Division 6 Final: Play it Again, Yellowjackets

November 29, 2011

DETROIT – So began the legacy of Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith.

And so continues an incredible run by one of Michigan’s newest football powerhouses.

The Yellowjackets pushed their winning streak to 28 and claimed their second straight MHSAA championship by downing Constantine 42-14 in Friday's Division 6 Final.

They did so led by a number of last season’s top players, but minus their 2010 Final star. That’s where the sophomore Smith came in, joining the starting lineup in the season’s second week and bringing Ithaca back to Ford Field for another title.

“It’s more special just because this is the last time to suit up for most of us. We’re not going to be able to play another game next year, and we get to end on the biggest stage high school football has to offer in Michigan,” Ithaca senior linebacker/running back Garrett Miniard said. 

“I think it was almost a little jealousy of the seniors last year of being able do that, being able to go out on top. I think that kept us going throughout the season, throughout the offseason. Being able to have that luxury of going out on top just like they did.

Ithaca (14-0) hasn’t lost since its 2009 Semifinal against Montague. With two more wins to start next fall, the Yellowjackets can become the 14th team on the MHSAA record book list with at least 30 straight victories.

And Smith should be there to lead the way. He connected on 18 of 25 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown Friday, and ran for 43 yards and a score. Miniard rushed for 43 yards and two touchdowns, and had 14 tackles. And senior David Brown caught six passes for 122 yards and also ran for a score.

Smith followed the path this fall of another former sophomore starter at his position – Alex Niznak, who graduated in the spring, plays at Central Michigan now, but didn’t leave before leading the Yellowjackets to both their first Semifinal berth and MHSAA championship over the last two seasons. Niznak’s title game performance last season included 251 yards passing, 138 rushing and an MHSAA Finals-record five touchdowns running the ball.

Brown originally took over at quarterback this fall. But he was injured on opening night – after running for three touchdowns against Williamston – and missed significant time, allowing Smith to take hold of the offense. Smith finished his first varsity season with a not-too-shabby 2,310 passing yards, 969 rushing yards, and a combined 48 touchdowns throwing or running.

“Coach (Terry) Hessbrook told me to just go in there and do what I can do, and just play football,” Smith said. “I’ve got so many good athletes around me. I just need to get my players the ball and let them do what they can do.”

Ithaca twice had catching up to do in the Final, with Constantine (11-3) scoring first and then taking a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter – before the Yellowjackets rolled to 35 unanswered points.

“These kids had this goal since last year … of getting back here,” Hessbrook said. “We didn’t want Ithaca football to just be one and done, or a one-year wonder. And they’ve worked really hard.”

Constantine junior Ben Mallo did run 17 times for 189 yards and both scores. But the Falcons were without quarterback Tommy Reed, who was injured during last week’s Semifinal win over Ecorse. They played Ithaca to a 14-14 halftime tie before the Yellowjackets’ offense broke the game open.

“We’ve played offenses with that type of talent. Last week, for instance. And I’m sure Coach Hessbrook watched those films and saw some things he could do against us," Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. "It’s a lot different than what we do, and you saw we caused them a little bit of problems early in the game as well. We do our thing, they do theirs. They do their thing very well. We did ours well. We just weren’t quite there on a couple drives that ended short.”

Click for full stats and play-by-play.

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.)