Cass Tech Comes Back, Leaves as Champ

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 26, 2016

DETROIT – Mission accomplished.

Shortly after Nov. 28 of last year, the momentum toward an MHSAA championship began at Detroit Cass Tech. The Technicians had just lost to Romeo, 41-27, in the Division 1 Final, and the work began in the weight room for a return trip to Ford Field with the mindset that there would be a different outcome.

Rodney Hall, who did not play in the Semifinal and Final last season after suffering a severe left ankle sprain in a Regional Final, threw five touchdown passes to lead the Technicians to 49-20 victory over Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 championship game Saturday at Ford Field.

Donovan Peoples-Jones was a junior and starting receiver on the team that lost to Romeo, and he said the focus on this season began almost immediately.

“When you fall down you have to get back up,” he said. “As soon as we lost, we were heartbroken. You always come into a season wanting to win a state championship. Now that we won it, it’s a dream come true.”

Coupled with Detroit Martin Luther King’s victory in the Division 2 Final on Friday, Cass Tech’s victory marks the first time two teams from the Detroit Public School League have won MHSAA titles in the same season. Cass Tech and King each have won three championships.

The Technicians also finished their first undefeated season 14-0.

An injury also added drama to this year’s title game. Austin Brown, DCC’s sophomore quarterback, suffered a broken leg in last week’s Semifinal and was on the sideline in a wheelchair.

It’s unlikely that with Brown the outcome would have been different. Cass Tech played that well.

Hall was 10 of 18 passing for 220 yards, with one interception to go with the five scoring passes – which tied the MHSAA Finals record held by three others. Peoples-Jones had six receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Cass Tech rushed for 163 yards on 22 carries and did not punt. Hall gained 58 of those yards, on seven carries.

“I’m just excited to play out here,” Hall said. “It’s great to go out, throw five touchdowns. It was fun to play in this game.

“I came in (this season) a little timid to run. My coaches got behind and gave me confidence. I was able to run in the first game, but I was still timid.”

Cass Tech trailed 14-7 before Hall and the offense began to click.

He had a big hand in the Technicians’ second touchdown. His 7-yard run gave Cass Tech a first down at the DCC 46. On a 3rd-and-15, Hall scrambled for 27 yards, and then three plays later he threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Teone Allen to tie the score at 14-14 with 5:33 left in the half.

Less than a minute later, after a DCC punt, Donovan Johnson broke free on a counter play to the left. A number of Shamrocks defenders appeared to have an angle on Johnson, but he ran untouched for a 60-yard score.

“It meant a lot to the team,” Johnson said of the run. “It was a little hole there. I knew it was going to be open on the outside.”

Cass Tech led 21-14 at halftime and outgained DCC 211 yards to 108 by that point.

DCC was unsuccessful on an onside kick attempt to open the second half, and on the second play Hall threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Parker for a 28-14 lead.

Cass Tech scored touchdowns on its next two possessions to blow the game open.

“We planned that during the week,” DCC coach Tom Mach said of the onside kick. “We thought that was a good opportunity.

“We got it put to us pretty good today.”

DCC was making a record 17th appearance in the MHSAA Finals, after sharing the previous record of 16 with Farmington Hills Harrison.

It took the Shamrocks five seconds to score their two touchdowns. They went 73 yards in 15 plays to tie the score at 7-7 on Isaac Darkangelo’s 1-yard run. On the next play, the last of the first quarter, Jack Morris returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, and the Shamrocks led 14-7. Cass Tech then scored the next 42 points.

“We just stay focused,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said. “Everyone just stayed engaged. We knew we had to pass. We had to take advantage of what we had.”

This season, Cass Tech had a lot. Peoples-Jones is rated as the state’s top college prospect. Hall committed to Northern Illinois. Jaylen Kelly-Powell has committed to Michigan, and Johnson will take an official visit to Penn State next weekend and said he will make his decision soon between Penn State and Virginia Tech.  

Nick Capatina led DCC (13-1) with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Click for the full box score.

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall eludes a Detroit Catholic Central defender during Saturday's Division 1 Final. (Middle) DCC's Jack Morris sprints toward the end zone for a first-half score.

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.)