A Game for Every Fan: District Openers

October 30, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Friday begins another five-week journey to whittle 272 MHSAA football playoff qualifiers to nine champions.

But many more than nine teams have something to celebrate over the next month:

  • Burton Atherton, Lapeer, Ypsilanti, Big Rapids Crossroads Academy and New Haven Merritt Academy are appearing in the playoffs for the first time. Lapeer is in its first year as a school.

  • Brethren (1990), Manton (1994), Fraser (1998), Harrison (1999), Romulus (2000), Bad Axe (2001), Riverview Gabriel Richard (2003), Leroy Pine River (2005), Newberry (2005) and Quincy (2005) all are in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

  • Rockford, with 20 straight appearances, has taken over the longest active playoff streak with Felch North Dickinson not qualifying this fall for the first time since 1990. Menominee has qualified 19 straight seasons, and Crystal Falls Forest Park is next with 18 straight.

  • Beal City has made the playoffs 15 straight seasons and an MHSAA-best 32 times overall, following by Farmington Hills Harrison with 31 appearances and Forest Park with 30.

  • All nine champions from 2013 are back, although Marine City is in Division 5 after winning Division 4 a year ago. All but one of last season’s 18 finalists made the field again. Ithaca is going for its fifth straight title, and Birmingham Brother Rice is seeking its fourth straight.

And it all begins this weekend. Read on for some of the best matchups from each division. All are Friday unless noted.


Fraser (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (9-0)

Fraser was among big celebration stories Sunday after earning its first playoff berth since 1998 – in fact, the Ramblers have achieved their first winning season since 2001 and were 3-6 only a year ago. Fraser also opened this fall 1-3 before winning five straight to qualify – so there’s a lot here to praise. But Fordson has high expectations as well. The Tractors have made the playoffs nine straight seasons but not past the District opener since 2011. Three of their last five wins this fall are over playoff teams – and Fordson gave up single-digit points in seven victories.

Others that caught my eye: Waterford Mott (6-3) at Walled Lake Central (7-2), Plymouth (7-2) at Livonia Churchill (7-2), Hudsonville (5-4) at Holland West Ottawa (5-4).


Caledonia (7-2) at Muskegon Mona Shores (8-1), Saturday

For statewide fans, this is the most intriguing game of opening weekend. Their first meeting wasn’t much to discuss – Mona Shores won big, 40-7. But since, Caledonia has outscored its five opponents by a combined 187-27. Four of those opponents are in the playoffs, and total the Fighting Scots have beaten six playoff teams from arguably the strongest area of the state. That said, Mona Shores might be the best from the west right now, given arguably its most memorable win ever last week, 48-27 over Muskegon. Quarterback Tyree Jackson will finish his career among the leading passers in MHSAA history, and his offense is averaging 41 points per game.  

Others that caught my eye: Portage Northern (6-3) at Portage Central (7-1), Farmington Hills Harrison (7-2) at Fenton (9-0), Southfield (6-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1).


East Grand Rapids (6-3) at Lowell (8-1)

The Red Arrows own four straight wins over their Ottawa-Kent Conference White rival. But it’s important to put the last couple of matchups in perspective; Lowell helped keep East Grand Rapids out of the playoffs in 2011 with a 42-39 win and then won 30-25 in Week 3 this fall. The Pioneers would surely enjoy returning to the playoffs after two years off by ending Lowell’s season in a District opener.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (7-2) at Cedar Springs (8-1), Mount Pleasant (6-3) at Marquette (7-2) on Saturday, Grand Rapids Christian (5-4) at St. Johns (8-1).


Goodrich (7-2) at Saginaw Swan Valley (9-0)

It will be tough for Swan Valley to not look ahead to a possible District Final matchup with Lansing Sexton, the only team to beat the Vikings the last two seasons (in last year’s Regional Final). But they know to be careful with Goodrich, their District Final opponent in 2012 and the second-place team this fall in the solid Genesee Area Conference Red. Swan Valley has enjoyed senior running back Alex Grace to the tune of 7,055 rushing yards while building a 30-4 record over the last three seasons – he’s currently fifth all-time for career rushing yards in MHSAA history and could move up to third on the list with a big game Friday.

