By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There was much anticipation entering the 2018 MHSAA Football Finals, beginning two weeks ago at the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University and finishing Saturday at Detroit’s Ford Field.
They didn’t disappoint. This season’s crowning weekends saw five first-time champions, two repeat title winners, two rise to the top for the first time in a while, and to end it all another re-emerging champion topple a 2017 winner in arguably the most awaited game of the entire series. 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 Finals record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2018 Finals.
Finals in Review
They didn’t disappoint.
This season’s crowning weekends saw five first-time champions, two repeat title winners, two rise to the top for the first time in a while, and to end it all another re-emerging champion topple a 2017 winner in arguably the most awaited game of the entire series.
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 Finals record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2018 Finals.
11-Player Division 1: Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 31, Clarkston 30
A year after Clarkston edged West Bloomfield by a point to win Division 1, Chippewa Valley claimed its first MHSAA title since 2001 by the same margin over the Wolves. The Big Reds stopped a go-ahead 2-point conversion try by Clarkston with 23 seconds to play to seal the win after previously leading by 14 points three times over the final three quarters.
11-Player Division 2: Warren DeLaSalle 29, Muskegon Mona Shores 16
The Pilots’ lockdown defense proved to have the upper hand against an explosive Mona Shores offense, as DeLaSalle broke away for its second straight Division 2 title after the teams were tied at halftime. Pilots coach Mike Giannone not only is the only coach to win football championships at two schools, but also became the first to win back-to-back at two (after also leading Macomb Dakota to Division 1 titles in 2006 and 2007).
11-Player Division 3: Detroit Martin Luther King 41, Muskegon 25
King finished this season’s Finals by avenging a three-point Week 2 loss to the 2017 champion. The Crusaders didn’t slow Muskegon’s record-setting rushing attack, but outgained the Big Reds in total yardage 400-315 as quarterbacks Dequan Finn and Cameron Martinez showed why they were two of the state’s best this fall.
11-Player Division 4: Edwardsburg 28, Chelsea 7
After falling short against Grand Rapids Catholic Central in 2017, Edwardsburg returned to its second Finals and won its first championship. The Eddies succeeded as they had all season; the offense ran for 382 yards and all four scores, while the defense got its season points allowed average to 9.9 per game after holding Chelsea to its fewest since 2014.
11-Player Division 5: Hudsonville Unity Christian 42, Portland 7
These Crusaders also won their first championship, in their first Finals appearance, finishing a playoff run that saw them defeat three teams ranked among the top six at the end of the regular season. Unity Christian got out to a 28-0 lead and finished with 279 yards rushing while holding the Raiders’ vaunted run attack to only 95.
11-Player Division 6: Jackson Lumen Christi 42, Montague 28
Lumen Christi added a first-time accomplishment to its long history of successes, clinching a three-peat for the first time by holding Montague to 14 points over the game’s first 45 minutes. The Titans ran for 348 yards and senior Nick Thomas gained 249 and scored twice on the ground to go with his team-high 10 tackles and two sacks.
11-Player Division 7: New Lothrop 50, Madison Heights Madison 44
This was not only the highest-scoring Final of the weekend, but of all-time. Neither team had been to a Finals since 2006, and Madison was seeking its first championship. But New Lothrop held on for its second title as quarterbacks Avery Moore and Austin Brown matched scores through much of the second half.
11-Player Division 8: Reading 39, Breckenridge 20
One of these teams was going to end up a first-time and undefeated champion, and Reading led off the 2018 Finals on Friday with the historic accomplishment in large part because of its dominance in the run game. The Rangers gained 296 yards on the ground and held the Huskies to a mere 24 and 198 yards of total offense.
8-Player Division 1: Morrice 44, Pickford 16
This also was going to produce a first-time and undefeated champion regardless of victor. After Pickford scored first, Morrice locked up its first title with 30 unanswered points over the next two quarters. Orioles quarterback Hunter Nowak capped his career with three rushing and one passing touchdown to go with 199 yards on the ground.
8-Player Division 2: Rapid River 30, Onekama 18
In its third 8-Player Finals try, Rapid River came away with its first MHSAA football title. The Rockets held on to the ball for an incredible 33½ minutes by extending drives with 10 third-down and four fourth-down conversions. Onekama was playing in its first Football Final, capping its second season of 8-player after a successful recent run with 11 on the field.
Lumen Christi moved up to tied for fifth with its 13th Finals appearance. Muskegon (11th) and King (sixth) also moved up the list, and Warren DeLaSalle joined it by playing in its fifth championship game. Lumen Christi is tied for fourth all-time with 11 championships and became the 10th program to win three or more consecutively.
