for this weekend's trip to Marquette. Tigers supports also filled two fan buses headed to NMU.
Both coaches also listed a similar adjustment teams that play 8-player football must make: Strong open-field tackling is a must.
Although the field is only 40 yards wide -- instead of the usual 53 -- having six fewer players on the field opens up the offense significantly. Rapid River has scored more than 60 points four times and Carsonville-Port Sanilac put up 70 and 91 in games this fall. Both average 51 points per contest. Ostrenga grew up in Menominee -- known for its single wing offense that doesn't use a quarterback -- but has embraced a spread passing attack that allows for opportunities all over the field.
Both teams suffered their only losses when their quarterbacks were injured briefly in September. Depth always is an issue when numbers are low.
That said, success in this version of the game has planted some roots for the future. C-PS had 50 players out for elementary teams this fall and hopes to have enough down the road for a full junior varsity. Rapid River thinks the move to 8-player will help it sustain the program despite enrollment losses of the last few years.
And the historical context of tonight's game is not lost on either team.
"They understand that. We were the first team in the state of Michigan to have a full 8-man roster," Brabant said. "A lot of people thought we were crazy. These kids understand what's at stake."
(Photo courtesy of Carsonville-Port Sanilac football program)
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.)