Drive for Detroit: Week 1 Preview

August 24, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Your wait is over. After nine months of anticipation, high school football will return to Michigan tonight.

And we'll quickly kick off to a great start.

Over the last four seasons, the Second Half weekly preview of the state’s top games was titled “A Game for Every Fan.” Despite a name change this fall, the goal is the same – we’ll highlight a top game in all eight of our Second Half coverage zones, plus the best in 8-player, and suggest a few more as we truly believe there’s a game close by worth watching no matter where our football fans reside.

Drive for Detroit, powered by MI Student Aid, will publish the first varsity game day (generally Fridays) each week. Games are organized regionally by host team (or the Michigan team if it’s playing out of state); this week is a little tricky with a number of games hosted by University of Michigan and Wayne State University, so the top games from those showcases are listed below in the regions where those stadiums are located. All games are Thursday unless noted.

Visit the Score Center tonight and all weekend for scores as they are reported and links to updated schedules and standings.

Bay & Thumb

Algonac (10-2) at Marine City (6-4)

Based on last season’s records alone, maybe this wouldn’t be considered the most intriguing game coming from this region. But the back stories bring these teams up front. Algonac was the story from the Thumb last season, enjoying its best finish ever after going 1-8 in 2014. The Muskrats opened by breaking a 15-game losing streak to Marine City, by the closest of margins winning 19-18, and a number of key contributors are back this fall. The Mariners did go on to extend their playoff streak to 18 straight seasons and shared the Macomb Area Conference Gold championship, but tallied their fewest wins since that last non-playoff season of 1997.

Others that caught my eye: Mount Pleasant (9-3) at Midland Dow (10-2), DeWitt (9-2) at Linden (8-3), New Lothrop (12-1) at Saginaw Nouvel (9-2), Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-2) at Almont (8-3).

Greater Detroit

Chelsea (12-2) vs. River Rouge (12-2), Saturday at Wayne State

Both of these teams finished last season at Ford Field, as both made appearance at the MHSAA Finals for the first time. Chelsea fell in Division 3 to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s but returns veteran quarterback Jack Bush to lead a number of new contributors. River Rouge just missed taking down Grand Rapids West Catholic in last season’s Division 5 championship game and graduated Finals star Antoine Burgess among others who played big roles, but is a combined 40-7 over the last four seasons.

Others that caught my eye: Orchard Lake St. Mary's (12-1) at Macomb Dakota (9-3), Birmingham Groves (10-1) at West Bloomfield (9-1), Livonia Franklin (9-4) at Livonia Stevenson (6-4), Detroit Martin Luther King (14-0) vs. Southfield Arts & Technology (former schools Southfield and Lathrup combined to go 13-8 last season) on Saturday at Wayne State.


Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (13-1), Friday

This is arguably the best matchup of small schools anywhere in the state during opening weekend, with Pewamo-Westphalia coming off a runner-up finish in Division 7 and St. Mary coming off its 12th playoff berth in 13 seasons and only two removed from winning the Division 6 title. Most eyes will be on Pirates senior running back Jared Smith, who set the MHSAA single-season rushing record with 3,250 yards last fall and single-season rushing touchdown record with 53.

Others that caught my eye: Lansing Everett (4-5) at Howell (5-5), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (6-4) at Beal City (9-2) on Friday, Ithaca (14-0) at Clare (5-4) on Friday, St. Johns (8-4) at East Lansing (5-4) on Friday.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Gaylord (6-4) at Boyne City (10-2)

Rebuilt Gaylord found itself in the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007 and with its most wins since 2005 after successive seasons of 0-9, 1-8 and 5-4, respectively. The Blue Devils have replaced key players like most, but so too is Boyne City with running back Malik Smith now at Michigan State after helping the Ramblers to 22 wins against only three losses over the last two seasons. Boyne City does return quarterback Mason Gardner, however, and his presence could be good for a quicker start than many this weekend.