Others that caught my eye: Paw Paw (6-3) at Edwardsburg (8-1), Williamston (7-2) at Lansing Sexton (9-0), Detroit Country Day (5-4) at Detroit Denby (5-4) on Saturday.


Muskegon Oakridge (8-1) at Hopkins (8-1)

This is another of the few battles between league champions highlighting the first weekend; Hopkins won the O-K Silver and Oakridge claimed the West Michigan Conference title. Oakridge’s lone loss came on opening night to reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic, and the Eagles fell just shy of playing for that title last fall losing to Menominee in a Semifinal. But Hopkins earned enough playoff points to host this week with a strong nonleague slate – in addition to beating Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian to win its O-K division, the Vikings also beat Schoolcraft and lost to Allendale in nonconference play. All three are playing this weekend as well.

Others that caught my eye: Lakeview (8-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (7-2), Newaygo (7-2) at Reed City (7-2), Stockbridge (6-3) at Olivet (7-2) on Saturday.


Montrose (6-3) at Flint Beecher (9-0)

With its long winning tradition and after losing by only a point to Ithaca in a Semifinal last fall, Montrose might still be considered by some the favorite in this District opener – despite losing to Beecher 19-14 only two weeks ago in the deciding game of the GAC Red. In fact, Beecher will make its eighth straight playoff appearance and finished perfect for the regular season for the second time in six years, and made the Semifinals in 2012. Montrose did give the Buccaneers their toughest game this season – but the Rams have plenty to prove with three losses over their last five games and no wins this season over teams with winning records.

Others that caught my eye: Niles Brandywine (8-1) at Watervliet (8-1), Manchester (8-1) at Clinton (9-0), Schoolcraft (6-3) at Constantine (8-1).


Iron Mountain (6-3) at Iron River West Iron County (8-1)

Despite the shared mineral in their names, these schools actually are about 45 miles apart along the Michigan/Wisconsin border. But the rivalry burns as if they are neighbors, even though they also play in different leagues. They’ve faced each other annually for nearly 50 years and often twice of late with a rematch in the playoffs. West Iron won the first game this year, 24-0, but the Mountaineers are 5-1 since despite one-point wins each of the last two weeks.

Others that caught my eye: Ishpeming Westwood (6-3) at Ishpeming (8-0), Pewamo-Westphalia (7-2) at Union City (8-1), Homer (7-2) at Hudson (8-1).


Hillman (8-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-1)

This is a rematch of a 2012 playoff opener, a 62-14 Johannesburg-Lewiston win, but things have changed slightly. That year Hillman was an at-large qualifier at 5-4; this season the Tigers have only a loss to undefeated Whittemore-Prescott. The Cardinals have beaten three playoff teams, falling only to St. Ignace in Week 5, and quietly built on one of the consistently strong programs in the northern Lower Peninsula – they’ve won at least eight games four seasons running.

Others that caught my eye: Indian River Inland Lakes (7-2) at Munising (8-1), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (6-2) at Waterford Our Lady (8-1) on Saturday, Pittsford (7-2) at Climax-Scotts (8-1).


Bellaire (7-2) at Cedarville (8-1) on Saturday

Cedarville’s football program probably has looked forward to this week for nearly a year – the Trojans were upset 28-26 in their playoff opener last season by league foe Engadine, a year after a similar upset at the hands of rival Rapid River in a 2012 Regional Final. Cedarville seems on the cusp of big things again – but this time must first face Bellaire, another Bridge Football Alliance opponent. The Eagles are seeking their first 8-player win in five games against the Trojans after falling to them 57-14 only two weeks ago.

Others that caught my eye: Kingston (6-3) at Owendale-Gagetown (8-1), Portland St. Patrick (8-1) at Lawrence (9-0) on Saturday, New Haven Merritt Academy (6-3) at Morrice (5-4) on Saturday.

PHOTO: Mona Shores quarterback Tyree Jackson prepares to throw during last week’s victory over rival Muskegon. (Photo courtesy of Eric Sturr.)

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.)