Cass City Chases History in Rematch

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 8, 2019

Sandyn Cuthrell and his Cass City teammates have a simple way to make sure they are properly prepared for each game – treat every week like it’s Laker week.

As they prepare for their District Final, the Red Hawks won’t have to pretend, as for the second time this season, it’s actually Laker week. 

The Red Hawks will host archrival Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker at 7 p.m. Friday for the Division 7 Region 4, District 1 championship. The winner will advance to the Regional Final against either Madison Heights Madison or Detroit Loyola.

The win-or-go-home nature of the postseason adds more to this rivalry game, but it’s also a chance at some program firsts for the Red Hawks. A win would give them their first ever District championship and first ever 10-win season.

“This one, it’s probably the biggest game in Cass City history,” said Cuthrell, a four-year starter at quarterback for the Red Hawks.  “We’re not going to let it be ruined.”

Plenty is on the line, but what the Red Hawks have accomplished to this point already puts them among the best teams in school history. 

Cass City won nine straight games after a season-opening 16-14 loss against Montrose – a team that is still alive in the Division 6 playoffs – and won the Greater Thumb Conference West for the second straight season. 

It has also allowed 50 points. Total. All season.

“We’re not like huge; we’re all just super fast,” said Cuthrell, who also plays defensive back. “All these years building up to this year, we’ve been really heavy on the weight room every year. We’re all not huge guys, but we’re all really quick and fast. We can swarm to the ball, and there’s not a lot of big plays that can happen when the defensive backs are quicker than the receivers.”

Outside of the Montrose game, the Red Hawks haven’t allowed more than eight points in a game this season and had four shutouts. During six conference games, they allowed a total of 22 points. It’s the program’s best defensive performance since the 1950s.

“Coach does a really good job preparing us throughout the week,” junior running back and linebacker Alex Perry said. “We’ve been able to communicate with each other really well. The line gets a good push, so the linebackers can come in and clean it up. And the defensive backs shut down the pass.”

The offense has done its fair share, as well, averaging 40.1 points per game despite scoring just 14 in Week 1. So, while the defense’s numbers are eye-popping, most of the season has seen the Red Hawks be dominant in all phases.

“When you coach this long, hopefully you come across a team that gels really well, and that’s what happened this year,” Cass City coach Scott Cuthrell said. “We have a good group of kids, and they all get along really well on and off the field, and they all have a common goal. This is a group of kids that I’ve enjoyed going to coach every night.”

Players vouch for the camaraderie on and off the field and cited that as a main reason this year’s team has been special and capable of doing what no team at Cass City has ever done. 

“We’re more than a team. We hang out all the time,” Perry said. “This year, we just flow and really mesh together.”

Perhaps at no time this season did the Red Hawks mesh together as well as they did the first time they lined up against Laker. A 51-0 win in Week 4 marked the second-straight year Cass City had defeated its rival, but prior to the 2018 win, Laker had won nine straight in the series. 

“Last season’s win meant a lot to us,” senior halfback and cornerback Hadyn Horne said. “We’re 10 minutes apart, and it’s just a battle for our area. It’s always been a really big game around here, probably the biggest game in the Greater Thumb Conference. We know in the playoffs it’s pretty much like coming in with a 0-0 record. They’re going to be a lot better than what they were when we played them the first time. Obviously we beat them bad last time, but it’s all about who wants it more.”

The two teams have met twice in a District Final (2014 and 2017). Some of the current players were on the field for the 2017 loss, including Sandyn Cuthrell, who said it was “like getting stabbed in the heart.”

Not wanting to have that feeling again is quite the motivation, but so is making program history.

“That would mean a lot,” Horne said. “I think down the road, I’ll look back at that and know, ‘That was our team that did that.’”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cass City defenders including Alex Perry (44) pursue the Laker quarterback during this season’s first game against their rival. (Middle) Sandyn Cuthrell (6) breaks through the line for the Red Hawks. (Photos courtesy of the Cass City athletic department.)

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.)