Drive for Detroit: Semifinals in Review

November 21, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

After nearly four months, this drive for Detroit is nearly complete. 

Sixteen teams remain for this weekend's eight MHSAA 11-Player Finals at Ford Field in Detroit. Below is a glance at how all 16 earned their end-of-season trips, with a number of them frequent visitors to the season's final days.

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central 17, Romeo 0

The Shamrocks eliminated the reigning Division 1 champion in a matchup of last season’s Regional Final, a 40-29 Romeo win. Detroit Catholic Central (13-0) is on course for its best defensive season since 2011 and a win away from its first undefeated season since 2009. For Romeo (9-4), the loss ends a two-season run that saw the Bulldogs play in their second and third Semifinals ever (and first since 1992) while earning their first MHSAA team title and finishing a combined 22-5. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Detroit Cass Tech 32, Utica Eisenhower 28

Cass Tech standout receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rodney Hall with only 24 seconds to play to push the Technicians (13-0) ahead of Eisenhower and soon after back into the Division 1 Final for the second straight season and fourth time this decade. The reigning runner-up in this division won its second straight nail-biter after downing Saline by one in the Regional Final, handing Eisenhower (12-1) its first loss after doing the same to the Hornets the week before. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 2

Walled Lake Western 37, Lowell 34

The Red Arrows (12-1), last season’s Division 2 runners-up, found themselves in a comeback quest for the second week in a row but couldn’t come all the way back in this rematch of a 2015 Semifinal. Walled Lake Western (12-1) led 31-14 at halftime and held Lowell off for the final 7:46 to advance to its first championship game since 1999. The Warriors had lost to Lowell 49-34 in the meeting a year ago. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Detroit Martin Luther King 14, Birmingham Groves 7

King earned a chance to repeat as Division 2 champion with a defensive stand after heading into halftime up 14-0. The Crusaders (11-2) hadn’t scored fewer than 18 points since Week 1 of 2015, but were able to ride out the final two quarters relying on a defense that has given up only 35 points over four playoff games. Groves finished its first Semifinal run 11-2, setting a program record for wins for the second straight season after finishing 10-1 in 2015. Click for more from the Detroit News.

Division 3

Muskegon 19, Edwardsburg 8

This defensive standoff saw both teams easily score their fewest points this season – but Muskegon advance to its fourth championship game in five years while keeping Edwardsburg from advancing to the MHSAA Finals for the first time. The Big Reds (12-1) increased their school record points total to 653 and locked down an Eddies team that hadn’t scored fewer than 30. Edwardsburg finished 12-1, setting a program record for victories in one season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49, Dearborn Divine Child 7

St. Mary’s will play for its third straight Division 3 championship and in its seventh MHSAA Final over the last eight seasons. Divine Child (10-3) was one of the surprises of the playoffs and finished with its most wins since 1985, but couldn’t come back after the Eaglets scored three times during the first quarter and three more times during the second. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 31, Hudsonville Unity Christian 3

The Cougars (12-1) will play for a championship for the first time since 2010 after ending Unity Christian’s longest playoff run with another impressive defensive performance. GRCC has given up 10 points total over four playoff games and with Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5 gives the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue two finalists this weekend. Unity Christian finished 10-3, two wins better than any season since the program began in 2003. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Detroit Country Day 20, River Rouge 14

After two straight Semifinal misses, Country Day will play in its second championship game in five seasons after eliminating last year’s Division 5 runner-up. River Rouge (11-2) held the Yellowjackets to their fewest points since opening night, but also scored its fewest since a 2014 Regional Final loss. Country Day (13-0) didn’t score during the second half, but Rouge didn't find the end zone again after scoring on its first possession of the third quarter. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 5

Menominee 23, Frankenmuth 20

Sam Larsen’s 1-yard touchdown blast up the middle with 9:27 to play stood as the winning points in a back-and-forth contest at the Superior Dome. Playing in its seventh Semifinal over the last 11 seasons, Menominee (12-1) earned its fourth championship game of this run and first since 2013. Frankenmuth (11-2) gave the Maroons their second-closest game of this season – the other was a loss to DeWitt in Week 8 – and tied its school record for wins with the most since the program’s last Semifinal run in 1997. Click for more from the Marinette (Wis.) Eagle Herald.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 17, Algonac 0

Reigning Division 5 champion West Catholic (11-2) completed an impressive even if not altogether unexpected run through three road games and a neutral-site semi to return to Ford Field. Defense has been the story for the Falcons this season, and they added a shutout after holding their first three playoff opponents to a combined 20 points. Algonac, in its first Semifinal appearance, held West Catholic to the latter’s second fewest points this season. But the Muskrats (11-2) failed to get on the board for the first time since Week 3 of 2014. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 6

Maple City Glen Lake 34, Leroy Pine River 20

Glen Lake’s earned it first trip to the Finals in football since 1996 on the success of a run game that was able to navigate the snowy conditions at Thirlby Field in Traverse City. Pine River (9-4), playing in its first Semifinal, had given up only 33 points total over the first three playoff games. Glen Lake (11-2), with the win, tied for its most in a season also since that 1996 run. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Jackson Lumen Christi 27, Millington 7

Lumen Christi (11-2) is headed back to Ford Field for its first championship game since 2009 thanks in part to a second-straight single-digit performance by its defense. After holding Napoleon to only six points in the Regional Final, the Titans kept Millington to its fewest this fall (Millington also had scored only seven against Frankenmuth in Week 5). The Semifinal was the first for the Cardinals (11-1) since back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia 34, Ubly 16

The Pirates (13-0) will return to the Division 7 Final after finishing runner-up a year ago. And they booked the trip by downing an undefeated team for the third straight week, handing Ubly (12-1) a first loss after doing the same to Traverse City St. Francis in the Regional Final and Saugatuck in the District championship game. After missing 100 yards rushing last week for the first time in three seasons, Pirates running back Jared Smith came back with 119 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Detroit Loyola 54, Cassopolis 22

Loyola will play in its fourth championship game in five seasons seeking to add to its 2014 title after continuing a playoff run that has seen the Bulldogs beat four league title winners and all by at least 23 points. Cassopolis (11-2), champion of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red, was playing in its first Semifinal and set a program record this fall for victories. But the usually defense-strong Rangers couldn’t stop a Loyola attack that scored its second-most points this season. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central 35, St. Ignace 0

The Crusaders (13-0) will play for a fourth straight Division 8 championship after improving on a Week 2 win over the Saints. MCC had beaten St. Ignace 21-6 in that first meeting, and led this one 21-0 by the end of its first possession of the second half. The shutout was the Crusaders’ third straight, and they’ve given up only seven points total over four playoff games. MCC also defeated the Saints (11-2) in a Semifinal last season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.  

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 40, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 21

Whiteford (13-0) has been building for years toward what will be its first championship game , and broke through after also playing but falling in a Semifinal a year ago. Jesse Kiefer ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns as the team piled up 526 yards of total offense, and the defense held mostly tight despite 152 yards rushing and two scores by MLS’s Casey Williams on only eight carries. The Cardinals finished 10-3 after reaching their second Semifinal in three seasons. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

PHOTO: Walled Lake Western's Cody White breaks through the line against Lowell in their Division 2 Semifinal on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of State Champs! Sports Network.)

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.)