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.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)