Drive Completed: 2014 Finals in Review

December 1, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A total of 56,303 fans attended this weekend’s 11-player Football Finals at Ford Field, the most to watch the event live since 2010 and more than 9,000 more fans than only two years ago.

They witnessed five games decided by 10 points or fewer. Four games where the eventual winner was not the first to score. Three repeat champions, but also a first-time winner and the ends of two of the longest winning streaks in MHSAA history.

Second Half covered all nine championship games including the 8-player Final on Nov. 21, 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 2014 Finals.

Finals in Review

D1: Clarkston 33, Saline 25

The Wolves took over as holders of the longest MHSAA winning streak at 27 straight after claiming a second consecutive Division 1 championship. Junior running back Nolan Eriksen followed up the starring 2013 Finals performance of his brother Ian with 28 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Saline finished 12-2 in making its first MHSAA championship game. Click to read more.

D2: Warren DeLaSalle 44, Muskegon Mona Shores 8

DeLaSalle came back from a 3-3 start to this season to win its first MHSAA championship. The Pilots shut down a Mona Shores offense averaging 39.5 points per game and got plenty of offensive boost from sophomore running back Allen Stritzinger, who ran for 175 yards and a touchdown. Mona Shores made its first championship game appearance after making the playoffs in 2013 for the first time. Click to read more.

D3: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 7, Muskegon 0

This final game of the weekend was decided by one touchdown – scored by a player courageously carrying on only two days after his mother’s death. Brandon Adams scored the deciding points on a first-quarter run; his mother Katie died Thursday after fighting lung cancer. The Eaglets returned to the playoffs after missing in 2013; Muskegon finished MHSAA runner-up for the third straight season after falling to Birmingham Brother Rice in the Division 2 Finals in 2013 and 2012. Click to read more.

D4: Grand Rapids South Christian 28, Lansing Sexton 27

Sailors quarterback Jon Wassink capped his career and the team’s third straight trip to Ford Field with a second title over those three seasons. He threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 122 yards and another score, and South Christian’s defense hung on late as Sexton made a pair of last attempts at the lead in its first MHSAA championship game appearance. Click to read more.

D5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 24, Lansing Catholic 20

West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell led a 17-play, 64-yard drive over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to bring the Falcons back to win their second straight MHSAA title and finish the season perfect for the first time since 1976. West Catholic opened with 17 straight points before Lansing Catholic took the lead with 7:38 to play. Click to read more.

D6: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 22, Ithaca 12

The Falcons put an end to Ithaca’s national-best 69-game winning streak, adding some heavier impact to the team’s first MHSAA title since 1991. The Yellowjackets actually had defeated St. Mary in 2010 for their first of four straight championships, and fell just four wins shy of breaking the MHSAA record for consecutive football victories, held by Hudson. Click to read more.

D7: Detroit Loyola 29, Ishpeming 8

In the third straight Division 7 Final meeting between these two, Loyola won its first title and finished 14-0 thanks to 29 unanswered points and 297 yards rushing. Ishpeming had won 33 straight games, tied for the eighth-longest streak in MHSAA football history. Click to read more.

D8: Muskegon Catholic Central 31, Munising 6

The Crusaders became the first repeat champions in Division 8, running away after Munising scored the game’s first points. MCC had never trailed this season, but got three second-half touchdowns from senior Tommy Scott and held Munising to only 39 yards on the ground. Click to read more.

8-Player: Lawrence 56, Cedarville 12

Lawrence completed a turnaround from 1-17 over its final two seasons of 11-player in 2011 and 2012 to 8-player champion keyed by senior quarterback Derek Gribler and a speedy defense that locked down Cedarville, which also made its first 8-player Final appearance. Lawrence became the first program to win both 11 and 8-player championships. Click to read more.

Records Report

A number of team and individual entries have been added to the MHSAA Football Finals record book, found by clicking here. A breakdown:

  • Warren DeLaSalle kicker Jake Townsley tied his career long field goal of 41 yards and set an MHSAA Finals record with three total, also making from 23 and 29 yards out. He also made the listing for connecting on all five of his extra-point attempts.

  • DeLaSalle also became the 20th team to play in a Final and not punt in the game.

  • Also in Division 2, Muskegon Mona Shores’ Darece Roberson caught what tied for the fifth-most receptions in a Final, 10.

  • Muskegon Catholic Central’s Tommy Scott set the record for longest Finals kickoff return, bringing one back 99 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Division 8 game against Munising. He also became the latest in a long list to score at least four touchdowns in a championship game, running for three more.

  • Detroit Loyola’s Marvin Campbell also joined that list of players with at least four TDs in a Final, running for four in his team’s Division 7 victory over Ishpeming. His 215 rushing yards on 21 attempts made the championship game rushing list.

