By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A crowd of more than 52,000 fans – 5,000 more than in 2012 – plus countless others watching on Fox Sports Detroit witnessed the end of one era, the beginning of another and the continuation of one of the most impressive in the nation while watching the MHSAA Football Finals over the last two weekends.
Second Half covered all nine championship games, with quick recaps and links 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 2013 11 and 8-Player Finals.
Finals in Review
D1: Clarkston 32, Detroit Catholic Central 14 – Clarkston’s proud football tradition now includes its first MHSAA Finals appearance and championship, thanks in part to running back Ian Eriksen’s 237 yards and three touchdowns rushing. The Shamrocks fell in the championship game for the third straight season and despite avenging the first two losses by beating two-time reigning champion Detroit Cass Tech in the Semifinal. Click to read more.
D2: Birmingham Brother Rice 38, Muskegon 21 – The Warriors sent out longtime coach Al Fracassa with the team’s third straight MHSAA championship and first 14-0 season. Fracassa finished his career with a record of 430-117-7 at Brother Rice and Royal Oak Shrine and the most wins in Michigan football coaching history. Click to read more.
D3: Zeeland West 34, DeWitt 27 – The Dux have now won two MHSAA titles in two divisions over the last three seasons after also claiming the Division 4 championship in 2011. Zeeland West plowed to 441 yards rushing on 6.7 per carry. But to DeWitt’s credit, the Panthers didn’t let down despite an early 22-0 deficit and nearly blocked a punt late that could’ve set up a game-tying rally. Click to read more.
D4: Marine City 49, Grand Rapids South Christian 35 – In arguably the weekend’s most competitive scorefest, Marine City outlasted the reigning champion. The score was tied midway through the third quarter and South Christian pulled within seven points of the lead two minutes into the fourth. Click to read more.
D5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 27, Menominee 14 – Despite just making the playoffs at 5-4 and with a one-point win in Week 9, West Catholic marched through the postseason and beat Menominee for the fourth time in the playoffs in the last four seasons. The Falcons had finished runner-up in 2012, losing 12-9 to Portland. Click to read more.
D6: Ithaca 41, Clinton 22 – Despite trailing as late as four minutes into the third quarter, the Yellowjackets kept their reign going another season with a fourth straight MHSAA title, one short of tying the football record for consecutive championships. Ithaca also added to their 56-game winning streak, which is tied for longest in the nation for 11-player teams. Click to read more.
D7: Ishpeming 22, Detroit Loyola 12 – The highly-anticipated rematch of the 2012 Final ended with the same victor as Hematites quarterback Alex Briones led his team to the championship for the second time by a nearly identical score. Ishpeming won last season 20-14 and entered these playoffs ranked No. 1, while Loyola was No. 2. Click to read more.
D8: Muskegon Catholic Central 35, Beal City 12 – The Crusaders locked down one of the highest scoring offenses in MHSAA history while senior Alex Lewandowski turned in one of the top Finals rushing performances of all-time with 218 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. It was MCC’s first championship since 2008. Click to read more.
8-Player: Peck 67, Rapid River 32 – Peck was 1-8 in 11-player football only two seasons ago before making the switch and ascending to the top of 8-player as the latest power to emerge from the Thumb area. Usually a running team, the Pirates took advantage of size on the perimeter to rule the air against Rapid River, which finished runner-up for the second time in three seasons. Click to read more.
A number of team and individual entries have been added to the MHSAA Football Finals record book, found by clicking here. A breakdown:
- Clarkston’s Ian Eriksen ran for 242 yards (on 32 carries) to place eighth for most rush yards in a Final. Muskegon Catholic Central’s Alex Lewandowski ran 16 times for 218 yards, good for 16th on that list.
- The Finals featured a number of premiere quarterbacks, but two stuck out most. Birmingham Brother Rice’s Alex Malzone tied for the sixth-most completions, 20, on just 24 attempts. His 263 passing yards ranked 12th for a Final and his four touchdown passes tied for third most. Ithaca’s Travis Smith finished with the seventh-most yards of total offense (370) – adding to a number of entries from his 2011 Finals performance – while joining the lower part of the list for most passing yards with 244. He also threw four touchdown passes.
- DeWitt quarterback Jake Johnson joined some of his Panthers predecessors in the record listings with 289 passing yards (10th all-time) and 320 yards of total offense (11th). Grand Rapids West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell placed 13th on the total offense list with 309 yards, including 133 rushing. South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink joined a long list of those who have completed at least 18 passes, doing so for 240 yards and three TDs. And Muskegon quarterback Deshaun Thrower found teammate Justin Foster with an 86-yard TD pass, good for the fifth-longest pass play.
