Drive for Detroit: Playoff R1 Preview

October 28, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

The 42nd MHSAA Football Playoffs begin tonight with most of this season’s 272 qualifiers taking the field across both peninsulas and nine divisions.

And there certainly is an air of familiarity in these first-round matchups.

This week’s Drive for Detroit preview – powered by MI Student Aid – touches on five games of intrigue in every division, including a number of rematches of meetings from earlier this season – or in the case of our top Division 1 contest, a rematch of a league title-deciding game played only a week ago.

Division 1

Rockford (6-3) at Hudsonville (8-1)

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been over the last week. These teams met seven days ago, with Hudsonville claiming a 14-7 win to create a three-way championship in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red between the Eagles, former lone leader Rockford and Grandville. These two also met in the playoffs the last three seasons; Rockford avenged a one-point Week 9 loss a year ago by beating Hudsonville 21-13 for a District title.

Others that caught my eye: Lapeer (7-2) at Clarkston (7-2), Canton (7-2) at Northville (7-2), Macomb Dakota (6-3) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (6-3), Dearborn Fordson (8-1) at Detroit Cass Tech (9-0) on Saturday.

Division 2

Traverse City West (6-3) vs. Traverse City Central (8-1) at Thirlby Field

These neighbors will meet at their shared stadium for the first time in the playoffs, and in front of a crowd that could approach 10,000. Central’s 10-8 win over West in Week 3 ended up giving the Trojans’ a one-win edge over the Titans for the Big North Conference championship. West has lost three in a row to Central, and went on this season to fall close to Benton Harbor and then to Coldwater last week. Central’s only defeat was two weeks ago in triple overtime at Birmingham Brother Rice – and this could be close again too with these teams knowing each other so well.

Others that caught my eye: Portage Northern (5-4) at Portage Central (8-1), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-3) at Fenton (7-2), Oak Park (6-3) vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit (6-2) at Hazel Park, Birmingham Brother Rice (6-3) at Warren Cousino (8-1).

Division 3

Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-2) 73.222 at Coldwater (7-2)

Coldwater handed Harper Creek its only loss this season in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference – 19-7 in Week 7 – but then watched the Beavers share the league title as the Cardinals finished third. But with a schedule that included five games against teams with winning records and three wins over playoff qualifiers, Coldwater earned the right to host this week as it looks to build on last season’s Division 3 Semifinal run. Harper Creek, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs after going 3-6 a year ago and has secured its best record since 2013.

Others that caught my eye: Zeeland West (7-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-1), Zeeland East (6-3) at Byron Center (8-1), St. Joseph (6-3) at Stevensville Lakeshore (6-3), East Lansing (6-3) at DeWitt (8-1).

Division 4

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (7-2) at Detroit Country Day (9-0), Saturday

Successful in many sports, Cranbrook Kingswood hasn’t had the same kind of long-standing championship tradition in football – but has put together a 22-8 record over the last three seasons under coach Joe D’Angelo, who earned most of his 222 career wins at Detroit Country Day from 1977-97. These two met in the District Final a year ago and Country Day won 42-7. The Yellowjackets dominated most of this fall too but have had to work through close wins the last two weeks against Detroit U-D Jesuit and Temperance Bedford.

Others that caught my eye: Allendale (7-2) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (8-1), Grand Rapids South Christian (5-4) at Benton Harbor (9-0), Flint Powers Catholic (5-4) at Lake Fenton (8-1), St. Clair Shores South Lake (7-2) at Marysville (9-0).

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-2) at Lansing Catholic (8-1)

A rematch of a Division 5 Semifinal from last season kicks off opening night, with more familiar faces on the Falcons’ side but offensive weapons of similar skills leading both. Quarterback Gaetano Vallone and running back/previous quarterback David Fox are the recognizable names from last year’s playoff run, while Lansing Catholic quarterback Michael Lynn has stepped in this season to provide similar run/pass dual threat ability. West Catholic is coming off a tough three-point loss to Allendale last week that cost the Falcons an outright O-K Blue title, and they face the prospect of three road games to get back to the Semifinals. Lansing Catholic’s only loss was by a point in Week 4 to rival Portland, which plays on the other side of this District bracket.

Others that caught my eye: Clare (8-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (8-1), Saginaw Swan Valley (6-3) at Freeland (9-0), Buchanan (5-3) 56.069 at Dowagiac (6-3), Algonac (8-1) 81.667 at Detroit Denby (8-1).

Division 6

Watervliet (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (7-2)

Watervliet has scored at a school record-setting pace the last two seasons, averaging 52 points per game in 2015 and 55 this fall – with 30 and 58 in its losses. The Panthers will get the chance to see how that prowess transfers against an opponent that’s seen and contained its share of strong offenses. The Titans have given up just fewer than 17 points per game against a schedule that’s included four playoff teams and a couple more that contended for bids.

Others that caught my eye: Montague (7-2) at Kent City (7-2), Montrose (6-3) at Laingsburg (8-1), Constantine (6-3) at Schoolcraft (9-0), Boyne City (6-3) at Calumet (8-1) on Saturday.

Division 7

Madison Heights Madison (6-3) vs. Detroit Loyola (7-2), Saturday at Hazel Park

Neither of these teams would be a surprise finalist at Ford Field next month; Loyola is a regular on championship weekend and claimed a Detroit Catholic League AA title this fall, while Madison shared the Macomb Area Conference Silver title with teams playing in the Division 3 and Division 4 brackets. The Bulldogs have reached the Semifinals each of the last four seasons, while Madison is seeking its first run that deep since 2007 – but has played in Division 5 and 6 over the last decade. 

Others that caught my eye: Gwinn (6-3) at Iron Mountain (7-2), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-2) at Ubly (9-0), Springport (7-2) at Concord (7-2), Clinton (6-3) at Sand Creek (8-1).

Division 8

Saginaw Nouvel (6-3) at Breckenridge (9-0)

Breckenridge already has achieved the most incredible turnaround in MHSAA playoff-era history, becoming the first team to from 0-9 (in 2015) to 9-0. The Huskies have accomplished this following a sophomore quarterback who should keep the program rolling forward. Nouvel, meanwhile, has played itself into a sixth playoff berth over the last seven seasons, with a big win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in Week 9 getting the Panthers back in the hunt. The Irish are the only common opponent between the two; Nouvel won 35-7, while Breckenridge won 40-32 but way back in Week 3 as it was just starting to catch stride.

Others that caught my eye: Mendon (7-2) vs. St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (8-1) at Bridgman, Pittsford (6-3) at Morenci (6-3), Iron River West Iron County (6-3) at Norway (7-2), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-2) at Waterford Our Lady (6-3) on Saturday.


Lawrence (8-1) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (9-0) at Wyoming Lee

Tri-unity Christian is welcomed to its first playoffs tonight by having to face 2014 champion Lawrence – but should feel pretty good about that match-up after downing the Tigers 53-14 in Week 7. That was Lawrence’s only loss, and it’s beaten two other playoff teams over the last four weeks. But the Tigers must score; their 14 points against the Defenders were the most given up this season by Tri-unity, which is allowing only 4.7 points per game.

Others that caught my eye: Cedarville (6-3) at Engadine (9-0). Owendale-Gagetown (8-1) at New Haven Merritt (9-0).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid. 

PHOTO: St. Joseph will kick off its ninth playoff appearance over the last 11 seasons tonight against Stevensville Lakeshore, which beat the Bears 31-12 in Week 4. (Click to see more from

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)