Colon Finishes Perfect Season with 1st Title

November 23, 2019

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

MARQUETTE – It was a long trip for the Colon football team, driving all the way from near the Ohio border to the Upper Peninsula for the MHSAA Division 1 8-Player Final

But the Magi made the journey worthwhile.

Behind solid defensive play and the running of fullback Brandon Crawford – who finished with 205 rushing yards – Colon defeated Suttons Bay 26-14 to win its first Finals championship.

Colon head coach Robbie Hattan credited his defense and some thorough conditioning for pushing the Magi over the top. They intercepted four passes and returned one pick for a touchdown. 

“In the regular season, our first team defense didn’t give up a point,” he said. “So we get to the playoffs and obviously, when you get to the playoffs, you play at a different level. So we gave up 12 points, 12 points, seven points. Our defense has been the strength of our team.”

“We condition so much,” he said. “During camp, we have different military branches come in to push our kids. We had the Navy SEALs, we had the Army Rangers, Air Force Special Ops. These kids were putting in the work. We figured it out, and we ran 168 miles this season. It’s nuts how much we’ve ran, but we do that and the kids know it. We call it Monday run day. So Monday practices are no fun, but they reaped the rewards tonight and we still had legs in the fourth.”

Even though Suttons Bay’s trip up north fell short, head coach Garrick Opie praised his team for giving everything it had right to the end.

“The great thing about my team and the great thing about our kids, they don’t give up and they never have,” he said. “I think we’ve seen games like Gaylord St. Mary’s and other games being won in the last minute, and I think we still think that way until the last second.

“The one thing that I said to our team was I wanted each player to leave with an empty tank, and they did. So that’s all I can ask for. They did phenomenal.”

Trying to maintain a slim one-point lead at the start of the third quarter, the Magi (13-0) made a huge play defensively. With the ball deep in Suttons Bay territory, Crawford intercepted a screen pass from his defensive lineman spot and ran it into the end zone. After the extra point, the Magi led 14-6. 

After forcing a Colon punt, the Northmen answered on their third possession of the quarter. Quarterback Bryce Opie scrambled away from pressure and hit Hugh Periard with a 47-yard pass to the Colon 37. Later, on 4th-and-inches at the Magi 14, Opie sneaked up the middle to the 10. Two plays after that, he scored on a four-yard run. He also picked up the 2-point conversion, and the game was tied 14-14.

Before the end of the quarter, Colon used its rushing attack to march down the field. Crawford plowed his way from the Suttons Bay 43 to the 15, and three plays later quarterback Phillip Alva punched the ball into the end zone from the 1. However, a bad snap on the extra point forced the Magi to pass, and the throw was intercepted in the end zone. 

Suttons Bay (12-1) wasn’t shaken though. A 31-yard run from Camryn Knaub helped the Northmen to the Colon 6. But on fourth down, Opie’s pass fell incomplete ,and Colon took over on downs. Just two plays later, Crawford rumbled down the Magi sideline for a 94-yard touchdown. The conversion failed and Colon led by 12 with 7:36 left.

Suttons Bay had one last real chance to get back in the game after blocking a Colon punt with about six minutes remaining, but Jonathan West ended the rally with another interception.

“They just kept trying to push me out of bounds and didn’t really try to tackle me, so I just kept my feet going,” Crawford said of his touchdown. “I think that and the interception by Jonathan were the turning point. Those really helped us.”

“Brandon is a heck of a football player,” Hattan said. “That kid is going to be playing college football someday. He loves having the ball in his hands in big situations. We know we can rely on him, and he really took care of business today.”

While the second half was a little more explosive, the first half was fairly quiet offensively. Colon got on the scoreboard first on its second possession of the game, on a Crawford 24-yard run. With the extra point, Colon led 7-0 with 7:31 to go in the first quarter.

After forcing a Magi punt early in the second quarter, the Northmen started to generate some offense. Opie picked up a first down on a run from the Suttons Bay 49 to the Colon 38, and two plays late a costly Magi penalty moved the ball to the 23. On the next play, Opie threw a pass into double coverage in the corner of the end zone, but Lucas Mikesell adjusted and made a leaping catch behind both Magi defenders for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked though, and Suttons Bay trailed 7-6 with 8:26 left in the half – and the score stayed the same heading into the break.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Colon’s Brandon Crawford reaches for the end zone while a Suttons Bay defender attempts to prevent the score Saturday. (Middle) Suttons Bay quarterback Bryce Opie works to avoid Justin Miller’s rush. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)