Chippewa Valley Leads Macomb Charge

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 8, 2018

CLINTON TOWNSHIP – Since winning the Division 2 title in 2001, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley has played in the shadow of traditional Macomb County powers Macomb Dakota, Romeo, Sterling Heights Stevenson and Utica Eisenhower. 

Before this season, Chippewa Valley’s record against those four schools over the last 17 years was 26-52. The Big Reds did own a 10-8 record against Stevenson, but twice Stevenson reached MHSAA Finals while Chippewa Valley’s best showing since its championship season was a Semifinal appearance in 2003.

That trend started to change in 2017 as Chippewa Valley went 4-1 against these teams (including a second win over Dakota in the playoffs). This season, the Big Reds took another step forward posting a 6-0 mark and capturing their first outright title in the Macomb Area Conference Red.

And for the first time in program history, Chippewa Valley is 11-0. The Big Reds were 9-0 in 1975, the first season the MHSAA sponsored state playoffs, but did not qualify for the postseason (only four teams in each of the four classifications were selected for the playoffs that first year).

Scott Merchant is in his 10th season as head coach at Chippewa Valley, and the Big Reds have made the playoffs eight times during his tenure. These past two seasons have been his best by far. Last season, Chippewa Valley finished 10-2 losing to Detroit Cass Tech, 32-26, in a Division 1 Regional Final.

Most expected a rematch of that game this week. But Dearborn Fordson (10-1) upset Cass Tech last week, 41-14, and Chippewa Valley will host Fordson in the Division 1 Region 4 Final at 7 p.m. Friday. The teams have met just once before – and that game, in 2003, also took place in a Regional Final with Chippewa Valley claiming a 30-12 victory.

Merchant’s team is experienced, confident and loaded with talent. He has four three-year starters and eight seniors starting on defense.

“Dakota set the bar for the whole conference,” Merchant said of Chippewa Valley’s sister school (both are in the Chippewa Valley school system) and biggest rival. “In the mid- to late 2000s they had like five or six Regional titles. Our streak of losing to Dakota started in ’04, and I didn’t get here until ‘09. It was huge for us to win in 2014. It was the first time we beat them in 10 years. That was a big weight being lifted.”

When a team loses so often to another, especially a rival, the losses and the years often run together. For the record, here’s how bad it got for the Big Reds:

Beginning with a 7-0 loss to Dakota in a Division 1 Regional Final in 2004, the Big Reds lost 16 consecutive games to Dakota, and only six of the 16 were by 10 or fewer points. A 28-27 victory in a 2014 District Final ended this streak.

One loss stung most. In 2013, both teams were 7-0 and state-ranked. Dakota won 52-7.

“To this day I can’t explain what happened,” Merchant said. “It was one of the most disappointing losses I’ve had. A lot of it was mental.”

The tables have turned. Chippewa Valley has won five of the last six in the series and is two wins this month from reaching what would be the program’s second MHSAA Final.

The Big Reds’ success last season gave the players confidence and also fed their appetite for more. The 2017 team scored a school-record 463 points, and this season Chippewa Valley has scored 445.

The productivity is similar, but the means by which the offense this season has been successful is different. There’s a difference in personality. Last year Chippewa Valley was more of a finesse team that concentrated on the passing game. This team is more physical and its offense is geared more for the run, which is often more effective in November playoff games.

Quarterback Tommy Schuster is a three-year starter who threw for 3,100 yards over his first two seasons. His numbers (1,400 yards) are down a tad this season, but he’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and just one interception. Schuster also is carrying the ball more as he showed last week by rushing for 60 yards in the 51-10 victory over Dakota.

This added dimension has become a fine complement to the Big Reds’ top two running backs, Andre Chenault and Ja’Von Kimpson. Chenault is the team’s leading rusher with 888 yards and 13 touchdowns on 107 carries while Kimpson, who also starts at cornerback, is more of a featured back in 3rd down situations. He’s scored nine touchdowns rushing and one receiving.

“Our run game has been dominant all season,” Schuster said. “The offensive line has gotten better and better. It took a little time. They’re all (first-year) starters, and they’re confident now.”

Replacing the entire offensive line was the main concern for Merchant and his staff coming into this season. With just one senior, this group grew up fast. In the opener, Chippewa Valley trailed Saline 13-0 before the offense began to click and the Big Reds won 31-26. Senior captain Ryan Cyrowski, the center, is the leader and juniors Charles Wesley, the left tackle, and Donovan McBride, the right guard, have developed nicely. The Big Reds rushed for an-eye-popping 445 yards last week.

Merchant’s top two players could well be linebacker Marcel Lewis, who also sees time at tight end, and David Ellis. Ellis rarely comes off the field as he starts at receiver and defensive back and is a dangerous kick returner. He has 33 tackles on defense, five rushing touchdowns, six receiving scores, three more on kickoff returns and he’s returned a punt for a touchdown.

“We don’t have any weaknesses,” Schuster said. “This team, all year, hasn’t panicked. We’re ready for whatever happens. Last year’s team was like that, too. The reason we’ve been so successful (the past two seasons) is we have great players and great coaches.

“Playing quarterback on this team is a lot of fun. There’s so many options. If the run game isn’t working, we have no problem throwing the ball.

“I’ve grown up a lot over these three years. I’ve gotten to work on my speed, and I’m able to help the younger guys out too. It’s easier for me now. There’s nothing that’s new to me.”

The experience Schuster and many of his teammates have is a big reason Chippewa Valley has come out on top in a number of close games. In addition to the victory over Saline, the Big Reds held on to defeat Romeo (41-34) and Dakota (24-17) during the regular season. All three of those games were on the road.

“We’ve had way more close games this year than last,” Merchant said. “It’s been great to see the program grow.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Chippewa Valley’s defensive front lines up against Utica during a 49-0 Week 9 win. (Middle) David Ellis (8) follows his blockers into an opening against Utica Eisenhower in a 34-7 first-round playoff victory. (Photos courtesy of the Chippewa Valley 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.)