Three players made the list for longest kickoff return in a Final. New Lothrop’s Aidan Harrison ranks fourth after his 96-yard scoring sprint against Madison, while David Ellis raced 94 yards to the end zone for Chippewa Valley against Clarkston and Jacob Veale scored Portland’s only points against Unity Christian on a 91-yard return.
Tommy Schuster made the records with a perfect 13 of 13 passing for Chippewa Valley against Clarkston, becoming the first player with at least 12 attempts to complete all of his passes in an MHSAA Final.
As noted above, New Lothrop and Madison Heights Madison combined to score 94 points – breaking the previous record for highest-scoring Final of 91 by Belding and Detroit Country Day in the 1994 Class B championship game (a 50-41 Belding win). New Lothrop’s 50 points also tied for fourth most in an MHSAA Final.
That 94-point effort was a result in large part of work done by Madison quarterback Austin Brown and New Lothrop quarterback Avery Moore. Both made the records list with four rushing touchdowns in a Final and also for scoring 26 points (each had a 2-point conversion). Brown also was added for 298 passing yards, and his 403 of total offense tied for fifth. New Lothrop as a team was added for six rushing touchdowns, and Madison Heights Madison was added for total team passing yardage.
Reading’s Elijah Strine was added for becoming the first in Finals history to recover a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
Edwardsburg became the latest to not punt in a championship game, and Chelsea punted only once in their Division 4 Final – their one combined punt tied for second-fewest in a Final.
Lumen Christi kicker Kevin Salazar connected on all six of his extra point attempts, and King’s Jerry Tucker made five of six (with the sixth attempt blocked). Both made the list for most extra points, Salazar tying for fourth most.
Lumen Christi running back Nick Thomas ran for 249 yards, the eighth most in a championship game. Muskegon quarterback Cameron Martinez also made the rushing list with 211 yards.
King quarterback Dequan Finn tied for fifth for touchdown passes with four against the Big Reds. Chelsea receiver Hunter Neff tied for fifth for receptions with 10 against the Eddies.
Morrice made the list for rushing yards as a team in the 8-Player Division 1 Final. The Orioles totaled 317 on 54 carries.
Rapid River made the 8-Player first downs list, moving the sticks 20 times in its Division 2 win.
Stories Behind the Scores
First-time champions: Five of this season’s 10 MHSAA football champions were first-time winners: Edwardsburg, Hudsonville Unity Christian, Reading, Morrice and Rapid River. That’s compared to only two first-time champs a year ago and one in 2016.
First time in a long time champions: Chippewa Valley’s title was its first since 2001, and New Lothrop won for the first time since 2006. Both had been building toward this moment, however. The Big Reds had made the playoffs all but three seasons since claiming the Division 2 title 17 years ago. New Lothrop has made the playoffs 19 straight seasons, and since winning Division 8 in 2006 had reached the Semifinals three times before this fall.
Closer Calls: In six games, teams were within 10 points of each other in the fourth quarter. Mona Shores pulled within five of DeLaSalle with 7:26 to play in Division 2 before the Pilots added a late touchdown. Muskegon pulled within 10 of King with 5:21 to play in Division 3 before the Crusaders scored again, and Onekama pulled within 10 of Rapid River in 8-Player Division 2 less than a minute into the fourth quarter before ultimately losing by 12. New Lothrop didn’t take the lead for good until 3:27 was left in Division 7, and as noted, Chippewa Valley escaped Clarkston by stopping a 2-point conversion try during the final minute in Division 1.
QB power: Elite quarterback play was on display all over the Finals. We talked a lot above about the heroics of Avery Moore and Austin Brown in Division 7 and Morrice's Hunter Nowak in 8-Player Division 1. In Division 3, Muskegon’s Cameron Martinez ran for 211 yards and two scores and threw a touchdown pass, while King’s Dequan Finn threw for 173 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 73 and a score. Tommy Schuster’s numbers for Chippewa Valley included the perfect passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, and his Clarkston counterpart Jake Jensen ran for 121 yards and a score and completed 10-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Isaac TeSlaa led Unity Christian with 97 yards and two touchdowns on the round and completed 3 of 4 passes for 70 yards and a third score. Carter Staley kept his team in the Division 8 game with 14-of-19 passing for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Nolan Schultz ran for three touchdowns and a team-high 55 yards and completed 8-of-13 passes for 189 and a score for DeLaSalle.
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SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)