  • Four quarterbacks joined the total offense list: Saline’s Josh Jackson with 319 yards – 82 rushing and 237 passing – against Clarkston in Division 1, Grand Rapids South Christian’s Jon Wassink with 312 yards – 122 rushing and 179 passing – in Division 4, and Lansing Catholic’s Tony Poljan (60 rush, 269 pass = 329) and Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Travis Russell (134, 203 = 327) in Division 5. Poljan’s 269 passing yards also made that list, and his 24 completions were fourth most for a Final.

  • Muskegon Catholic Central became the sixth program in MHSAA history to play in 13 football championship games, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s became one of nine to play in 12. Muskegon played in its eighth Final, South Christian in its seventh, Ishpeming and Monroe St. Mary in their sixth each, and West Catholic and Ithaca in their fifth each. Muskegon Catholic Central also became one of six with 10 MHSAA titles, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s won its sixth.

  • Lawrence quarterback Derek Gribler made the 8-player total offense list with 359 yards – 256 passing and 103 rushing. Lawrence as a team became the first to be listed for rushing offense – 341 yards – and set the 8-player Final record with 597 total yards and 23 first downs. Lawrence also made the most points in a quarter list with 28 in the first against Cedarville.

Stories behind the scores

End of an era: Ithaca’s winning streak began on opening night 2010 and just this month included a fourth-quarter comeback victory over Madison Heights Madison in the Regional Final and a near-goalline stand late against Boyne City in the Semifinal. The Yellowjackets’ magic ran out against Monroe St. Mary, but the streak will be remembered for years to come. Although Ithaca fell short of breaking the MHSAA football consecutive wins record, it did set a record for most in a row during the playoff era; Hudson’s 72-game winning streak ended in 1975 and included only one playoff win as that was the first season with an MHSAA tournament in the sport.

Repeat by 3: Clarkston in Division 1, Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5 and Muskegon Catholic Central in Division 8 all repeated after winning 2013 championships. Although MCC became the first repeat champ in Division 8, winning back-to-back has become relatively common during the 16-season division era. There have been 25 repeat champions winning back-to-back in the same division since 2000, the first season a team could accomplish the feat.  

QB Power: As explained above, four quarterbacks were added to the MHSAA Finals records listing for most total yards in a championship game. Two of those signal-callers – Saline’s Jackson and Lansing Catholic’s Poljan – are juniors expected to lead teams next season with good chances of returning to Ford Field.

Loyola Wins Round 3: With a group of players who also were standouts in the first two matchups, Loyola claimed its first MHSAA football title by defeating Ishpeming in their third straight face-off in Division 7. Bulldogs senior linebackers Paul Engram and Darryl Clemons had been their team’s leading tacklers in the 2012 loss and two of the top three last season, and senior running back Marvin Campbell was the team’s leading rusher in the 2013 defeat and second-leading rusher the year before. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Nine champions celebrated MHSAA titles over the last two weekends. (Middle) A jubilant Monroe St. Mary and disappointed Ithaca pose for team pictures after the Division 6 Final. (Below) Clarkston and Saline prepare to accept their trophies after the Division 1 Final. (Click to see more like the middle photos on the MHSAA Instagram page.)

Jones' Motto Inspires 'Get To' Foundation's Work to Provide Opportunities

By Tom Kendra
Special for

October 4, 2023

Ben Jones always had the same, simple message, even if it was 100 degrees and sunny or 35 degrees and raining sideways, and whether he was playing for a powerhouse like Muskegon Catholic Central or coaching a program trying to establish itself at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

West Michigan“We get to play football today,” Jones would say, as many of those around him were complaining and grumbling.

It was never “have to” for Jones, but always “get to.”

Jones, who was about to start his second year as head coach at Cranbrook, had his life tragically cut short by a drunk driver who crashed into his vehicle as he was traveling home from work in Detroit on Aug. 19, 2020. He was just 30 years old.

While Jones is gone, leaving a hole as large and painful as the 6-foot-2, 260-pound frame he carried as a tight end in his senior year at Hillsdale College, that “Get To” mentality is alive and well, and thriving and growing – thanks in large part to the efforts of his football teammates from Muskegon Catholic and later at Hillsdale.

The Get To Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was formed in Jones’ honor and has grown exponentially in less than three years, providing grants to sports organizations and scholarships to student-athletes.

“There is a core group of about 10 of them that have worked on (the foundation), and it’s been amazing,” said Theresa Jones, Ben’s mother, who with her husband Bruce has worked with the foundation. “It started small, and then it caught fire.”

