Forest Park Tradition Gains Another Title

November 18, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MARQUETTE – Fans wearing black and red chanted “U.P. Power” while their favorite team ran for nearly 500 yards without throwing a pass Saturday at the Superior Dome.

This was Crystal Falls Forest Park football. And it didn’t matter how many players were on the field.

The Trojans, in their second season of 8-player, added a fourth MHSAA football championship running away early and often on the way to a 54-12 win in the inaugural 8-Player Division 2 Final.

The way Forest Park won, it could’ve been Ford Field or Pontiac Silverdome – where the Trojans made most of their first 13 championship game appearances. They gained an 8-Player Finals record 481 yards on 52 carries and set another record with eight rushing touchdowns.

The championship was the program's first since 2007.

“Last week, we watched 2007 states in our class, and (Saturday) was just like it,” Forest Park senior running back Connor Bortolini said. “We just stick to running the ball, and that’s what we do.

“The 2007 guys, some of them came up to us before the game, told us ‘Good luck.’ And now it’s our turn to do that.”

Senior Peter Ropiak had 275 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, sharing the backfield load with Bortolini, who totaled 196 yards and four rushing scores. Junior Calvin Post added the eighth rushing touchdown on a 1-yarder with 6:02 to play.

Bortolini scored the first just 1:47 into the game. Portland St. Patrick scored 1:26 later. And then the Trojans (10-2) put up the next 40 points, with Bortolini scoring four in a row total before Ropiak scored three consecutive.

The Trojans might have been the second or third best team in 8-player last season, but ran into Powers North Central in a Regional Final as North Central was finishing its second straight perfect season. Forest Park opened this fall 1-2, but then won its final nine games to return to the state’s elite.

“These kids don’t know the difference between 8-man and 11-man. They are out there competing. They’re out there being the best that they can be,” Trojans coach Dave Graff said. “For them to turn the page here, and do it in style where you have a sophomore middle linebacker who bench presses 115 pounds and runs a 5.5 40, a corner who’s 5-foot-5 and runs a 5-5 40. We’re doing it with people who are young, inexperienced, and yet they come out and get better every week. And they just have a new tradition, an 8-man tradition at Forest Park, and it’s good for them.”

Bortolini and Ropiak did their damage behind a line of junior guard Jacob Peterson, junior center Hal Hoenig, senior guard Robert Ponchaud and senior tight end Jonah Logan. All four weigh in between 205-240 pounds. St. Patrick has only one player tipping above 190.

“They’ve got some big bodies and they’re pretty simple – they come downhill at you,” St. Patrick coach Patrick Russman said “It’s a great scheme for them. We’ve just got to work on getting a little bigger.”

And the Trojans’ defense cannot be forgotten. St. Patrick gained only 169 yards on 43 plays, and the 12 points were the second-fewest the team scored this season as the Shamrocks averaged 35 per game. The inability to move the ball on offense kept the pressure on the defense – a lot to manage against such a productive attack.

The Shamrocks (11-2) were playing for their first football championship since 1992 and in their first Final since 1997 after reaching the Semifinals for the third time since switching to 8-player in 2012. Their only other loss this fall was to Division 1 semifinalist Bellevue.

“Just being around these kids and the seniors especially, all of them, they’re such great leaders off the field. It’s going to carry over for us,” said Russman, also the school’s athletic director. “They’re really good football players on the field, obviously, but the things they’ve done off the field have just been life-changing for the coaches and kids around it.

“So you hope they continue all those things going into their next sports, and we’ll build on it next year.”

Junior Tanner Lawson threw for 125 yards and a touchdown for St. Patrick, connecting with senior Will Simon on a 19-yard score in the first quarter. Senior Isaiah Smith added a fourth-quarter 1-yard rushing touchdown. Smith had 13 tackles and Simon had 11, while junior linebacker Paul Cook added 10.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Connor Bortolini charges toward the end zone for one of his four touchdowns Saturday. (Middle) A Trojans defender wraps up Portland St. Patrick’s Ned Smith. (Photos by John Johnson.)

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.)