Defensive Duo Spurs PHN's Historic Run

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 7, 2018

Gameplanning around Braiden McGregor seemed like a no-brainer coming into the season for Port Huron Northern’s opponents.

While avoiding the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior linebacker and defensive end is still pretty wise, it’s not exactly working thanks to the emergence of senior defensive lineman Maurice Powell and an overall outstanding supporting cast.

“I think it’s just the whole team – I don’t think it’s one person or anything like that. It’s just us working together as a team every day and every game,” said McGregor, who has 16 Division I college offers, including from the Big Ten’s elite and Notre Dame. “I don’t think they can really gameplan around one person, because we have another person that steps up and makes plays.”

The Huskies will play for their first Regional title Friday night at home against Warren DeLaSalle. With a pair of playoff wins and a Macomb Area Conference Blue title already under their belt, this already has been the most successful season in program history regardless of what happens against the reigning Division 2 champion.

That success can be attributed in large part to the Northern defense, which is allowing 11.6 points per game, its best effort since 2010 when the team allowed a paltry 9.8 per contest. 

“It’s been truly energetic throughout the whole wave of the defense,” Powell said. “We all feed off of each other’s energy, and we work hard in practice every day. We don’t give in, and we play hard every game.”

Powell has been a problem for opposing offenses all fall, as he racked up 75 tackles with 16 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (including one returned for a touchdown) during the regular season.

His outstanding season has led to interest from Division I and II collegiate programs. While he doesn’t have an offer yet, he has taken recent trips to Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan University. He’ll head to Northwood for an official visit in December.

“It’s been nice, of course to have the talent with those kids, and also the supporting cast they have around them,” Northern coach Larry Roelens said. “Those two guys right there are leaders, too. They come out and work just as hard as anyone else, if not harder than anyone else, and kids see that and they feed off it. It’s been amazing. The kids are buying in and feeding off each other, and the school and the staff and the students, it’s been phenomenal.”

Both players are versatile, and defensive coordinator Brett VanDrew has used Powell all over the defensive line, while using McGregor essentially everywhere but cornerback. Their abilities, along with the emergence of players like middle linebacker Austin Eagle (who had the game-clinching interception in overtime of the District title game against St. Clair Shores Lakeview), has made gameplanning that much more difficult for opposing offenses.

The defense’s play as a whole, meanwhile, has made things easier for Roelens, who calls the offensive plays.

“Knowing you have a good defense and knowing we run the ball 70 percent of the time, it helps control the game and dictate the clock, and that’s kind of how we’re built,” Roelens said. “We just kind of methodically make our way down the field and put some points on the board, and know our defense is going to hold strong. If we just keep chewing clock and playing field position, we’ll be all right.”

Neither player has shied away from the spotlight their success, and that of the team, has brought upon them. When asked if they have to block out all of the eyes that now are watching them on the field, both smiled and laughed it off.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Powell said. “You just have to make it happen. … You have to have fun while you’re playing.”

Both also realize the eyes on them aren’t just those of college scouts, but a younger generation of players in Port Huron. They’re excited to help show them the way.

“All this recruiting stuff has really helped out with bringing football back to Port Huron, especially with the younger kids like TAFL (Thumb Area Football League, the area’s youth program),” McGregor said. “My mom and dad’s friend, he’s a coach there and they all just want to be like No. 17 (McGregor), I guess. I went to a couple of their practices, and it’s cool, but I’m just happy that football is starting to pick up in the area again. I hope that next year, we can be a pretty big powerhouse again, then keep it going.”

The attention given highly-recruited prospects and a winning program also benefits the other current players on the team.

“Everything goes hand in hand,” Roelens said. “The more football games you win, the more exposure you’re going to get, and you have a good supporting cast of the other kids on the team that just keep working in the weight room in the offseason and the winter time, because they never know when they’re going to get seen, too.”

Northern’s next opponent – DeLaSalle – is no stranger to the spotlight winning and top recruits can bring to a program. The Pilots ended Northern’s season in the District Final a year ago and will be considered favorites by most Friday night, despite having to travel to Northern’s home field.

After spending the entire season playing as if everyone was watching, the Huskies feel they’re ready for the spotlight.

“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Powell said. “We’ll play anybody – we're not scared of anybody. We play with heart night in and night out, and we won’t back down from a challenge. We love challenges, and we live for stuff like this.”

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.

PHOTO: Port Huron Northern’s Braiden McGregor (17) and Maurice Powell celebrate a big play during the Oct. 5 21-14 win over Port Huron. (Photo by Delta Imaging.)

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.)