Finals Flashback: Remembering the '9s'

November 29, 2019

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

This weekend’s MHSAA 11-Player Football Finals at Ford Field will conclude another decade for the most played and watched high school sport in Michigan.

We’ll roll into this year’s games remembering some decade-enders of the past from 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009.

Redemption

The 1979 season marked the first playoff appearance for Norway, which had failed to qualify for the MHSAA postseason in 1975 and 1976 despite undefeated seasons.

However, the scoreless first half of the Knights’ Class D championship battle with Schoolcraft wasn’t proceeding as planned.

“We went into the locker room at halftime and made a few offensive changes,” said Norway coach Bob Giannunzio. “Our running game wasn’t working, so we decided we would pass more in the second half.”

The Norway defense forced six second-half turnovers that led to three touchdowns and a 21-6 win over Schoolcraft. Quarterback Chuck Soderlund connected on 6-of-14 passes for 110 yards including a 45-yard TD pass to Gregg Noordhoff to break the scoreless deadlock. Nordhoff added a second score from four yards out early in the in the fourth quarter for a 14-6 lead. Soderlund added a game-sealing TD on a QB sneak with 1:30 remaining.

It was the first of back-to-back titles for Giannunzio and the little Upper Peninsula school located near Iron Mountain. Since that season, Norway has advanced as far as the Semifinal round twice, in both 2002 and 2006

“We said if we ever got here we’d win it, said Giannunzio to the Detroit Free Press. “We wanted to start off right for the U.P. It’s a big burden playing for the whole Upper Peninsula.”

The Greatest

In Class B in 1989, Farmington Hills Harrison scored a 28-27 victory over DeWitt in what many still consider one of the greatest games of the MHSAA’s 45-year playoff history. The reigning Class B champion and top-ranked Hawks had their hands full. Tied 7-7 after one quarter, the Panthers grabbed a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter on 32-yard run by fullback John Tellford and a 35-yard pass play from Tellford to John Cowan. Harrison responded with a Matt Conley one-yard run to cut the margin to 21-14 at the half.

Hawks quarterback Mill Coleman knotted the score at 21-21 with a dazzling 16-yard run early in the fourth quarter, but DeWitt stormed back again driving 75 yards on 13 plays. The series was highlighted by tight end Dave Riker's 24-yard, one-handed catch to the Hawks’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Chris Berkimer slipped over from the 1, and DeWitt again took the lead 27-21.

With 2:12 remaining and the ball at the Harrison 33, Coleman went to work. Three quick completions moved the ball to the DeWitt 16, and then Coleman let his legs do the rest. Following a Hawks timeout, Coleman dashed right for seven more yards to the Panthers’ 9. Facing a 2nd-and-3, Coleman dropped back to pass, escaped the rush at the DeWitt 17, then scampered up the middle and dove into the end zone for the tying points. Steve Hill added his fourth PAT of the game with 1:34 remaining for the final margin, then secured the victory with an interception on the next series.

Electrifying

Charles Rogers, perhaps the most electrifying high school receiver to ever touch the carpet at the Pontiac Silverdome, caught a single pass in the 1999 Division 2 title game, but he was the difference maker in Saginaw’s 14-7 win over Birmingham Brother Rice. The reception, defended by a single back, was a 60-yard touchdown reception from Brandon Cork on Saginaw’s first possession. Rogers broke a pair of tackles on the way to the end zone to open the scoring. The point-after attempt was blocked.

It was one of only six pass attempts by Saginaw on the day, and the only completion. But after that, as Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press wrote, “If Rogers would have gone up to the concourse for a hot dog, I’m sure a couple of Rice defensive backs would have been there to wipe the mustard off his chin.”

“He’s a big-time player, he should be in the NFL,” Rice coach Al Fracassa told McCabe. “He reminded me of Randy Moss. He’s always a threat just having him out there.”

A Saginaw fumble on the first play of the second half was recovered by Rice’s Tony Gioutsos at the Trojans’ 31. Eight plays later, Gioutsos scored from five yards out. Ross Ryan added the extra point for a 7-6 Rice lead.

Saginaw’s defense was aggressive, with constant pressure on Rice quarterback Mark Baker, sacking him twice while holding the Warriors to 78 yards rushing on 36 attempts.

Saginaw took advantage of the extra attention received by Rogers. Terry Jackson pounded out 106 yards on 18 carries, including 60 of Saginaw’s 84 yards on their game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. With Rogers drawing triple coverage, Jackson dashed opposite side for a 17-yard TD with 7:03 to play. Jackson also added the 2-point conversion for the game’s final margin.