Others that caught my eye: Ada Forest Hills Eastern (11-2) at Petoskey (8-3), Cadillac (2-7) at Big Rapids (7-4), McBain (8-4) at Manistee (7-3), Kingsley (5-4) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-5) on Friday.

Southeast & Border

Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-4), Friday

West Catholic will play its first game in a decade without coach Dan Rohn, who stepped down after last season’s fourth MHSAA championship in six seasons. Still, offensive stars Gaetano Vallone and David Fox should give the Falcons a good head start. Lumen Christi was among an impressive group of teams taken down last season during Clinton’s run to the Division 6 Final; the Titans were eliminated in the Regional Final. But they’re looking to add to an 18-season playoff streak – and add a second straight win in this series after downing West Catholic 22-21 on opening night a year ago.

Others that caught my eye: Manchester (9-2) at Clinton (13-1) on Friday, Coldwater (12-1) at Jackson (8-3) on Friday, Clarkston (7-3) at Lapeer (10-1) on Friday at University of Michigan, Muskegon (9-3) at Ann Arbor Pioneer (7-4) on Saturday at University of Michigan.

Southwest Corridor

Marshall (7-3) at Benton Harbor (6-5), Friday

Last season was one of dreams coming true for Benton Harbor, which gained national acclaim and made the playoffs for the first time (and won a playoff game too) after two straight 0-9 seasons and eight straight total with one or zero wins. This is a new season, but there should be plenty of enthusiasm as it kicks off immediately against a tough opponent. Marshall rebounded off two straight sub-.500 seasons last fall to finish a two-point loss shy of an undefeated run in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference.  

Others that caught my eye: Saugatuck (10-1) at Constantine (7-5), Vicksburg (8-3) at Dowagiac (6-4), Portage Central (8-2) at Mattawan (5-4) on Friday, Battle Creek Central (4-5) at Stevensville Lakeshore (6-4) on Friday.

West Michigan

East Grand Rapids (9-4) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-2), Friday

Grand Rapids Catholic Central will host the first varsity football game at Cougar Stadium against the first of a slate of tough opponents again this season. East Grand Rapids has beaten the Cougars in three straight openers, last season 28-14, and is coming off its best season since also winning nine games in 2011 – the Pioneers were eight points from getting past eventual Division 3 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in last season’s Semifinal. After last season’s loss, GRCC didn’t fall again until its Division 4 District Final.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Ledge (12-1) at Hudsonville (7-4), Muskegon Oakridge (7-3) at Muskegon Catholic Central (11-2), Warren DeLaSalle (6-4) at Lowell (12-2) on Friday, Saline (10-1) at Rockford (7-4) on Friday.

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (13-0) at Iron Mountain (7-4), Friday

Ishpeming is coming off its third MHSAA championship in four seasons after downing P-W in last fall’s Division 7 Final and defeated rival Iron Mountain twice in 2015 – 14-7 on opening night and then 24-14 in their District Final. The Hematites will try to extend a regular-season winning streak that goes back to Week 8 of 2012, as Iron Mountain seeks to beat them for the first time since 2011.

Others that caught my eye: Munising (7-3) at Iron River West Iron County (3-6), Houghton (4-5) at L'Anse (5-4) on Friday, Traverse City St. Francis (12-1) at Marquette (3-5) on Friday, Menominee (11-1) at Marinette, Wis. (2-7) on Saturday.


Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-4 as 11-player) at Rapid River (7-4), Friday

One of the Upper Peninsula’s best rivalries in a number of sports will enjoy a new chapter with Forest Park’s move to 8-player football this fall. As an 11-player team, the Trojans enjoyed a string of 19 straight playoff appearances through last fall. The Forest Park and Rapid River football programs haven’t faced off since 1983, and the Rockets have built one of the top 8-player programs in Michigan since making the switch in 2011.

Others that caught my eye: Lawrence (8-3) at Mayville (5-4 as 11-player), Battle Creek St. Philip (12-1) at Kingston (5-4) on Friday.

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: Ithaca players enter the field during a game last season. (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.)