Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 1 Preview

October 26, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Michigan’s high school football championship quest is set to begin this weekend in historic fashion, with a record 288 teams taking part in this 43rd MHSAA Playoffs.

So let’s get right to it. Our “Drive for Detroit” previews powered by MI Student Aid will follow a similar format as during the regular season, except that instead of organizing the must-watch games by region we’ll pick out some of the most intriguing from every division – including the two 8-player divisions in something of a “March to Marquette.”

There are a variety of options to watch 13 playoff games live tonight – click Prep Zone for four free broadcasts from FOX Sports Detroit and check out the schedule – and be sure to keep up with all of the scores and new pairings as they’re created on the MHSAA playoff scoreboard page. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

11-Player Division 1

Saline (7-1) at Canton (8-1), Friday

This is a rematch of last season’s District Final, a 37-31 Saline win. The Hornets are coming back from a week off after winning the Southeastern Conference Red. They’ve won seven straight since falling to Rockford on opening night, and few teams have had as much playoff success of late – Saline has played in three straight Regional Finals and four over the last five seasons. Like Saline, Canton also fell on opening night – to Muskegon Mona Shores – but has won eight straight on the way to the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association title. The Chiefs also are quietly are as familiar with the playoffs as any program; Canton will be making its 16th appearance in 17 seasons.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grandville (6-3) at Holland West Ottawa (8-1), Bloomfield Hills (6-3) at West Bloomfield (7-2), Romeo (7-2) at Rochester Adams (8-1), Rockford (6-3) at Grand Ledge (8-1).

11-Player Division 2

Birmingham Brother Rice (6-3) at Birmingham Groves (7-2), Friday

These two have met in District games in 2016, 2014 and 2013, with Groves winning last season’s 24-0 to claim a District Final after falling badly in their first two recent meetings. The Falcons are Oakland Activities Association White co-champions but coming off a 49-26 loss to OAA Red co-champ West Bloomfield. Brother Rice has rattled off four straight wins including two over playoff teams and could be hitting stride offensively. The Warriors’ combined 97 points over the last two weeks were 43 percent of their total this season.  

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Portage Central (7-2) at Muskegon Mona Shores (8-1), Lowell (6-3) at Flushing (7-2), Livonia Churchill (7-2) at Pinckney (8-1), Warren DeLaSalle (7-2) at Ferndale (8-1).

11-Player Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian (7-2) at DeWitt (8-1), Friday

This is a rematch from opening night, when Grand Rapids Christian got up big and held off DeWitt’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt to win 38-30. The Panthers rebounded immediately to defeat Grand Ledge the next week for the unofficial title of Greater Lansing’s best team, and they haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game since falling to the Eagles. Christian mostly navigated the competitive Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold schedule, falling only to East Grand Rapids until last week’s unexpected 24-20 loss to two-win Middleville Thornapple Kellogg. Many eyes will be watching to see if the Eagles bounce back this time as the winner has the possibility of seeing EGR in the District Final.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Zeeland West (6-3) at Zeeland East (9-0), Coldwater (6-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (9-0), St. Joseph (7-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (8-1), Redford Thurston (6-3) at Romulus (6-3).

11-Player Division 4

Wyoming Godwin Heights (7-2) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (9-0), Friday

Few rivalries have enjoyed the level of back-and-forth this one has rolled out over the last four seasons, and this will be the first playoff rematch. Kelloggsville won this season’s first meeting in Week 6 by a point, last season’s by two points and the 2014 game by four. In the middle, Godwin Heights claimed a two-point win in 2015. In part because of that 21-20 victory four weeks ago, Kelloggsville went on to finish as champ of an O-K Silver that sent four teams to the playoffs.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Williamston (5-4) at Lake Fenton (8-1), Coopersville (6-3) at Comstock Park (6-3), Benton Harbor (5-4) at Edwardsburg (8-1), Vicksburg (7-2) at Three Rivers (7-2).

11-Player Division 5

Gladstone (7-2) at Kingsford (7-1), Friday

Gladstone has enjoyed its best season since 2008, winning the Mid-Peninsula Conference after moving into that league this season from the Great Northern Conference. Despite taking its two losses over the last three weeks, the Braves tuned up for the offseason against former GNC foe Escanaba and Calumet, two more of the best in the Upper Peninsula. They’ll hope that extra prep work pays off against arguably the number one team north of Mackinac Bridge, GNC champion Kingsford, which has beaten Gladstone in 18 straight.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grant (6-3) at Newaygo (7-2), Carrollton (6-3) at Freeland (6-3), Lansing Catholic (7-2) at Olivet (8-1), Richmond (7-2) at Marine City (7-2).

