A Game for Every Fan: District Openers

October 31, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A handful of MHSAA football teams always are safe to expect at Ford Field when we finish the annual five-week Finals run into Thanksgiving weekend. 

But if the record number of at-large qualifiers – 31 – or the difficulty in picking the best first-round matchups are indications, this weekend could be ripe for plenty of the unexpected.

A total of 38 teams enter the playoffs perfect for the regular season. Ithaca is riding a national-record 51-game winning streak and seeking its fourth straight Division 6 title, while Detroit Cass Tech and Birmingham Brother Rice are going for their third straight each in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively.

How they might fare this time will be easier to predict over the next few weeks. But first things first, and in this case it’s our forecast of the best District openers all over the state this weekend. (Click to see the entire schedule, with dates, times and locations.) 

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central (7-2) at Northville (8-1)

Arguably the most competitive District in any division also includes Canton and Walled Lake Western, but Northville finished ahead of both to win the Kensington Lakes Activities Association. That doesn’t necessarily make the Mustangs favored. DCC’s only marks against came against reigning Division 2 champion Birmingham Brother Rice, and the Shamrocks have plenty of know-how in the postseason – they’ve finished Division 1 runner-up the last two seasons.

Others that caught my eye: East Kentwood (5-4) at Hudsonville (6-3), Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (6-3) at Rochester Adams (6-3), Belleville (6-3) at Saline (8-1), Canton (8-1) at Walled Lake Western (8-1).

Division 2

Southfield (7-2) at Birmingham Seaholm (8-1)

This is a meeting of Oakland Activities Association champions, with OAA White winner Southfield hoping to bounce back after last week’s loss to Red champ Clarkston. Blue champ Seaholm also lost in Week 9, to Detroit U-D Jesuit. The Bluejays have been considered MHSAA contenders since the preseason, but the Maples quietly are 16-3 over the last two years and poised to take the next step.

Others that caught my eye: Midland Dow (7-2) at Fenton (8-1), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (7-2) at Muskegon (8-1), Ypsilanti Lincoln (7-2) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (9-0), Taylor Truman (7-2) at Allen Park (7-2).

Division 3

Zeeland East (5-4) at Zeeland West (8-1)

It’s fair to assume this won’t be much of a game – East got in with an at-large bid and its worst record since 2009. But there’s too much history to ignore. East did win their first matchup this season, in Week 2, 50-44. And after the Chix cruised to a 9-0 regular season in 2012, West upset them during the District opener. More payback would be the best way to end a four-game losing streak for East – although West hasn’t lost again this fall since that early defeat.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Denby (7-2) at Detroit Mumford (7-2), Eaton Rapids (5-4) at Charlotte (7-2), Haslett (6-3) at DeWitt (9-0), Riverview (7-2) at Melvindale (7-2).

Division 4

Battle Creek Pennfield (8-1) at Paw Paw (8-1)

League champions clash in the best Division 4 game of opening night, Paw Paw from the Wolverine B Conference East and Pennfield from the Kalamazoo Valley Association. Pennfield has made the playoffs every season under the current format, which began in 1999 – but enters this run with perhaps its best defense of the bunch after giving up seven or fewer points in six games. Paw Paw is coming off a disappointing loss to Edwardsburg last week, but has been similarly sturdy stopping opponents – Week 9 was the first the Redskins gave up more than 14 points in a game.

Others that caught my eye: Harper Woods Chandler Park (7-2) at Richmond (8-1), Dowagiac (6-3) at Edwardsburg (9-0), Dearborn Heights Robichaud (6-3) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-2), Yale (6-3) at Saginaw Swan Valley (9-0).

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (5-4) at Portland (7-1)

Just as this matchup was tough to predict when these teams met for the Division 5 championship last season, it’s hard to read again this fall. The Raiders rebuilt quickly, with their lone loss two weeks ago to Division 3 contender DeWitt, 13-7. West Catholic made the playoffs with an at-large bid after a one-point win in Week 9 – but has won four straight after opening 0-3.

Others that caught my eye: Kingsford (7-2) at Grayling (8-1), Clare (7-2) at Reed City (9-0), Olivet (8-1) at Hopkins (7-2), River Rouge (8-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1). 

Division 6

Reese (8-1) at Montrose (9-0) 

Judging by last week’s Genesee Area Conference Blue deciding game, it's fair to guess this might not be much of a contest – Montrose ran past second-place Lake Fenton 37-0 to claim the title outright and also beat Reese 38-8 on opening night. But the Rockets haven’t loss since or scored fewer than 41 points since the first week of October.

Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids (6-3) at Boyne City (7-2), Marlette (8-1) at Saginaw Nouvel (8-1), Schoolcraft (8-1) at Niles Brandywine (8-1), Manchester (7-2 at Grass Lake (8-1).

Division 7

Saugatuck (8-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-1) 

One of these teams has reached MHSAA semifinals each of the last three seasons and both have advanced to Ford Field once during that time. And each has prepared well this season against similar or bigger foes – Saugatuck’s lone loss was to playoff qualifier Decatur and it beat Division 6 qualifier Hartford. Pewamo-Westphalia beat Division 5 qualifier Lansing Catholic and lost only to Division 8 powerhouse New Lothrop.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City St. Francis (5-4) at Iron River West Iron County (9-0), Royal Oak Shrine (6-3) at Madison Height Bishop Foley (6-3), St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (6-2) at Cassopolis (6-3), Whittemore-Prescott (6-3) at Lake City (8-1).

Division 8

Bessemer (6-3) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-0) 

We discussed this game at length when these teams met only two weeks ago and Forest Park celebrated avenging a 2012 loss to the Miners to this time clinch the Great Western Conference title outright. A win for Bessemer in this game would be even bigger as the Trojans are attempting to bounce back after failing to reach the District Finals last season for the first time since 2002.

Others that caught my eye: Munising (6-3) at Powers North Central (7-2), Mio (7-2) at Beal City (9-0), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-2) at Waterford Our Lady (7-2), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (6-3) at Coleman (7-2).


Deckerville (5-4) at Peck (9-0)

Last season’s champion opens these playoffs against one of the favorites according to playoff points average. Deckerville won the MHSAA championship in 2012, the team's first season of 8-player, and won two of its final three regular season games this fall. Peck is one of three 9-0 teams in 8-player and owns the third-highest playoff point average in the division. The Pirates beat Deckerville 56-8 only two weeks ago.

Others that caught my eye: Akron-Fairgrove (7-2) at Owendale-Gagetown (8-1), Casonville Port-Sanilac (6-3) at Portland St. Patrick (7-2), Bellaire (5-4) at Kinde-North Huron (6-3), Engadine (5-4) at Cedarville (8-1). 

PHOTO: DeWitt (blue helmets) and Portland met in a Week 7 battle of undefeated teams, and both are considered Ford Field possibilities – DeWitt in Division 3 and Portland in Division 5. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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:

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.)