All Hands on Deck, P-W Earns 1st Title

November 26, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Jared Smith’s final football game in a Pewamo-Westphalia uniform ended Saturday how he’d always dreamed.

He waved his arms up and down during the final seconds, beckoning to the crowd for a final blast of cheers as he first hugged teammates, then hoisted up assistant coach Nathan Thelen and spun him around a few times for probably his longest carry of the Division 7 Final.

With that, the most successful decoy in MHSAA championship game history began celebrating the history-making event that’s always mattered most. 

It was apparent by halftime Saturday there would be no career rushing record for the Pirates senior back, who will graduate atop all-time lists in five other categories. He didn’t score this time and didn’t even lead his team in rushing. But the second-most traveled rusher in more than a century of Michigan high school football ended as a champion, drawing so much attention from opponent Detroit Loyola that his teammates could do the lifting in a 28-14 win at Ford Field.

“We have so many weapons on the team this year, so many tremendous athletes. … Teams are going to key on me just because of what I’ve done, and it opens up things for everybody else,” Smith said. “When everybody steps up, we’re hard to stop. 

“I’ve got no problem with how we win if we come out with the win. I said at the beginning that I don’t care about my records. I just wanted a state championship.”

That championship was the first in Pirates football history, coming in their third Finals appearance, the final victory of a perfect 14-0 run. They entered the playoffs ranked No. 2 in Division 7 and beat No. 1 Traverse City St. Francis, No. 3 Saugatuck and No. 4 Ubly on the way to Detroit before downing No. 5 Loyola.

Last season, P-W led into the final four minutes of the Division 7 championship game before falling 22-16 to Ishpeming. And the lessons from that day – plus the familiarity with this stage from that trip – clearly paid off for a team that returned nine starters on both sides of the ball and the second player to go over 8,000 yards rushing for his career.

Smith entered with 8,140 yards over four varsity seasons, only 291 yards shy of the career record set by East Grand Rapids’ Kevin Grady from 2001-04. But Saturday, Smith ran for a mere 48 on 20 carries, not even the most on his team – but enough to open up opportunities for the Pirates’ pair of quarterbacks, senior Ryan Smith and junior Jimmy Lehman. They orchestrated an attack that scored the second-most points Loyola had allowed in the playoffs over the last five seasons – second only to the 30 P-W scored against the Bulldogs in a Semifinal win last fall.

Ryan Smith led the Pirates in rushing with 81 yards and a touchdown, while Lehman was 6 of 8 passing for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns tosses to senior Logan Hengesbach. Lehman also added a touchdown run from a yard out with 5:05 to play.

That Lehman run score not withstanding, it’s been a little predictable which quarterback was going to do what. But with the Bulldogs keying on Jared Smith, it didn’t matter much. Lehman’s first touchdown pass came on play-action after a fake handoff to Smith. Ryan Smith’s running touchdown came after a fake dive up the middle to Jared, which drew the interior of Loyola’s defense as Ryan ran right two yards into the end zone.

“(The quarterback predictability) does speak to the play of our offensive line, which was solid today,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “When Ryan comes in, we’re reading some stuff, and we want to get him going with his legs, but Ryan can also throw the ball, hurt you through the air. When Jimmy comes in, it’s more of a passing look for us, and we use him as more of a blocker, but then today Jimmy got a big play for us at the end of the game with his legs.

“To both of their credits, for the last two years they didn’t care who was in, they didn’t care who was carrying the ball, what we were doing. They supported each other, and that’s an example of the brotherhood we had on this team.”

Loyola, a three-time finalist this decade and the champion in 2014, pushed to the end despite facing a three-score deficit with just under nine minutes to play.

The Bulldogs (11-3) got on the board with an 18-yard touchdown pass from senior Price Watkins to junior tight end Keith Johnson, followed by a two-point run by Watkins that made the score 21-8. After Lehman’s run touchdown, Loyola drew to the final deficit on sophomore D’Vaun Bently’s scoring run with 2:04 to play.

The Bulldogs’ late offensive start surely wasn’t helped by the absence of senior Malcolm Mayes, who didn’t play (and was reported earlier in the week to be injured). The usually run-heavy veer offense gained only 123 yards on 38 carries and 186 yards of total offense.

“They attack with the D ends. They really were crashing them,” Watkins said. “So it was hard to make those outside runs. We run a veer, and it’s outside – so they crashed down with the D ends, and basically stopped us from running our plays.”

Senior linebackers Nathan Smith and Devon Pung led the Pirates’ defensive effort with nine and seven tackles, respectively. The most impressive individual defensive performance, however, came from Loyola senior linebacker Kailen Abrams – he had 16 tackles, including 4.5 for losses, at one point taking down Ryan Smith two plays in a row to help force a field goal attempt that ended up no good.

Total, the Bulldogs had nine tackles for losses and a sack. But the Pirates just kept coming.

“Our plan going in there was more concerned with that quarterback read (by Ryan Smith) than Jared. I thought with our speed, I thought we could contain Jared, but we were concerned with the read with the quarterback,” Loyola coach John Callahan said. “And he did an outstanding job on the read. He rode that until the very end, tucked it and took it.

“We watched enough film on them to know they had some receivers, had some guys. Early on that first half, the kids made some big-time plays. … (But) they aren’t just Jared, and obviously you saw that.”

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard. 

PHOTOS: (Top) P-W quarterback Ryan Smith breaks a Detroit Loyola tackle during Saturday’s Division 7 Final. (Middle) Logan Hengesbach (5) and Garrett Trierweiler celebrate one of Hengesbach’s two touchdown catches.

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.)