Drive Complete: 2017 Finals in Review

November 27, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

Every November, the MHSAA Football Finals give players, coaches and fans an opportunity to see what everyone else has been talking about.

These last two weekends were no different. We saw powers restored and others emerging. We witnessed two first-time winners finish perfect seasons and another champion win for the fifth straight year. We enjoyed performances from some of the talented stars we’d only read about, and encores by others returning to the championship round – including the now-winningest coach in Michigan high school history.

Second Half covered all 10 championship games last weekend at Ford Field and two weekends ago at the Superior Dome, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2017 Finals.

Finals in Review

11-Player Division 1: Clarkston 3, West Bloomfield 2

This one had an intriguing circumstance from the start: West Bloomfield, playing its first Final, had tied for first and Clarkston finished third in the Oakland Activities Association Red during the regular season with the Lakers beating the Wolves 37-16 in Week 4. The rematch ended with the second fewest points scored in MHSAA Finals history.

11-Player Division 2: Warren DeLaSalle 41, Livonia Franklin 6

DeLaSalle took its lead 16 seconds into the game on a fumble return touchdown and never slowed down in winning its second championship in four seasons. Franklin, playing in its first title game since 1975, had turnovers on three of its first four possessions (and a turnover on downs to end the other one) and never got rolling again.

11-Player Division 3: Muskegon 28, Farmington Hills Harrison 10

Muskegon won its first championship since 2008 after finishing runner-up four of the last five seasons. The Big Reds finished one of the most impressive runs in recent playoff history, winning on average by 37 points over its five postseason victories. Harrison – led by all-time winningest coach John Herrington – did give Muskegon one of its toughest tests.

11-Player Division 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Edwardsburg 31

After winning a 2016 Division 4 title game that saw only 17 points scored between the two teams, GRCC repeated in a game featuring 73. The Cougars came back from an early deficit as standout running back Nolan Fugate put together one of the top rushing performances in Finals history. The Eddies were playing in their first championship game and made this arguably the most entertaining of the weekend.

11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 34, Saginaw Swan Valley 7

Grand Rapids West Catholic tied two more programs by winning its fifth straight MHSAA championship, jumping out to a 34-0 lead led by three-year quarterback Gaetano Vallone and a number of others who have contributed to multiple titles. Swan Valley was making its first Finals appearance, but will be a strong candidate to return next fall.

11-Player Division 6: Jackson Lumen Christi 40, Ithaca 34

What was expected to be one of the most competitive Finals didn’t disappoint, as the Titans came back from a 13-8 halftime deficit to repeat. They put up some of the biggest rushing numbers in championship game history to offset the dual danger posed by Ithaca quarterback Joey Bentley, who threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Yellowjackets worked for a chance to win.

11-Player Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia 21, Saugatuck 0

These teams met in the playoffs for the third straight season but first in a championship game. P-W, despite losing quarterback/defensive end Jimmy Lehman to a hand injury near the end of the second quarter, hung on through a scoreless second half to repeat as champion.

11-Player Division 8: Ottawa Lake Whiteford 42, Saginaw Nouvel 21

Whiteford returned after finishing runner-up in 2016 to claim its first MHSAA football championship. The Bobcats got on the board before the first minute was over and totaled 484 yards as quarterback Thomas Eitniear and running back Logan Murphy both ran for three touchdowns.

8-Player Division 1: Central Lake 32, Deckerville 30

Central Lake came back from 2-7 last season, its last in 11-player, and 10 points down during the second half of this game to win its first MHSAA football championship and first in any sport since 1980. The Trojans went ahead to stay with 2:49 to play.

8-Player Division 2: Crystal Falls Forest Park 54, Portland St. Patrick 12

The Trojans claimed their first championship since 2007 and first as an 8-player program, but in similar style as their 11-player winners. Forest Park ran for 481 yards and built a 30-point lead by halftime.

Record Report

Clarkston’s three points against West Bloomfield tied the record for fewest by a winning team (with Ann Arbor Pioneer’s 1987 team) and the five points scored between the teams ranked as the second fewest for a Final. The two also combined to tie the record for most punts, with 14, with Clarkston’s Jermaine Roemer tying the individual Finals record with eight.

Brandan Madigan made the “quickest touchdown” list by returning a fumble return 13 yards for a touchdown 16 seconds into Warren DeLaSalle’s Division 2 win. Warren DeLaSalle also tied for the third-most points in a quarter, putting up 31 during the second in its win over Livonia Franklin.

Warren DeLaSalle’s Riley Garrison and Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Liam Putz both drilled two field goals, joining seven others who have done the same (two hold the record at three field goals). Garrison also made the extra points list with five on five tries.

Farmington Hills Harrison broke the record it previously held with Detroit Catholic Central by playing in an 18th MHSAA championship game, this its first since 2010. The MHSAA Football Playoffs began in 1975.

