Dow Charged to Make Deep Playoff Run

November 10, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

MIDLAND — When Midland Dow football players looked at the playoff accomplishments of past Chargers teams, it felt like they were getting a lesson in ancient history.

There was the 1976 team that won the MHSAA Class A championship back when there were only two rounds in the playoffs. There was the 1997 squad that reached the Class A title game, winning three times in the postseason before losing to Farmington Hills Harrison at the Pontiac Silverdome.

And that's it.

For a program as consistently solid as Dow, it seems strange that only two teams in school history were able to win more than one playoff game.

"Sometimes it's matchups, sometimes it's getting a couple breaks to go your way," Dow coach Jason Watkins said. "When you get to this round of the playoffs, all the teams are going to be good."

So far, none of the teams in their path have been better than the Chargers.

They have made a task that has been difficult for past Dow teams look easy, winning 42-7 over crosstown rival Midland in the first round before beating Fenton, 41-14, in the District championship game.

"It's a big win for the development of the program," Watkins said after eliminating Fenton for the second time in three years. "Since 2010, this is our fourth trip to this round; we came away empty each time. It's nice to be able to finish that and get that District championship. It's a good landmark for us. Let's try to grow the program."

The 10th-ranked Chargers (10-1) will travel to second-ranked Walled Lake Western (11-0) on Saturday to play for the Regional championship.

"It's awesome," Dow junior quarterback Bruce Mann said. "We're gonna be on the board for a long time. People are going to be able to see us and remember us."

It hasn't been a lack of opportunities that has made this season's achievement so rare for Dow. Beginning with the unbeaten 1976 MHSAA championship team, Dow has 30 winning seasons in the last 40. The Chargers have made the playoffs nine times in the last 19 years.

They won their playoff opener each of the past two years and in three of the previous five years, but had their seasons end in the second round.

"It feels great," Dow senior receiver Justin Cook said. "I've been on two losing teams in the District Finals the past two years. The third time's the charm, I guess. It feels really good to finally get the (second-round) win. We're clicking at the right time. We're getting better each week."

Those currently wearing the green and gold of Dow are mindful of those who went before them, laying the foundation for such a strong program.

"It's huge for everyone that is involved, all of the past classes who didn't make it this far or got beat at this step," senior receiver Mike Robb said. "It's a big deal."

The season didn't begin like one that was shaping up to be special. The Chargers lost their opener to Mount Pleasant, 34-20. Not that there's any shame in that — the Oilers are 9-2 and still alive in Division 3.

In that game, Mann had only 26 yards of offense in the first half, as Dow fell behind 21-0 by halftime. He had 281 yards in the second half — and hasn't slowed up since.

It was Mann's first game in a Dow uniform after playing varsity as a freshman and sophomore for Bay City Western, where his dad, also Bruce Mann, formerly was the coach.

Led by Mann, the Chargers have scored at least 41 points in each of the last five games. Over that span, he is 81 for 109 (74.3 percent) passing for 1,451 yards and 24 touchdowns. For the season, he has 35 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in leading Dow to 10 consecutive victories.

"Coming into Dow, I had a bunch of friends, so it didn't take long to jell," Mann said. "It was just me calming down and realizing I'm not the only player and I have 10 other teammates behind me helping me succeed."

Mann has spread the wealth, throwing 11 touchdown passes to Robb, and nine apiece to Cook and Devontae Stine.

"Bruce has been picking up the offense each week," Cook said. "He's playing out of his mind. Every week, he's getting better. You can tell by the way he plays. He doesn't turn the ball over anymore."

Robb, the team's most dangerous receiving weapon, has become a dual threat in recent weeks.

Watkins moved him to defense for the regular-season finale against Midland. In that game, Robb returned an interception for a touchdown, in addition to catching four touchdown passes. In the playoff rematch a week later, Robb had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Robb's hot streak continued against Fenton, as he caught two touchdown passes, blocked a punt and grabbed his fourth interception in three games.

"Right time, right place," Robb said of his newfound knack for picking off passes. "I love playing football. Wherever coach wants to put me, that's where I'll play."

"He's always been a special teams and offensive player for us," Watkins said. "We only moved him up to defense two weeks ago. It's something we saw in the scheme of things and the teams we were playing against. There was an opportunity to use his athleticism and some of his natural instincts. He's been on a pretty good little run the last couple weeks."

The same could be said for the Chargers as a whole, as they attempt to further enhance their legacy.

Years from now, perhaps 2015 will be spoken of with the same sense of awe as 1976 and 1997.

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. 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.

PHOTOS: (Top) A collection of Dow defenders makes a tackle during a win this season against Flint Powers Catholic. (Middle) Chargers quarterback Bruce Mann has thrown 35 touchdown passes this fall. (Click for more from

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.)