Football Playoffs: Finals in Review (with videos)
November 28, 2011
Game over. But what a way to finish.
How should we end a four-month MHSAA football season? With 26 hours worth of Finals over the course of two days, viewable from the comfy confines of Detroit's Ford Field.
Following are my final takes from our Finals weekend. Click on the headers below to see our coverage from each game, and check out the videos for a taste of some of the weekend's hoopla.
The first video was done by Potterville grad and MHSAA Scholar-Athlete award winner Sam Davis, and has at least a couple of us ready to put our helmets back on and hit the field. The other is a slice from one of the most raucous student sections from the weekend.
1st and 10
5 and 4 to No. 1: Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice and Flint Powers Catholic weren’t the first teams to reach Finals with a 5-4 record entering the postseason. But both doing so and winning speaks loudly not just of their respective talents, but also on the gains each made by playing tough opponents. Both came out of tough leagues – Brother Rice was one of three finalists from the Detroit Catholic League Central, and Powers played much larger schools in the Big Nine. Both also played and lost to eventual MHSAA champions during the regular season – Brother Rice against Division 3 winner Orchard Lake St. Mary, and Powers against Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel.
Like a rock – or Stone: Detroit Cass Tech linebacker/fullback Royce Jenkins-Stone might’ve been the most impressive all-around player from the weekend. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Michigan prospect ran for 65 yards and had seven tackles – numbers that don’t stick out. But he scored on a 32-yard run, a three-yard pass and a 36-yard interception return.
Just the beginning: Technicians freshman quarterback Jayru Campbell will be in the statewide lens for the next three seasons after throwing for 240 yards and five touchdowns in the Final. He’s 6-3 and 170 pounds, and easily blended in among his star-studded teammates in just his first year of high school. He’ll also have junior Jordan Lewis (four catches, 89 yards, TD) to throw to for another year.
Good company: Brother Rice’s Devin Church was the other individual performer who seemed to wow the media crowd most with his Finals performance. He capped a 900-yard playoffs with 244 and three touchdowns – and drew comparisons from Lowell coach Noel Dean to past star backs like Kevin Grady and T.J. Duckett. Church will sign with Northern Illinois this winter.
Making tracks: Talk about a running attack, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s came within eight yards of putting three backs over 100 each in its Final. The Eaglets ran for 479 yards total – falling just 53 short of the MHSAA Finals record book minimum. Spencer McInnis ran for 214 yards and three scores, while Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis both ran for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Rough and rumble: Zeeland West’s physicality in the Division 4 game was simply stifling. Keep in mind the Dux were without all-state linebacker Josh Blanton because of an injury. Then note that the team had just eight players weighing 200 pounds or more – and only three between 250-275. Zeeland West ran for 288 yards, but more impressively held Marine City to 79.
Charging forward: The weekend’s biggest stunner had to be Flint Powers over Lansing Catholic, for a number of reasons. Powers entered the postseason 5-4 (see above), Lansing Catholic was 9-0. The Cougars had beaten the Chargers 37-17 in Week 2. Lansing Catholic was ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press, while Powers was unranked.
Just the beginning, part II: Ithaca sophomore quarterback Travis Smith is another who will be watched closely after a big-time Ford Field debut. He threw for 299 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in the Yellowjackets’ Division 6 win. Ithaca will graduate a lot in the spring. But the 6-1, 180-pound Smith provides the base needed for a quick rebuild.
Backing it up: Saginaw Nouvel’s Bennett Lewis was another player as good as advertised to those who hadn’t seen him play this season. He ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in a half in Division 7, using both speed and muscle to make his way. At 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, the Division 7-8 AP Player of the Year is getting some Division I looks and is at least a high Division II prospect.
Consistently contending: Here’s an idea why Mendon’s is such an impressive machine – eight of John Schwartz’s assistant coaches also played for him. The ninth, Bob Critz, has been at Schwartz’s side since the latter took over the program in 1989. During the post-championship press conference, Schwartz revealed that he’d had cancer surgery in June and his assistants ran the program through all of the summer prep.
55,360 – Number of fans who attended the 2011 Finals. The total was slightly higher Friday than Saturday.
5 – Number of touchdown passes by Cass Tech’s Campbell and number of rushing scores by Nouvel’s Lewis. Both tied MHSAA Finals records.
56 – Number of points scored by both Saginaw Nouvel (Division 7) and Flint Powers (Division 5) to set the Finals record for most in a championship game. Nouvel scored all of its points in the first half. Both games ended with scores of 56-26 -- and oddly, no other MHSAA game ended with that score this season.
413 – Total yards by Powers junior quarterback Garrett Pougnet, just 13 shy of the MHSAA Finals record set by Holland Christian quarterback A.J. Westendorp in the 2008 Division 4 Final.
97 – Distance in yards of Zeeland West senior Brad Mesbergen’s Finals record kickoff return in the Division 4 Final.
MHSAA.tv: See full postgame press conferences (and field interviews after the Divisions 3 and 4 Finals).
Fox Sports Detroit: Dan Dickerson and John Wangler wrap the two days of finals.
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:
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.)