Big Stop Locks Up Chippewa Valley Title
November 24, 2018
By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – Ironically, it was Clinton Township Chippewa Valley’s defense which stole the show Saturday at Ford Field.
With just 23 seconds to play in the Division 1 Final, Clarkston scored to pull within one point of the Big Reds. Wolves coach Kurt Richardson, himself known statewide for defensive genius over 32 seasons leading the program, rolled the dice and went for a go-ahead 2-point conversion.
After a timeout, fullback Jake Billette took a direct snap and went left, then handed off to receiver Josh Luther running right, who was looking to either run or pass for the conversion.
But Chippewa Valley senior defensive lineman Michael Garwood read the play perfectly, stayed home on the reverse and then bull-rushed Luther for a four-yard loss, preserving the Big Reds’ 31-30 victory and first MHSAA football championship since winning Division 2 in 2001.
“A lot of people talk about our offense, but that was a huge defensive play right there, obviously,” said 10th-year Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant, whose team finished 14-0 and was known for its offense. “Michael Garwood, our defensive end, stayed home on the backside and really blew up that play.”
Garwood’s tackle for loss ended a valiant comeback for Clarkston, which was looking for its second consecutive Division 1 title and fourth in six years.
The Big Reds stunned the Wolves with two TDs in the first 6 minutes to take a quick 14-0 lead, and still led by that same margin, 24-10, at halftime.
The second half was a different story as Clarkston scored three touchdowns to just one for Chippewa Valley, but the failed two-point conversion attempt proved to be the difference.
“We’ve been aggressive forever here, and that’s the way we play football,” said Richardson, a 1971 Clarkston graduate who has turned his alma mater into a state powerhouse, explaining his end-of-game gamble. “We called a timeout, and we were all in on it. They defended it well, so what can I say? It was just a great high school football game.”
The Big Reds, champions of the Macomb Area Conference Red, were able to move the ball consistently against the vaunted Clarkston defense because of crafty senior quarterback Tommy Schuster and a bevy of dangerous weapons including Martice Bunting, Andrew Chenault and David Ellis.
Schuster, a 6-0, 195-pound senior, was a perfect 13-for-13 through the air for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He set the MHSAA Finals record for passing accuracy for players who have attempted at least 12 passes in one championship game, breaking the record of .846 set in 2011.
Schuster, who had a 36-yard scoring strike to senior Bunting in the first quarter and then a 25-yard scoring pass to Bunting late in the third which proved to be the game-winner, said all of the pregame talk about Clarkston’s defense motivated him and his offensive teammates.
“We definitely took it as a challenge,” said Schuster, a three-year starter who threw for 1,858 yards with 26 touchdown passes and only one interception this season. “Our gameplan was to come out strong and punch them in the mouth, get their attention, and then keep it up.”
Clarkston’s final drive began at its own 22-yard line with 2:28 remaining and the Wolves trailing, 31-24.
Senior quarterback Jake Jensen, outstanding himself with a game-high 121 rushing yards and 10-of-15 passing for 110 yards through the air, engineered a 10-play, 78-yard drive which culminated with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Matt Miller with 23 seconds left on the clock.
That set the stage for Richardson’s gamble on the conversion and the title-saving tackle by Garwood.
Clarkston actually finished with the edge in total yards, 347-320, including a 213-115 edge on the ground. The difference turned out to be Schuster’s perfect day through the air, as he averaged 16 yards per pass, and also one big special teams play.
After the Wolves closed to within 17-10 on a three-yard scoring run from senior Jacob Honstetter just 41 seconds before halftime, Chippewa Valley speedster David Ellis answered right back.
Ellis, who has committed to Indiana University, took the ensuing kickoff at his own 6-yard line and turned on the jets, sprinting 94 yards along the Clarkston sideline to up the lead to 24-10 at the break.
“I just wanted to make something happen,” explained Ellis, who has 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash. “I saw a hole to the left and just ran as fast as I could.
“Clarkston was one of the best defenses that we faced, but we just have too many players. You can stop one, but then there’s five or six others to worry about.”
Ellis added three receptions for 58 yards, and Bunting had three catches for 66 yards. Chenault was the leading rusher with 12 carries for 67 yards. Chippewa Valley’s defense was led by Ja’Von Kimpson with an interception, Myles Harris with eight tackles, Jonathan Zak with six and Garwood with five.
Billette had 11 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown for Clarkston. Luther had four receptions and Conor Donahue and Miller had three catches apiece. Max Nicklin, Aaron Berti, Brendan Barker, Zach Reid and Luther all made six tackles.
The game was the polar opposite of last year’s Division 1 Final, where Clarkston beat West Bloomfield by the baseball-like score of 3-2. That five-point affair was the second-lowest scoring game in Finals history, and Clarkston tied the record for most punts in the Finals with eight.
Just 2:26 into Saturday’s game, the Big Reds eclipsed last year’s total points on a three-yard run by Chenault, capping a six-play, 76-yard drive.
Saturday also was vastly different from Clarkston’s previous four playoff games, where the Wolves allowed a total of 16 points.
Chippewa Valley scored its 17th point early in the second quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Niko Kepi.
By then, both coaches knew it was going to be a whole different type of ballgame.
“This is a huge day for all of us, our football program and our community,” said Merchant. “I am thankful to all of these players for taking me on this ride. This is a special, very humble group of kids that always give credit to other people.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Chippewa Valley’s Andre Chenault (5) takes down Clarkston’s Jake Honstetter during Saturday’s Division 1 Final at Ford Field. (Middle) The Big Reds deny the Wolves’ 2-point conversion attempt to secure a 31-30 victory.
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.)