Big Plays, Crucial Stops Drive Lansing Catholic to Latest Finals Fame
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
November 26, 2021
DETROIT – The Lansing Catholic defense spent the postseason nearing its peak performance.
In Friday’s MHSAA Division 6 Football Final, the Cougars reached it.
They forced five turnovers and shut down a powerful Warren Michigan Collegiate run game on their way to a 16-6 victory at Ford Field.
“Our defense is just something special. It’s a true brotherhood,” Lansing Catholic senior linebacker Mason Knippen said. “We just really started clicking as the playoffs started. Going into the season, we wanted to be a physical defense. We preached that through camp, and I think we really stepped that up as we progressed through the playoffs. We really were physical with the run and everything.”
The title was the third for Lansing Catholic (13-1), and second in three years, as it won Division 5 in 2019.
“It’s awful special, but credit (former coach) Jim Ahern for bringing in this system, and credit these guys – these guys are all like my sons,” said first-year Lansing Catholic coach Jim Baker, whose son Joey was the team's starting quarterback. “I’ve coached them since basically kindergarten, and they’re all my sons. It’s just that (Joey) happened to be the quarterback, but I love all these guys to death. It’s special just to be the head coach of these unbelievable men.”
To win title No. 3, Lansing Catholic needed to hold off a suddenly explosive Michigan Collegiate passing game in the fourth quarter, and it did so with big plays of its own. Four of the final five Michigan Collegiate drives ended with a turnover, as Brandon Lewis, Dan Shipman and Knippen each had an interception, and Jack Jacobs forced and recovered a fumble. Knippen’s interception sealed the victory with 1:36 remaining in the game.
Lansing Catholic gave up only 40 points, or eight per game, during its playoff run.
Neither team could get much going for much of the first half, and for Lansing Catholic that meant some great field position going to waste. Lansing Catholic started four of its first five drives in Collegiate territory, but didn’t get on the board until Jonah Richards hit a 20-yard field goal with 4:58 to play in the second quarter.
“I’m so proud of (the defense). They played so hard,” Michigan Collegiate coach John Guth said. “They were out there a long time. We were trying to give certain individuals some breathers, but they were just really grinding it out. They knew what they had in front of them, they knew how explosive they were, but, man, they played so good. They kept us in the game.”
The offense started clicking for Lansing Catholic on its next possession, as it drove 72 yards on eight plays in just 1:18 to take a 9-0 halftime lead, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Joey Baker to Owen Biergans.
Michigan Collegiate (11-3) had a much tougher time of it, recording two first downs and 53 yards of offense in the first half despite holding a slight edge in time of possession.
Lansing Catholic extended its lead to 16-0 late in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run from Baker, and it was the defense that had a big hand in that one, as well. The drive started on the Michigan Collegiate 27-yard line after an interception and return by Shipman.
Based on the tenor of the game up until then, 16 points seemed like enough, but the Michigan Collegiate offense found some life on the ensuing drive thanks to some big plays in the pass game. That included a 37-yard touchdown pass from Deion Black to Trevon Redding in which Redding caught the ball between a pair of Lansing Catholic defenders, and lunged into the end zone with one on his back. The two-point attempt failed, leaving it a two-score game at 16-6, but the 80-yard drive more than doubled the Michigan Collegiate total yardage up to that point.
Black finished with 220 yards on 10 of 26 passing. Redding led the receivers with four catches for 97 yards. Alfonso Gray III had a pair of interceptions for the Michigan Collegiate defense, while Black, Elijah Bush and Teshawn Thomas each had nine tackles.
Biergans led the Lansing Catholic defense with 11, while Knippen had eight. Baker finished with 181 yards on 17 of 39 passing. Senior Alex Watters caught six passes for 78 yards, and Biergans caught seven for 69.
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its second championship in three seasons Friday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Cougars’ Brandon Lewis (24) cuts upfield as Michigan Collegiate’s Alfonso Gray III (3) gets in position to make contact. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)