Muskegon sits 11th with 10 MHSAA Finals appearances and moved up to tied for 10th with six championships. La’Darius Jefferson earned multiple entries with his 245 yards and four touchdowns rushing, tying for fourth-most points (24) in one Final, third most total touchdowns and also rushing touchdowns in a game and eighth most rushing yards.

Harrison’s Ben Williams earned entries for his 91-yard opening kickoff touchdown, both among the longest kickoff returns and fastest touchdowns (16 seconds into the game) scored in a Final.

Nolan Fugate capped his career with one more jaw-dropping rushing performance. The Grand Rapids Catholic Central running back ran for 306 yards, one shy of tying the Finals record, and his 392 total yards ranked seventh all-time. He did tie Finals records with five touchdowns and 30 points and tied for third with four rushing scores. Kicker Alec Winden tied for the fourth-most extra points making all six of his tries.

Edwardsburg also took home two Finals records, as Nick Bradley tied the longest running play with a 90-yard touchdown dash; his run equaled Nick Williams’ for Farmington Hills Harrison in 1994. Caden Goggins tied the 2014 record set by Tommy Scott of Muskegon Catholic Central by bringing a kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown.

Grand Rapids West Catholic moved up lists with its eighth MHSAA Finals appearance and sixth championship, and into a first-place tie with a fifth-straight title. Farmington Hills Harrison 1997-2001 and East Grand Rapids 2006-2010 also won five consecutive Finals. Grand Rapids Catholic Central also moved up the Finals appearances list with its seventh, while Jackson Lumen Christi is tied for eighth most with 12 and Ithaca added its seventh as well. Lumen Christi’s championship was its 10th, good to tie for the sixth-most titles.

Jackson Lumen Christi became the third team to rush for more than 500 yards in a Final, its 514 yards the third most and its 67 carries second. Sebastion Toland ran for 244 yards – ninth-most by one player – and teammate Kyle Minder made that list with 206 yards. The team’s 523 yards of total offense tied for fifth most, and its 24 first downs tied for eighth.

Ithaca’s Joey Bentley made his last game another great one, even in defeat. His four touchdown passes tied for fifth-most in a championship game, and his 329 total yards of offense – 89 rushing, 240 passing – also earned a record book entry.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s offense impressed to open Finals weekend, tying for third with six rushing touchdowns and becoming the latest of 24 teams that did not punt in a championship game.

Crystal Falls Forest Park set an 8-Player Finals record with 481 yards on the ground, rushing 52 times without throwing a pass. Peter Ropiak had the second-most yards in one game, 275 on 16 carries, while backfield mate Connor Bortolini was added for scoring 26 points on four rushing touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Ropiak’s total yards also qualified in the total offense category, and the team’s eight rushing touchdowns also set a record.

Central Lake made the rushing list with 316 yards in its 8-Player Division 1 win over Deckerville, and also the first downs list with 21.

Portland St. Patrick’s Colin Cook was added for seven punts in the 8-Player Division 2 game against Forest Park. Cook averaged 34.1 yards per punt with a long of 63.

Stories behind the scores

Repeat again: For the second straight season, there were four repeat champions at the 11-Player Finals – this time, as noted above, Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Division 4, Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5, Jackson Lumen Christi in Division 6 and Pewamo-Westphalia in Division 7. Also noted above, West Catholic next fall will attempt to become the first team in MHSAA football history to win six straight titles.

First-time celebrations: Ottawa Lake Whiteford in 11-Player Division 8 and Central Lake in 8-Player Division 1 claimed their first championships, showing off powerful running games against opponents who had won championships previously – Whiteford over Saginaw Nouvel and Central Lake over Deckerville.

Running ran the day(s): In an era of wide-open spread offenses, power running ruled the 2017 Finals. Start with Whiteford and Central Lake mentioned above; Crystal Falls Forest Park set an 8-Player Finals record for rushing while Jackson Lumen Christi put rushers on the all-time record book list for the second straight season. Muskegon threw two passes and didn’t complete any in running away in Division 3, and the Division 4 Final between GRCC and Edwardsburg featured a combined 675 rushing yards.

We may never see this again: Clarkston’s 3-2 win over West Bloomfield was the lowest-scoring Final in 30 years, but how the teams got to five total points might end up rarer. Clarkston’s points, of course, came on a field goal by Roemer from 30 yards out on the final play of the second quarter. But to that point, West Bloomfield led for 15 minutes thanks to a safety when a punt snap sailed through the end zone. For unrelated comparison’s sake, two of our four Baseball Finals in the spring were higher scoring, and only one was decided by the same close margin.

Hawks’ last stand: Farmington Hills Harrison finished something of an unexpected run by playing in its 18th MHSAA football championship game, capping the season that saw Herrington become the winningest coach in state history with a 435-108-1 record. The school will close in spring 2019, and Herrington will coach the final season next fall; he has served as coach since the school opened in 1970. Harrison’s enrollment likely will fall without the usual underclassmen next year – which could make the Hawks an interesting contender staying in Division 3 or moving into Division 4 or 5.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

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.)