Grinding Ground Game Has White Pigeon Eyeing Memorable Run

By Wes Morgan
Special for

September 8, 2021

With just a cursory glance at the 2020 results for the White Pigeon varsity football team, the Chiefs’ 4-3 record might not seem all that impressive.

Their opponents this year, however, know not to discount a program that has the potential to both reshape the Southwest 10 Conference standings by the end of the fall, but also to shake things up once the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 8 playoffs get rolling.

Losing two of those contests to eventual D8 champion Centreville — a 14-8 defeat in Week 2 and a 16-0 loss in the District championship game — White Pigeon’s only other misstep was a 26-24 loss to Mendon in what was the Hornets’ final season before moving to the 8-player ranks. White Pigeon’s District opener win over Saugatuck was the school’s first postseason victory since 2009.

The Chiefs are rolling so far this year with sizable wins over Saugatuck (48-6) and Galesburg-Augusta (38-7) to set up a conference opener this Friday against Decatur (1-1). Comstock is White Pigeon’s Week 4 opponent before the anticipated matchup with Centreville on Sept. 24.

"It definitely was a misleading (record) last year,” fourth-year head coach Shawn Strawser said. “(Centreville) was just a little better than us and ended up being state champs. Knowing that we were right there and that’s how close we could have been to having a nice run and being one of the better teams in the state … we watched those teams play and there wasn’t anybody that scared us. We would have loved to have chances against some of those schools last year.

White Pigeon football"I think our guys seeing a team from our conference won a state title, it gives them some confidence that they can do that too if they work hard.”

Perhaps that wish will come true this year as Strawser’s Wing-T offense is pounding opposing defenses thus far despite the graduation of 12 seniors, only 17 players on the varsity roster and several underclassmen in starting roles. If so, it will be because of heart and not size.

At a preseason scrimmage, Strawser instituted a new rule as a result.

"The boys come walking down the sideline and they don’t have their pads on,” he said. “I said, ‘Dang it; what are you guys doing? Don’t you ever walk out here with your pads off. We ain’t intimidating nobody with our pads off, so go get them back on. Some people might see us with our pads off and they think we’re a JV team. But I’ll tell you what, we don’t play like a JV team.”

Seniors Jack Davidson and Dylan Carper so far have amassed staggering rushing production for the Chiefs, who have thrown the ball just three times. Davidson, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound fullback, ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns against Saugatuck and he added 137 yards and three more TDs vs. the Rams in Week 2. Carper, a 5-9, 165-pound back, piled up 130 yards and two scores in Week 1 and added 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. The two also line up at linebacker — a position of strength for the White Pigeon defense

"Carper is a football player,” Strawser said. “You can play him anywhere. He’s the hardest hitter on the team. He could have had 300 yards the first night had I been giving him the ball more. Jack Davidson is not the type of fullback we had the first couple years. He sees holes really well and is a really strong runner.”

Of course, success begins up front with junior tight ends Jordan Stamper and Chris Jackson, left tackle Chaz Underwood (freshman), left guard Esteban Castro (junior), center Wyatt Carunchia (junior), right guard Luke Gropp (senior) and right tackle Seth Miller (sophomore).

White Pigeon football"Our line has probably been the best it has been in a few years, so that’s a big reason why we get so many yards per carry and so many touchdowns,” Carper said. “Them doing their job consistently helps us a lot. It makes it really easy for us to just run through the big hole they made.

"It’s really fun watching Jack go for all these yards. And then the next thing you know, I get to carry and go for a big touchdown. We just get to go back and forth with each other. It’s fun to play and fun to watch. I’m faster than Jack, so I hit the hole quicker. But he’s more powerful and patient than I am. He waits for the hole to develop while I go right through it.”

Davidson has a unique perspective on how the front seven should operate having spent last season at left guard to shore up the offensive line.

"Yeah, I got yelled at a few times,” Davidson joked. “It made me understand how tough it is. I get now why they ask a lot of questions and that I have to be more patient in the backfield.”

"We knew it was going to be a one-year deal,” Strawser added of Davidson’s line days. “We were a little thin on the line last year and he stepped up and did a nice job. But we knew he’d be moving back this year.”

With the meat of the schedule ahead, the Chiefs believe they have what it takes to get to the next level.

"I just think we work really good as a team. And with us all working together, I think we can cause them some trouble,” Carper said. “Every year I think we’re in the mix for (a conference championship), but this year there is a good team at Centreville and at Comstock, so it should be a close race.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) White Pigeon’s Jack Davidson pulls away from a potential tackler last week against Galesburg-Augusta. (Middle) White Pigeon’s defensive front seven – including Davidson (30), Luke Gropp (54), Chris Jackson (8) and Jordan Stamper (84) – loads the box against Saugatuck during Week 1. (Below) Dylan Carper (21) gets to the edge against Saugatuck. (Photos courtesy of the White Pigeon football program.)

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.)