- Menominee’s Devon Harris and Birmingham Brother Rice’s Corey Lacanaria tied for fifth with 10 receptions a piece, Harris for 149 yards and Lacanaria for 125. Grand Rapids South Christian’s Eric VanVoorst tied for seventh on the catches list with nine for 149 yards, and Marine City’s Pete Patsalis became one of eight who have caught a Finals-best three touchdown passes.
- Marine City’s Olivia Viney tied the Finals record with seven extra-point kicks (see more on her below). Four other kickers made the record book list by connecting on all five of their attempts – Brother Rice’s Jason Alessi, South Christian’s Kyle Haan, Ithaca’s Alex Vanderploeg and Muskegon Catholic Central’s Griffin Seymour.
- Marine City’s Jarrett Mathison ran for the fourth-longest kickoff return, 91 yards for a touchdown. Clinton’s Mathew Sexton ran for the second-longest punt return, 86 yards for a score.
- Marine City’s 49 points were good to tie for sixth-most by a team in Finals history.
- Zeeland West’s offense tied for the fourth-most first downs with 26 and became the 19th team to not punt in a championship game. West’s 66 rush attempts were the second-most in a Final. Brother Rice tied for seventh with 24 first downs and Clarkston tied for ninth with 23.
- Detroit Catholic Central tied Farmington Hills Harrison for the most championship game appearances, with 16; the Shamrocks have won 10 titles. Brother Rice tied for third with 13 Finals berths and moved to sixth with nine championships – plus became one of six to win at least three straight. Muskegon moved up to tied for 12 with seven Finals appearances, Muskegon Catholic tied for sixth with 12 and South Christian is tied for 14th with six Finals appearances. DeWitt and Ishpeming both joined the lower end of that list, each notching their fifth. Ithaca is now tied for third on the list of consecutive titles with four straight, only one off tying that record. MCC also tied for sixth on the championship list by winning its ninth.
- A number of entries also were added to 8-Player Finals record book, which although in its infancy boasts some of the most impressive totals for either football format. Peck quarterback Tristen Haener was added for his 379 yards and seven touchdowns passing, plus his 382 total yards and five extra-point kicks. Teammate Kyle Abrego was added for his 236 yards and four touchdowns receiving, with all four of those coming in the third quarter. Rapid River quarterback Jake Pearson was added for scoring 26 points in the game as both teams combined for 99. A number of team totals reflecting some of the same categories also were added.
Stories behind the scores
Ready for a rematch: There were two from the 2012 Finals, and both ended the same way in 2013. Brother Rice repeated against Muskegon in Division 2 with many of the same players as stood out a year ago, and Ishpeming repeated against Detroit Loyola in Division 7 with a number of new faces make big contributions.
7 for 7: Marine City’s Olivia Viney was believed to be the first female athlete to play in an MHSAA football championship game, and she put up a performance that will live on in the MHSAA record book. Viney connected on all seven of her extra-point kicks, tying the MHSAA Finals record. Viney earned a Division 3 all-state honorable mention this spring on Marine City’s girls soccer team.
Good bye, Coach: Longtime Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa retired after the game with the most wins in MHSAA history and sixth-most nationally. He coached at Royal Oak Shrine from 1960-68 before taking over the Warriors in 1969.
Ithaca reigns on: The national winning streak and four straight titles are detailed a little bit above, and next season the Yellowjackets can tie East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison with a fifth straight MHSAA title. Quarterback Travis Smith was the only Ithaca player to dress for all four championships, and his brother Jacob is set to take over behind center next fall.
We are the champions: Clarkston has been in the conversation on Division 1 contenders for at least the last 14 seasons, and the Wolves brought home their first title after advancing from the Semifinals for the first time in four tries. They have won at least 10 games six times beginning in 1999 and are 24-2 over the last two seasons.
Remembering David: Although Detroit Catholic Central’s third straight loss in the Division 1 Final was heart-wrenching for the Shamrocks, their student body pulled off an awesome tribute. David Widzinski was a running back on the team last season and died in his sleep a year ago. DCC’s students, wearing blue and white shirts, created his No. 33 in the Ford Field stands, memorializing him as his jersey hung from the front railing of the section.
PHOTOS: (Top) Nine champions celebrated MHSAA titles over the last two weekends. (Middle top) Clarkston players march off the Ford Field turf celebrating their first MHSAA football championship. (Middle) Ithaca, from right, works against the Clinton defense in the Division 6 Final. (Below) Detroit Catholic Central students, in blue and white shirts, form a No. 33 to commemorate their deceased classmate (Click to see more like the middle photos on the MHSAA Instagram page.)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, 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 main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
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PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)