DETROIT – Lucas Dunn just wanted to get the snap down.
After throwing an MHSAA Finals-record six touchdown passes Friday, the Chelsea quarterback would only have the ball in his hands momentarily on the final play of the game. But he knew if he handled his split-second duties, his friend Hunter Shaw would handle the rest.
“Just get it down,” Dunn said. “It was a shaky snap, but we practice special teams probably more than anybody in the state. We pride ourselves on it, and it’s come up big for us this postseason, and it showed there.
“(Shaw) is my dude, he’s one of my best friends, I love the dude. I have all the confidence in the world with him. He's a competitor, he’s confident, he’s composed, and he deserved that.”
Dunn handled the snap and Shaw drilled a 33-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 55-52 victory against Hudsonville Unity Christian in a dramatic Division 4 championship game at Ford Field.
“I just was like, ‘We’re state champs,’” Shaw said. “Obviously this team (Unity Christian) set the state record for most points (in a season), they’re a great team. Our defense showed up at the end, and we came back and won it. We’re state champs.”
The Bulldogs (14-0) trailed by three scores in the fourth quarter, but came all the way back to claim their first Finals title in a game that saw multiple MHSAA 11-player championship game records fall. Five of Dunn’s touchdown passes went to Lucas Hanifan, setting a record for receiving scores in a Finals game. The combined score snapped the record for combined points set by New Lothrop and Madison Heights Madison in 2018 (New Lothrop won that Division 7 Final, 50-44). Chelsea’s 55 points were one away from tying the record for a single team in a Finals game, and Unity Christian’s total ended up fifth all-time.
“It was ugly there, but you know what, we continue to fight every week,” Chelsea coach Josh Lucas said. “We never, ever quit, and that’s what tonight is about. It’s a high school game, you’ve got 16, 17, 18-year old kids, and no one wanted to win the game at the end – we turned it over, they turned over. Hats off to those guys, they’re a great team, but tonight the ‘Dogs are a little bit better, so we’re excited to be state champs. We’re going to have that trophy for one year, and that’s how we’re going to celebrate, for one whole year.”
Chelsea trailed 52-31 early in the fourth quarter, as Cameron Chandler scored his third rushing touchdown of the game for Unity Christian.
The Bulldogs responded with three touchdown passes from Dunn to Hanifan (21, 29 and 16 yards), with the last one coming with 4:43 to play after Braden Watson had recovered a fumble on the Unity Christian 19-yard line.
“It’s been a wild ride, just so many emotions,” Dunn said. “I lost my grandma a week and a half ago, right before the Country Day (Regional Final), and she was looking over me tonight.”
From there, the teams traded three turnovers, with Watson recovering another fumble with 2:23 to play, Drew Chandler getting the ball back with an interception with 1:11 to play, and Regan Plank giving the ball to Chelsea for good by recovering a fumble with 46 seconds on the clock at the Unity Christian 35.
Three plays later, Chelsea set the ball up in the middle of the field and let the clock run down to three seconds to give Shaw a chance to end it with one kick.
“Peashooter,” Lucas said. “He’s a straight dog. He’s done that all year. I think he’s got two misses all year, and those are on bad snaps or bad holds. He hadn’t missed one all year, so I knew if we got to the 20, 25, he had a chance to make it in. He’s a dog, man. That’s what dogs do, they step up when the big plays come.”
Unity Christian’s uptempo straight-T offense was unstoppable all season, and it remained that way through three quarters Friday. It finished with 803 points on the year, breaking the 11-player record of 774 set in 1999 by Muskegon Orchard View.
“(The championship) is why we came today, not for that stuff, but we came to get that trophy,” Unity Christian coach Craig Tibbe said. “It hurts right now. It’s hard to watch those seniors. When you spend that much time with a group of guys. Our prayers are for them that they’ll remember this in a good light at some time.”
While the end of the game was euphoric, Chelsea couldn’t have asked for a better start, as it made a 10-play, 80-yard opening drive look easy, and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Lucas Dunn to Lucas Hanifan. On Unity Christian’s first play from scrimmage, Chelsea’s Jason Skoczylas forced a fumble that was recovered by Carson Gray, giving Chelsea the ball at the Unity Christian 25. The Bulldogs cashed in with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Dunn to Cole Munson to take a 14-0 lead.
From there, Unity Christian (13-1) took better care of the ball and did what it’s done all season.
Ethan VanOtterloo scored on a 19-yard run to put the Crusaders on the board, and Jayden DeVries hauled in a 25-yard scoring pass from Cameron Chandler two minutes later. Two-point runs from Chandler and Micah Bush had the Crusaders in front 16-14 before what began as a disastrous first quarter had ended.
Early in the second quarter, the Crusaders made history. Drew Chandler scored on a 39-yard run, and Cameron Chandler’s two-point run made it 24-14, pushing Unity Christian beyond the scoring record.
Of course, the Crusaders weren’t done, scoring touchdowns on either side of a 26-yard field goal from Shaw to take a 38-17 lead into halftime. Cameron Chandler scored on a two-yard run, which was set up by an interception he had returned to the Chelsea 9-yard line. After the field goal, he found Drew Chandler for a 27-yard touchdown pass, capping off a 75-yard drive that took just 1:15.
Unity Christian had the ball for just 5:31 in the first half, but averaged 12.2 yards per play.
The Crusaders started the second half much like they ended the first, as Cameron Chandler scored on a 29-yard run in the first minute of the third quarter. That made the score 45-17 – a 28-point deficit that set the Bulldogs up to set the Finals record for largest comeback.
Chelsea responded with a pair of scoring drives, one capped by a 3-yard run from Trenton Hill, and the other an 11-yard pass from Dunn to Hanifan.
Hanifan finished with 139 yards on nine catches, while Dunn had 308 yards on 25 of 36 passing. Hill led the Bulldogs’ rushing attack with 149 yards, and Robert Tyson led the defense with eight tackles.
Drew Chandler led Unity Christian with 182 yards rushing, while Cameron Chandler had 112. He also added 98 yards passing, 73 of which went to Drew Chandler. Ryan Shinabery recorded 16 tackles for the Unity Christian defense, while Mitch Tibbe had 12 and Bush had 10.
Friday’s Final was the third-straight win clinched by Chelsea during the closing minutes. The Bulldogs defeated Detroit Country Day on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown during the final minute of their Regional Final, then stopped Freeland less than two yards short of the end zone late in last week’s Semifinal victory.
PHOTOS (Top) Chelsea's Gabriel Anstead (52) hoists teammate Lucas Dunn as the celebrate their team's Division 4 championship win Friday. (Middle) Hunter Shaw (18) connects on the game-winning field goal, with Dunn holding. (Below) Dunn unloads a throw; he would set the record for passing touchdowns in an MHSAA 11-Player Final. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
MHSAA.com's weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)