11-Player Division 6

Detroit Henry Ford (6-3) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-0), Friday

This District provides an interesting gauge for a pair of Detroit leagues that don’t frequently cross paths. Henry Ford and Central in the other Pre-District opener are from the Detroit Public School League – Ford finished fourth in the Green behind Division 1 Cass Tech, Division 3 Cody and Division 4 Mumford. Michigan Collegiate, from the Charter School Conference, built the highest playoff point average in Division 6 by winning that league ahead of Division 4 Harper Woods Chandler Park while also earning significant nonleague wins over Division 4 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Division 1 Walled Lake Central.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (6-2) at Boyne City (9-0), Morley Stanwood (7-2) at Kent City (9-0), Schoolcraft (5-4) at Watervliet (9-0), Detroit Central (7-2) at Clinton Township Clintondale (7-2).

11-Player Division 7

Riverview Gabriel Richard (8-1) at Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest (9-0), Friday

This is another opportunity for two programs already enjoying historic success this fall. Gabriel Richard is 8-1 for the first time since 1980 after finishing second in the Detroit Catholic League Intersectional I and has won a playoff game only once before – two seasons ago. Lutheran Northwest won the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference title with its second 9-0 season since starting the program in 1987 – and a win tonight also would be its second playoff win ever, adding to the first that came after starting 10-0 in 2008.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-1), Flint Hamady (7-2) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (8-1), Clinton (6-3) at Hudson (8-1). SATURDAY Ishpeming Westwood (8-1) at Elk Rapids (7-2).

11-Player Division 8

Ubly (7-2) at Harbor Beach (8-1), Friday

Only two weeks ago, Harbor Beach downed Ubly 26-14 to win the outright Greater Thumb Conference East championship. How much has changed in 14 days? Perhaps not much, but the rematch could be even closer especially considering Ubly won the previous two meetings before falling Oct. 13. The rivals are plenty familiar with each other, but Ubly more so with the playoffs – the Bearcats made the Semifinals a year ago, while Harbor Beach’s last playoff berth turned into the Semifinal run of 2014.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Newberry (6-2) at Frankfort (6-2), Johannesburg-Lewiston (6-3) at Lincoln Alcona (7-2), Petersburg-Summerfield (6-3) at Morenci (6-3), Waterford Our Lady (6-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-2).

8-Player Division 1

Rudyard (7-2) at Cedarville (7-2), Friday

These two tied for second place (with Engadine) in the Bridge Alliance and also had the same playoff point average; Cedarville broke the tie to host this Pre-Regional with its 46-28 opening night win over the Bulldogs. A year ago, the Trojans lost their last three regular-season games and were out of the playoffs the first week; this season they lost two straight in Weeks 7 and 8 but rebounded last week to beat a Brimley team by 50 that may have made the playoffs with a win. Rudyard, on the other hand, fell to league champion Pickford 53-14 last week and has to bounce back quickly to continue its best season since 2011 in 11-player.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Mayville (5-4) at Deckerville (8-1), Kingston (7-2) at Morrice (8-1), Lawrence (4-5) at Camden-Frontier (9-0), SATURDAY Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (6-3) at Suttons Bay (6-3).

8-Player Division 2

Powers North Central (6-2) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (6-2), Friday

These two (with Stephenson) also tied for second place in their league, the Western Eight Conference, behind Rapid River. North Central, the reigning 8-player champion, handed the Rockets a first of two straight losses two weeks ago – and the winner of this game could face Rapid River again in the Regional Final. Forest Park won the first meeting with North Central, 66-58 in Week 2, as both were breaking in new playmakers who now have plenty of experience and lots of opportunity in a division that appears wide open.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Engadine (7-2) at Rapid River (7-2), Bay City All Saints (6-3) at Marion (7-2), Bellaire (5-4) at Onekama (8-1), SATURDAY Battle Creek St. Philip at Flint International Academy (7-2).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: Deckerville downed league rival Mayville 42-8 on Sept. 8; they will meet again this weekend in an 8-player Division 2 opener. (Click for more from Varsity Monthly.)

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.)