Two down. Two to go.
The postseason portion of this fall's Drive for Detroit is halfway complete. And while a number of contenders have traveled this far many times before, some of the most captivating moments are being created by teams make this leg of the journey for the first time.
For example, River Rouge. The Panthers have one of the strongest basketball traditions in MHSAA history. But before this fall, they'd never won nine football games, much less 11, in one season.
Yet, here they sit, 11-0, with their first District title thanks to a 44-22 win over Almont – an 11-game winner a season ago.
See below for a number of other notable results from this weekend's District Finals, plus a thought on all four 8-player Regional championship games. And click for the rest of last week's scores plus updated schedules as the drive gears up for the third round.
Plymouth 20, Livonia Churchill 14
Churchill (10-1) entered the postseason with the highest playoff point average in Division 1, with Plymouth (9-2) tied for 15th. But the Wildcats locked down a Chargers offense that had averaged 44 points per game and extended their sixth-straight playoff run another week. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.
Rockford 35, Holland West Ottawa 28 – The Panthers (8-3) gave the Rams a close call for the second time this season, after Rockford (9-2) won by only 10 in their first meeting Sept. 28.
Lake Orion 10, Utica Eisenhower 7 – The Dragons (10-1) scored with just under two minutes to play after trailing Eisenhower (8-3) nearly the entire game.
Muskegon 15, Lowell 13
This District Final between two of Michigan's most celebrated powers came down to redemption for what might be the happiest kicker in the state this week. Adrian Briseno missed an extra point and had another blocked, but hit a 27-yard field goal with under two minutes to play to push his Big Reds (10-1) past the Red Arrows (8-3). Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Caledonia 23, East Lansing 22 (OT) – After seeing a potential game-winning field blocked late, the Fighting Scots (8-3) outlasted the Trojans (7-4) for their first District title since 2006.
Wyandotte Roosevelt 9, Taylor Truman 0 – The Bears (10-1) lost a three-way tie-breaker to both Brownstown-Woodhaven and Taylor Truman (9-2) for home-field advantage during this District, but beat both Downriver League foes en route to the title.
Grand Rapids Christian 68, Zeeland West 44
The Eagles (10-1) have put up massive point totals all season – only once have they failed to score at least 34. But Grand Rapids Christian saved its season-high to offset Zeeland West, which scored at least 38 points in all but one game but couldn’t keep pace this time. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
DeWitt 45, Linden 44 (6 OT) – The Panthers (9-2) have now used a combined seven overtimes to defeat two of the top four from the Flint Metro Conference, the co-champ Eagles (9-2) and Lapeer West.
Tecumseh 26, Milan 6 – After four straight games decided by three points or fewer, the Indians (9-2) broke one open and ended a perfect season for Milan (10-1).
Grosse Ile 70, Dearborn Heights Robichaud 51
One Twitter report had the third quarter of this game lasting nearly an hour. These teams combined for 121 points, good for eighth-most in MHSAA 11-player history for games during which the losing team scored at least 40 (although the record book has not been updated to include all games from this season). At the end, Grosse Ile (10-1) had 10 wins for the second straight season, and Robichaud (9-2) finished its best season since 2007. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.
Grand Rapids South Christian 42, Dowagiac 23 – The Sailors (8-3) won their first District title since 2005 by handing the Chieftains (10-1) their first and only loss of the season.
Comstock Park 16, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 7 – This was the third playoff meeting between these two over the last eight seasons, and first win of the three for the Panthers (10-1); the loss was the first and only this fall for GRCC (10-1).
Newaygo 30, Reed City 29
What a fall it’s been for the Lions. At 9-2, they’ve tied the school record for wins set in 1994. And they handed Reed City (10-1) its first and only loss to claim their first District title since that season. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Grand Rapids West Catholic 13, Muskegon Oakridge 6 – This is only a slightly-lesser upset than the above because although Oakridge entered 10-0, West Catholic (8-3) has made at least the Semifinals the last two seasons.
Flint Powers 34, Frankenmuth 0 – These two both entered 10-0, but reigning champion Powers (11-0) continues to look like a heavy favorite to finish 14-0.
Constantine 40, Schoolcraft 27
The Eagles (10-1) had fended off their share of challengers on the way to a 10-0 start, with five wins by 12 points or fewer. The first team to get that close was Constantine all the way back in Week 2. Schoolcraft won that game 42-32, but the reigning runner-up Falcons (9-2) forced the Eagles to play catch-up most of Friday. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Montrose 33, Millington 28 – The Rams (10-1) keep surviving, with this win over the Cardinals (9-2) their third straight by five points or fewer.
Shelby 26, Maple City Glen Lake 0 – Experience gained from a tough league slate continues to show through for the Tigers (9-2), who ended the best season since 2001 for Glen Lake (9-2).
Ishpeming 32, Mancelona 0
Aside from a Week 7 loss to Negaunee, the Hematites (10-1) have thoroughly dominated the rest of their competition this fall. Mancelona, coming in 10-0, looked to be one of the toughest obstacles. But for the second time in three seasons, Ishpeming ended the Ironmen’s season – and in the process won its fourth straight District title. Click to read more from Marquette Mining Journal.
Decatur 34, Lawton 3 – The Raiders (9-2) previously lost to Lawton 38-7 on the first night of Southwestern Athletic Conference South play; Lawton (9-2) went on to split the league title, but Decatur owns the District championship.
Saginaw Nouvel 31, Reese 16 – The reigning champion Panthers (9-2) live on thanks to their best win of a difficult run; Nouvel handed the Rockets (10-1) their lone loss.
Mendon 28, Climax-Scotts 6
These two have met in the playoffs four times over the last decade – which makes sense as they are two of the winningest small-school programs in the state during that time. But Mendon has won all four postseason meetings, and with this victory extended its winning streak to 25 including last season’s championship game. Click to read more from the Sturgis Journal.
Harbor Beach 56, New Lothrop 20 – The Pirates (10-1) moved to 21-2 over the last two seasons, while handing New Lothrop its first loss; the Hornets finished 10-1 and are 32-3 over the last three years.
Beal City 28, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 21 – They play in different leagues, but these rivals make a point of facing off each season; the Aggies (11-0) also beat the Irish (9-2) on opening night, 38-19, and own four straight over their familiar foes.
Rapid River 22, Cedarville 14
A lot can change in five weeks. See Rapid River football, 2012. On Sept. 28, Cedarville (10-1) beat the Rockets 72-12 in what eventually became a deciding game for the Bridge Alliance 8-Man Football League title. But the reigning MHSAA runner-up made up plenty of ground to win its second-straight Regional title and improve to 9-2. Click to read more from RRNSports.com.
Bellaire 48, Owendale-Gagetown 0 – After falling in last season’s Regional Final, the Eagles (8-3) left no doubt this time in ending the Bulldogs’ run at 8-3.
Deckerville 50, Kinde-North Huron 0 – The Eagles (10-1) have dominated in this first season in the 8-player division; this was their second win this fall over North Huron (6-5).
Portland St. Patrick 34, Battle Creek St. Philip 28 – The Shamrocks (11-0) beat the Tigers (7-4) for the third time and second straight by seven or fewer points.
PHOTO: Birmingham Brother Rice junior running back Brian Walker surges ahead during the Warriors' 38-6 win over Oxford in Division 2. (Click to see more, plus photos from Detroit Country Day/Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Plymouth/Churchill at Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.
“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.
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.
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 www.gettofoundation.org.
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 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.)