Familiar Story Ends With Ishpeming Title

November 30, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

DETROIT – The knowledge gap covering 466 miles between Ishpeming and Detroit Loyola certainly was bridged when the two met in last season’s Division 7 Final. 

Ishpeming – winner that day 20-14 – knew what Loyola had coming back this fall, and heard about a new quarterback coming in. The Hematites watched from afar as the Bulldogs continued to dominate against a beefed-up schedule – and laughed perhaps a little anxiously when 50-0 scores regularly showed up among the Friday night results.

Loyola finished the regular season ranked No. 2. Ishpeming was No. 1. Needless to say, the interest continued to intensify. 

“We knew they were going to be in the Finals,” Ishpeming senior quarterback Alex Briones said. “Right when they were doing selection Sunday, we saw Loyola on the other side of the bracket and we kept them in the back of our heads. We knew we were probably going to meet up with them. But we had to take care of our business first.”

The Hematites did again Saturday, in much the same way but with a few twists as when they beat Loyola a year ago. 

With similar toughness but a little different strategy, Ishpeming came away with its second straight MHSAA title and fourth overall by downing the Bulldogs 22-12.

“It was the same story. From what a lot of people said, we were still the underdog – and rightfully so,” Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said. “They’re a good team, big and strong. I think it really came down to we made plays.” 

Ishpeming displayed the same toughness as in 2012 in standing up against a much larger Bulldogs team that had beaten its previous playoff opponents by a combined score of 205-14.

But how the Hematites made the deciding plays this time was a little bit different. After running for 236 yards and throwing for only 29 in the 2012 win, Ishpeming managed only 146 yards on the ground – but got a key 76 through the air with Briones utilizing play-action to complete six passes including two for touchdowns against a defense stacked for the run. 

The first scoring strike, 17 yards to junior Marcus Antilla, came three minutes after Loyola fumbled the opening kickoff. Briones completed a two-yard scoring strike to senior Mitch Laurin seconds into the second quarter and then scored on a two-yard run a little more than halfway through the third to push Ishpeming’s advantage to 22-0.

“Obviously this was a pretty big thing after last year, coming back to this. And when we turn the ball over like that on the opening kickoff, put them in scoring position and they capitalize … it makes it hard to climb out,” Loyola coach John Callahan said. “It’s not that we couldn’t have done it and shouldn’t have done it. It just wasn’t there.”

There was another unfortunate similarity to last season’s Final for Loyola that certainly played a part this time again. During the first series in 2012, the Bulldogs lost towering offensive tackle KaJohn Armstrong for the game with an injury. Saturday, they lost two-way starting guard Anthony Fitzpatrick, which added salt to the wounds of that fumble plus three interceptions. 

Ishpeming hadn’t seen much passing during its regular season. But the Hematites were prepared for Loyola’s air game after getting tastes against Lake City and Harbor Beach the last two weeks, respectively.

They also hadn’t had to resort to the pass much themselves during a season that saw only Negaunee and Lake City get within 30 points before Saturday. But when called upon, Briones and his receivers were ready. 

“Sometimes, we’re coming out and trying to pass the ball. We’ll incomplete one and Coach says, ‘That’s it. We’re not passing anymore,’” Briones said. “He’s a little stubborn on that subject, … but we were able to execute it today, so that was good.”

Briones also ran for 60 yards total, and senior fullback Adam Prisk ran for a game-high 77. All four Hematites ball carriers Saturday were seniors, as were four of five who caught passes and the team’s top five tacklers. Total, 16 Ishpeming contributors played their final high school game. 

“Over the last two years, we’ve developed a brotherhood. We work together, hang out together, laugh together and we even pick on each other,” Prisk said. “That’s what brothers kinda do, and it’s one thing we’re going to miss.”

Bulldogs senior quarterback Garrett Schaller did throw for 201 yards and two scores, both to senior receiver Keith Graves. They are two of 10 seniors on their team, but Loyola should return a number of standouts in 2014 including leading rusher Marvin Campbell and some of its defensive leaders. 

“There’s no loser in this game. You’re either a winner, or you learn,” Loyola junior linebacker Darryl Clemons said. “We’ve just got to come back next year and do better.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming quarterback Alex Briones attempts to leap two Detroit Loyola tacklers during Saturday's Final. (Middle) The Hematites pose with their trophy after winning Division 7 for the second straight season. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.) 

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)