Back-up QB Sails South to D4 Title

November 23, 2012

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — The Grand Rapids South Christian community wouldn't allow Derek Woltjer to feel nervous or unsure of himself.

As soon as it became apparent that he would start for injured star quarterback Jon Wassink in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game, Woltjer was bombarded with encouraging messages from fans, teammates and friends.

Wassink broke his collarbone a week ago in a Semifinal victory over Comstock Park. Later that night, Woltjer was told he would start the title game against Detroit Country Day on Friday at Ford Field.

"I felt awful that he couldn't play," Woltjer said. "He's one of the biggest parts of our team, but I was ready to step up. I had people calling me, giving me texts that night, telling me they believe in me, telling me they have full confidence, telling me they stand behind me. I was very blessed with the people in the community."

That kind of support had a calming effect on Woltjer, who accounted for four touchdowns in South Christian's 40-7 victory over Country Day.

Woltjer, a senior who played sparingly at quarterback this season, was 7 for 7 for 88 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 15 times for a game-high 136 yards and two scores.

"If I wouldn't have had all that (encouragement), my nerves today would've been just off the charts," Woltjer said. "I slept a good 10 hours last night. I wasn't nervous up until the kickoff today. With people behind you like that, it takes the nerves away from you quite a bit."

There was no need to shake off any rust for Woltjer, who marched the Sailors down the field on their opening drive and scored on a 13-yard run with 3:21 left in the first quarter. It became 14-0 when Woltjer hit Jason Miller for a 41-yard touchdown pass on South Christian's second drive with 9:13 left in the second quarter.

"I knew he had it in him," South Christian coach Mark Tamminga said. "I talked to Derek before the game, just me and him, and I said, 'Derek, you don't have to win this football game for us. Play within yourself and make the plays you know you can make.' That's what he did. He did a tremendous job."

The Sailors' coaching staff made sure the team didn't get down over the loss of Wassink, a sophomore who threw for 3,400 yards and rushed for more than 700 this season.

"I knew we could win this without Jonny," said senior receiver Austin Diekevers, who scored two touchdowns. "Our coach has been telling us all week that Jonny is only one person. We've got 57 kids on this team. It takes more than one person to win a football game."

The Sailors kept Wassink's injury under wraps all week. Country Day prepared to face a South Christian team that would throw the ball all over the field, but instead got a squad that ran 39 times for 291 yards.

"We kind of prepared for No. 12 (Wassink)," Country Day coach Dan MacLean said. "We've been in that situation. Once several years ago, our quarterback broke his arm in the Semifinals and we won a thriller. Credit to those kids. They showed a lot of resolve and I think they kind of play up for the guy who goes down. They played very well. We obviously didn't, but a lot of that was attributable to them."

Country Day's only touchdown was a 54-yard pass from Tyler Wiegers to Maurice Ways with 3:40 left in the first half, cutting the margin to 14-7.

The Sailors took that lead into the break, but seized control of the game with two touchdowns in a 1:28 span of the third quarter. Woltjer hit Diekevers with a 20-yard touchdown pass on a corner route to make it 21-7 with 7:54 left in the third. Chad Sterk, who ran 11 times for 103 yards, made it 27-7 after a quick three-and-out by the Yellowjackets when he took a punt 31 yards to the end zone. On the punt return, he was aided by a devastating block by Seth VanEngen, a block that elicited some "ooohs" when it was replayed on the large screens at Ford Field.

The rout was on when Woltjer broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left in the third quarter and Diekevers scored on a 6-yard run with 8:00 to go in the game.

"We probably ran the ball more than we've run the ball all year, there's no doubt about it," Tamminga said. "Derek ran the ball. Our running backs, our line played phenomenal tonight. They opened up holes for our backs and Derek."

It was the second MHSAA championship for South Christian, which also won the Division 4 title in 2002. The Sailors started the season 4-3 before winning their final seven games.

"I didn't think we'd win by this much, but I'm not surprised that we did win," Woltjer said. "We did very well today."

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian quarterback Derek Woltjer rushes for some of his 136 yards during Saturday's Division 4 Final. (Middle) South Christian players celebrate their MHSAA championship. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)