Garza Shows Range, New Lothrop Reigns

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 23, 2021

DETROIT – It had been a while Saturday since the New Lothrop offense had made a big play. 

The Hornets had seen a 28-point lead shrink to seven and were staring down another big third down. In need of a spark, they turned to the player who had given them so many earlier in the game, and once again, Julius Garza delivered. 

Garza converted the third down, and eventually scored his fourth touchdown to help seal New Lothrop’s 42-35 victory over Traverse City St. Francis in the Division 7 Football Final at Ford Field.  

“Their backers were keying on (Will) Muron all night, so I knew when they flew up, Julius would come open,” New Lothrop senior quarterback Cam Orr said. “I knew if I threw him the ball, he’d catch it no matter where it was.” 

Garza scored four touchdowns in the game – two rushing, one receiving and one on a kick return – to tie him for fourth in MHSAA Finals history for touchdowns in a game. He had 139 yards receiving on four catches and 26 yards rushing on four carries. 

It was his 3rd-and-6 conversion with his team in its own territory and clinging to a seven-point lead, however, that was likely his biggest play of the game. His 26-yard reception on the next play was also in the running, as was the nine-yard touchdown run that put New Lothrop up 42-28 with 2 minutes, 26 seconds to play. 

“It means everything,” Garza said. “It’s kind of taken a little bit to settle in. I feel like I’m on top of the world right now. It’s really exciting. All the work we put in, and everything we do, for it to pay off, it means the world.” 

The title was the Hornets’ third, and first since 2018. If not for a one-point Regional Final loss a year ago against eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia, the program could be celebrating a three-peat. 

“We’ve always had tremendous community backing. We’ve always had tremendous kids that have put in the same amount of work these guys have,” New Lothrop coach Clint Galvas said. “We were just unfortunately not able to get over that hump. Obviously in (2018) we were able to get over that hump and win a state title. Maybe that gave us the confidence we need moving forward as a program, like, ‘Hey, we can do this now.’ Winning a couple is special, but I’m not taking anything away from the previous teams we had, because we had some pretty darn good teams walk through these halls and wear the New Lothrop helmet, and they put in the work, too.” 

At halftime, it looked as though New Lothrop (11-0) would be cruising to title No. 3, as it built a 35-7 lead, using explosive plays. Muron scored on the Hornets’ second offensive play with a 27-yard run, and after St. Francis answered with a three-yard Gabe Olivier touchdown run, Garza returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a score. 

Garza added a 65-yard touchdown reception from Orr and a three-yard touchdown run, before Orr closed out the half with an 11-yard rushing score.  

“Is Julius Garza having a heck of a day surprising? Not at all,” Galvas said. “Those of you who have been around and watched this kid, he was a two-way starter two years ago on the 2018 title team. The kid’s always been a player. … I think they came into the game like a lot of teams, they want to stop Cam and they want to stop Will on the edge. And I think if you do that, sometimes you forget about Julius Garza. We were able to get him a lot of one-on-one matchups with some backers and things, and he’s going to win those pretty much 10 out of 10 times. He’s a heck of an athlete.” 

St. Francis (9-3) clawed back into the game in the second half, however, shutting the New Lothrop offense down and getting its own offense going – albeit in a different manner than the Hornets. The Gladiators power run game started to lean on New Lothrop and scored on its next three possessions prior to Garza’s late-game heroics, to nearly erase the deficit. 

Aidan Schmuckal closed out a nine-play drive with a two-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter, and Charlie Peterson scored on a one-yard sneak early in the fourth to close out a 14-play drive. Schmuckal’s second score, also a two-yard run, came with 6:46 to play and immediately followed a blocked punt by St. Francis’ Jimmy Muzljakovich. 

“I felt like we played a doubleheader today,” St. Francis coach Josh Sellers said. “The score of the first game was 35-7, and the score of the second game was 28-7. Unfortunately, the math didn’t work out in our favor. We let too many big plays go in the first half, obviously. At 35-7 in the locker room, I told them, ‘You’ve got two choices: you can just pack up the tent stakes and go home now, or go out and try to win the second half,’ and they did. They won the second half with great effort, great belief in one another, and we just fell a little bit short today.” 

St. Francis didn’t go away after Garza’s final touchdown, either, scoring with a seven-yard pass from Peterson to Josh Grove with 1:07 to play. New Lothrop recovered the onside kick, however, and after running three plays, Orr ran off the final seven seconds of the game by rolling to his left and throwing the ball high into the air down the field. 

“We like to pride ourselves in our never-giving-up mentality,” Schmuckal said. “We’ve been a team that has been known to battle back and never give up. Going into that second half, I knew that we were never going to give up and we were going to fight to the bitter end, and that’s what we did.” 

Schmuckal led St. Francis with 101 yards rushing, while Owen Mueller had 71 and Olivier had 69. Joey Donahue led the St. Francis defense with eight tackles, while Schmuckal had seven, including three for loss. 

Orr led the Hornets in passing and rushing, throwing for 222 yards on 11-of-15 passing, and running for 122 yards on 17 carries. Alec Mangino led the New Lothrop defense with 12 tackles, while Garza had nine. Muron and Bryce Cheney each had an interception.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) New Lothrop’s Julius Garza looks to make one of his many big plays Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Hornets quarterback Cam Orr reaches the end zone as Traverse City St. Francis’ Gavin Nickodemus (15) and Gabe Olivier (20) bring him to the turf. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)