Detroit Embarks on Historical Weekend

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 27, 2015

DETROIT – Basketball used to be king in Detroit. Detroit Public School League teams like Detroit Cooley, Detroit Pershing, Detroit Southwestern and others won MHSAA championships and sent numerous players on to college to play at major universities like Michigan, Michigan State and others.

Recently the quality of basketball has taken a step back, and football has taken center stage.

This past March, Detroit Western International was the first PSL team to win the Class A boys basketball title since Pershing in 2009 and just the second since Detroit Central won the Class A title in 1998. This is a far cry from what is considered one of the glory eras in PSL history. From 1987-94, teams from the PSL won eight consecutive Class A titles.

(It should be noted that Detroit Renaissance did win Class B titles in 2004 and 2006, and Detroit Crockett also won the Class B title in 2001.)

In 2007 Detroit King was the first PSL team to win a football state title. For those outside of the city, it might not have meant that much other than a simple statistic. But for the PSL coaches who longed for respect statewide, King’s victory over Midland in the Division 2 Final was vindication.

When Detroit Cass Tech won back-to-back Division 1 titles (2011, 2012) a few years later, football fans across the state began to realize that what King accomplished in 2007 was not a fluke. Teams from Detroit were relevant statewide.

This weekend another first will take place. King will play for the Division 2 title (against Lowell) on Friday and Cass Tech will play for the Division 1 title (against Romeo) on Saturday. It’s the first time two PSL teams will play for MHSAA championships in the same season. Both games kick off at 1 p.m. at Ford Field.

The milestone is not lost on the coaches, Dale Harvel of King and Thomas Wilcher of Cass Tech.

Wilcher pointed to King and then-coach James Reynolds for taking the lead. King was the first PSL team to reach an MHSAA Final (1989 and 1990), and by doing so created instant credibility.

“King established what we could accomplish,” Wilcher said. “By winning the first state title, by winning both the PSL and then the state the same year.

“I don’t prepare my kids the same way. From day one I’m preparing for a state championship, Thanksgiving Day weekend, not for nine weeks. You have to condition a different way. You have to have a long-haul focus. The kids you started with might not be the ones you finish with. King High set that bar.”

Step aside for moment and realize what Wilcher said. Cass Tech and King is the most intense rivalry in the city. Emotions run high, and sometimes they boil over. But here is the coach from one team praising the other. In addition to the rivalry, there is mutual respect.

“It’s great,” Wilcher said of the two city powers playing for a title. “It’s great for the city.”

Regardless of what takes place Friday, Harvel said he, his staff and players will be at Ford Field in support of Cass Tech.

And Harvel said it’s not just about King and Cass Tech. What will take place this weekend will affect all PSL schools: their players, coaches, student body and alumni.

“It’s a factor with our school system,” he said. “It’s a pride factor even if you don’t play for Cass or King. The alumni for all public schools are represented.”

Harvel said even though most point to the 2007 championship season as a turning point, it was the teams that lost in the Class A Final in 1989 and 1990 that started it all. Some forget that back in 1989 there were just four MHSAA Finals champions, not eight, making King’s run all the more noteworthy. The next season the playoffs were expanded from four classifications to eight.

Coincidentally, each team has had two difficult playoff games and two one-sided affairs on their way to Ford Field. King (13-0) trailed Detroit U-D Jesuit, 24-21, in a Pre-District before winning, 35-24, and King led Detroit East English 7-0 after three quarters before pulling away for a 26-12 victory in a Regional Final.

Cass Tech (11-2) blew past its first two opponents by the combined score of 84-20. In the Regional Final it trailed Macomb Dakota 10-0 before coming back for a 16-10 victory. Last week, the Technicians held on to defeat Canton 48-41 on a snow-covered field at Troy Athens. Canton had possession on Cass Tech’s 40 for the last play of the game.

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.

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech (green helmets) and Detroit Martin Luther King, here in the Detroit PSL Final, give the league two MHSAA finalists for the first time. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)

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.)