The president of the foundation is Tim Hornak, Jones’ best friend and teammate in the trenches at both Muskegon Catholic and Hillsdale. Hornak returned to deliver a pre-game speech before the Crusaders’ home game on Sept. 15 against Kalamazoo United, where he talked about the man who is the inspiration behind the rapidly-growing Get To movement.

“You don’t have to, you get to – that simple difference can change your lives,” said Hornak, who teamed with Jones when both were seniors to help the Crusaders to a 14-0 record and the Division 8 championship in 2008. “You get to play football tonight and continue the tradition that started here in the 1950s.

“You get a chance to line up and play a great game with your best friends.”

Inspired by Hornak’s words and Jones’ legacy, the Crusaders downed Kalamazoo United 27-7 that night, the team’s second-straight win after an 0-2 start, which put them back in the Division 8 playoff picture.

Jones works with his linemen during his first year as head coach at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in 2019. A tailgate party was held before the game as a fundraiser for the Get To Foundation, and it happened to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Crusaders’ 2008 championship team – arguably one of the best teams in the school’s storied history. MCC has won 12 state championships, trailing only Farmington Hills Harrison in state playoff history.

The phrase “get to,” according to Hornak, goes back to the whiteboard in the MCC locker room his sophomore year and perfectly captures Jones’ approach to life and to football, whether his team was unbeaten like at MCC or struggling like the Chargers did just after he and Hornak graduated.

Jones, who wore No. 62 at MCC, was a two-way starting lineman who also played on the Crusaders’ 2006 championship team as a sophomore. His best friends on the team were the Hornak twins, Tim and Jon, whose father Mike was an assistant coach.

After his funeral service on Aug. 24, 2020, Jones’ hearse made a stop at MCC’s Kehren Stadium on the way to the cemetery, taking a lap on the track around Mike Holmes Field.

He went on to play on three teams which won or shared Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference titles at Hillsdale, where he wore No. 91 and played tight end and H-back.

“He had an inner self-confidence that you could tell right away when talking to him,” said Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein. “He was very positive. He encouraged his teammates.”

Jones graduated from Hillsdale in 2013 with a degree in financial management and a minor in mathematics, moved to Royal Oak and took a job as a portfolio manager and financial planner at Schwartz & Co. Investment Advisors.

In his free time, he worked as an assistant varsity football coach at Cranbrook from 2015 to 2018, before being elevated to head coach in 2019 at the age of 28.

One of his first actions as head coach was getting Cranbrook football T-shirts printed with the message “Get To” on the back. Jones guided the Cranes to a 6-4 record and a Division 4 playoff berth in what would prove to be his only season as head coach.

A plaque honoring Jones has been placed in the tunnel leading from the home locker room to the football field at Hillsdale College.He died nine days before Cranbrook’s scheduled season opener in 2020, which ended up being delayed six weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the immediate aftermath of Jones’ shocking death, the Hornak brothers and other former teammates vowed to do something to honor Ben and to help out his family. Out of that mission, the Get To Foundation was born.

Get To has awarded scholarships for the past three years. In 2023 alone, the foundation awarded $16,000 in scholarships to 22 student-athletes from around the state.

In addition, Get To has awarded $55,000 in grants to 17 organizations – including $3,000 to the Eaton Rapids High School football program for new shoulder pads and helmets and $2,500 to the Detroit Tigers Foundation’s Gloves for Kids program.

The next event on the foundation’s busy calendar is a speech by best-selling motivational author Jon Gordon at Lawrence Tech University on Oct. 17.

The foundation’s board has trademarked the phrase “Get To” and hopes to continue to grow the organization’s size and scope – in a way mirroring how big and impactful Ben’s life could have been if it wasn’t cut short.

For more information or to make a donation, go to the organization’s website at

The relentless efforts of Ben’s ex-teammates to keep his memory alive means the world to his parents, as well as his two younger siblings – Alissa, a standout swimmer at Hillsdale who is now the school’s assistant women’s swimming coach; and Nate, who also played football for the Chargers and is now a foreign currency trader for Barclay’s, based in New York City.

Theresa Jones said coming together with all of Ben’s closest friends for Get To Foundation events has been a continuous blessing for the family.

“Every time we have an event for the foundation, it’s all of Ben’s friends and family members dressed up and having a good time,” his mother said. “It always feels like Ben’s wedding reception that he never got to have.”

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Ben Jones is shown before the 2008 Division 8 championship game at Ford Field during his senior year at Muskegon Catholic Central. The Crusaders defeated Crystal Falls Forest Park, 40-0. (Middle) Jones works with his linemen during his first year as head coach at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in 2019. (Below) A plaque honoring Jones has been placed in the tunnel leading from the home locker room to the football field at Hillsdale College. (Top photo by Tim Reilly. Additional photos courtesy of the Get To Foundation.)