A Wild Ride

Farmington Hills Harrison picked up its 10th state title with a 42-35 win over Grand Rapids Creston in a 1999 Division 3 championship game filled with wide-open play. Creston opened the title contest with a recovered onside kick and then drove 49 yards in five plays, ending with an Andrew Terry’s touchdown from a yard out. Harrison rebounded with a field goal, followed by a three-yard TD run by Kevin Woods off a pass interception for a 10-7 lead.

Creston responded with a four play, 79-yard touchdown drive that consumed a little over two minutes. Featuring a 41-yard pass play from QB Carlton Brewster to Lanard Latham near the end of the first quarter, the Polar Bears opened the second with a 25-yard run to the end zone by Terry. Odene Pringle’s extra point gave Creston a 14-10 lead.

Harrison then went 68 yards in six plays and under three minutes as Woods scored again from a yard out to regain the lead for his team 17-14.

The fireworks continued following another pass interception by the Hawks and another three-yard TD by Woods that upped the lead to 24-14. By halftime it was 27-21.

Harrison’s lead was short-lived as coach Charles “Sparky” McEwen’s Creston squad went 80 yards in 2:27 following the kickoff, capped by a Brewster to Latham 11-yard scoring strike. Pringle’s kick made it 28-27.

The Hawks responded on the next drive. It was 35-28 at the end for three quarters, then 42-28 when Woods scored again near the beginning of the fourth. In total, he would finish with 153 yards on 33 carries and four touchdowns, tying then-Final scoring marks for touchdowns and points.

Creston struck again with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Richard Gill from Brewster with 7:00 remaining to pull within a seven, 42-35. The Polar Bears regained the ball with 57 second remaining, but a final Hail Mary fell incomplete, ending one of the tournament’s most entertaining games.

Thriller

In 2007, the East Grand Rapids-Orchard Lake St. Mary’s championship battle was a 5 OT affair.

In 2009, it was again anybody’s guess who would emerge as the winner between the schools. The Pioneers entered undefeated, while Orchard Lake St. Mary’s carried four losses into the contest. They began the year with two defeats for the first time since 1991. The first was to this same East team, 21-7. Two others were to Division 1 Detroit Catholic Central, 27-0 and then 7-0.

The opening quarter of the Division 3 Final was scoreless. Orchard Lake opened the scoring early in the second. Quarterback Robert Bolden hit Gary Hunter for a 49-yard completion, and three plays later Bolden broke a pair of tackles to ramble across the goal line from 13 yards out. The Pioneers tied the game at 7-7 with 30 seconds remaining before the intermission, when 6-foot-7 Colin Voss caught a five-yard pass from Ryan Elble and snaked the last two yards into the end zone. St. Mary’s nearly answered in the time remaining as Hunter returned the kickoff 63 yards to the Pioneers’ 24. A false start penalty sent the ball back to the EGR 29, but then Bolden completed a pass to Allen Robinson for 28 yards to the Pioneers’ 1-yard line. Two rushing attempts by St. Mary’s were stopped at the goal line as time expired in the half, the last by Bolden that was ended by East’s Joshua Laarman.

Orchard Lake had opened a 21-17 lead with 9:12 remaining in the game following a three-yard TD by Cortez Riley and an extra point by Nathan Perry. With 4:01 left, that score still stood as the Pioneers took possession at their own 13 following an Eaglets punt. Kirk Spencer dashed for 38 yards to the Orchard Lake 49 on the first play. But with 2:49 remaining, East faced desperation at 4th-and-14. The ensuing pass, intended for Voss, slipped off his fingertips, but was caught by Spencer for a gain of 27 yards to the St. Mary’s 26. With 1:14 to play, Elble found Deon Jobe in the end zone from 15 yards out. Bobby Aardema’s kick gave East Grand Rapids a 24-21 lead.

“But it wasn’t quite over until we heard from Laarman and Spencer one more time,” wrote McCabe about play after the touchdown. “Bolden completed two passes to get to East’s 44 when he took off running. Earlier he scored on a breathtaking 83-yard keeper (giving St. Mary as 14-10 lead in the third quarter).

“The first thing Laarman thought of when he saw Bolden take off was: here we go again.”

Laarman caused a fumble on his attempted stop, and Spencer came up with the ball to seal victory. The win gave East Grand Rapids its fourth consecutive championship. East Grand Rapids would win five straight Division 3 titles between 2006 and 2010.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.net with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTO: Farmington Hills Harrison scored late to edge DeWitt 28-27 in the 1989 Class B Final. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)