Eriksen, Clarkston Finish 'Dream' Run

November 30, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — Ian Eriksen's senior season was slipping away.

And so was his lifelong dream.

Eriksen and his football-playing buddies in Clarkston talked about earning an MHSAA championship back when they were in elementary school and winning the Super Bowl of the Northern Youth Football League in Oakland County.

But after rushing for 2,167 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior, Eriksen came into his senior year with Achilles and ankle injuries, then underwent arthroscopic surgery for a partially torn meniscus in his right knee on Sept. 19.

Four Friday nights passed with Eriksen in street clothes, unsure of when — or if — he'd ever rejoin his teammates in pursuit of their shared dream.

"That was really tough, because I've never been injured that seriously," Eriksen said. "It could've been a lot worse. I tried to be positive. All you can do is be positive rather than mope over it."

One positive out of the situation may be that Eriksen was fresh enough by the end of the playoffs to take on a heavy workload and help carry the Wolves to their first MHSAA football title.

Eriksen ran 32 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns in Clarkston's 32-14 victory over perennial power Detroit Catholic Central in the MHSAA Division 1 championship game Saturday at Ford Field.

He also had a 30-yard catch to extend Clarkston's first touchdown drive, and a sack. In Clarkston's last two games, Eriksen ran 76 times for 592 yards and nine touchdowns.

"He gave us a lot of problems," said veteran Catholic Central coach Tom Mach, who has built a dynasty with the power-running game. "He was a very good running back. He would be a good running back in our program. We would've loved to have him. We had a lot of trouble tackling him. He got the extra yard and put in the extra effort.

“They kept the ball away from us, getting those first downs, getting those first downs, getting those first downs. That's frustrating on a team, especially when you do get the ball when you're a ball-control offense like us."

Bringing Clarkston its first MHSAA championship was the fulfillment of a dream for Eriksen and his teammates after the program reached three Semifinals and made the postseason 16 times under 27-year coach Kurt Richardson.

"In Little League, there's a Super Bowl," Eriksen said. "We won the Super Bowl together in 2006 when we were in fourth and fifth grade. The next thing we started talking about was winning a high school championship if we could do it. We knew we could."

Eriksen and some of the players who delivered that championship were in the stands at Troy Athens four years ago when Clarkston lost by two points in a Semifinal to Sterling Heights Stevenson.

"I remember when that happened," Eriksen said. "Everyone in the community was just so upset about that. Me and the other guys were like, 'That's not going to happen to us when we get there.'" 

Clarkston made Catholic Central settle for a third straight runner-up finish by stealing a page from the Shamrocks' script.

Led by Eriksen and an outstanding offensive line, the Wolves ground out 288 yards on 45 carries. They had a 27:58 to 20:02 advantage in time of possession. 

"The offensive line doesn't get enough credit," Richardson said. "They deserve it for this one."

After a punt and interception ended Clarkston's first two drives, the Wolves scored touchdowns on their next five possessions. 

Both teams had promising drives end with interceptions deep in the opponent's territory before Clarkston broke through for the game's first score with 13 seconds left in the first half.

Converting three times on third down and once on fourth, Clarkston moved 91 yards in 17 plays, taking 6:36 off the clock, before D.J. Zezula hit Shane Holler with a 15-yard touchdown pass on a post route. The extra point failed. 

The key play on the drive was a 30-yard pass to Eriksen on third-and-12 from Clarkston's 15-yard line.

"We knew we had to score, because we got the ball to start the second half," Zezula said. "It was 0-0 and we knew we had to get up on CC. They brought in an extra (defensive back). The play-action with Ian helps me out a lot with time and the O-line helps me a lot with time. We knew the play-action would work." 

Catholic Central's best drive of the first half came following the opening kickoff. The Shamrocks marched to the Clarkston 24 before Tim Cason intercepted a pass, only the second pick thrown by Catholic Central all season.

Jack Van Acker made two big plays to keep Clarkston out of the end zone on the Wolves' second possession. First, he made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 35-yard run by Eriksen to the Shamrocks' 10-yard line. Then, two plays later, he picked off a pass in the end zone after Clarkston moved to the 6. 

A 63-yard punt by Zach Bock pinned Clarkston at its own 9-yard line with 6:49 left in the second quarter before the Wolves drove for the only touchdown of the first half. Clarkston's average starting field position on three first-half possessions was its own 10.

Armed with a lead and momentum, Clarkston took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 80 yards in eight plays, taking a 12-0 lead on a 37-yard run by Eriksen with 8:18 left in the third quarter. 

The lead reached 18-0 on a 1-yard run by Eriksen with 3:59 left in the third.

Catholic Central got on the board when Dylan Roney scored on a 2-yard run with 45 seconds left in the third quarter, cutting Clarkston's lead to 18-7. 

The Wolves responded with a seven-play, 71-yard drive that ended on a 47-yard pass from Zezula to Caine Watlington with 8:35 left in the game.

The Shamrocks scored again on a 48-yard pass from Sean Birney to Alexander Bock with 5:46 left, but Clarkston again had an answer, with Eriksen scoring on a 12-yard run to cap the scoring with 4:06 left.

Zezula was 10 for 15 for 154 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Birney was 13 for 23 for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

Clarkston won its final 13 games after a season-opening loss to Rochester Adams, a loss the Wolves avenged in the playoffs.

"A lot of these kids have been playing together since fifth grade," Richardson said. "They've played Chiefs together, so they've come up through the junior ranks. We all felt this could be a special season. We had some issues at the start. We talked to the kids at the time about turning a negative into a positive. You're going to get slapped in the face in life. We got slapped in the face in the first game. They learned from it. It was a huge coming-together point for us as a team." 

Catholic Central (11-3) became the third team to finish runner-up three straight years. Utica Eisenhower was the Division 1 runner-up from 1999-2001 and Crystal Falls Forest Park was the Division 8 runner-up from 2004-06.

The Shamrocks' 2012 runner-up team was led defensively by sophomore middle linebacker David Widzinski, who had a game-high 15 tackles. Less than two weeks later, he died in his sleep. 

Tributes to Widzinski were visible at Ford Field. Catholic Central's uniforms had a patch with his No. 33 inside a shamrock. In the student section, some students wore white and formed a 33 within a field of blue shirts worn by the others. Widzinski's jersey hung on the wall on the Catholic Central sideline.

"We brought up David a lot," Mach said. "He was a force behind our team all year long. Every day after practice, we would say a prayer for him and the people in our community who are suffering. It was a real learning experience for our kids to put something bigger than themselves in place of winning and losing." 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston players trade high fives with fans as they march off the Ford Field turf with their first MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Clarkston running back Ian Eriksen runs through the reaching arms of Detroit Catholic Central defenders Saturday. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.) 

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.)