By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
MORENCI – It was a measuring stick for the season. It was Michigan vs. Ohio State, except inside state and county lines. It was tradition.
The Morenci-Hudson football rivalry was like a lot of other football rivalries across Michigan. Often pitting cousin against cousin and friend against friend, the rivalry was among the oldest in the state, with a continuous string of games dating back 99 years.
However, following a cascade of league changes in southeastern Michigan and recent one-sided history in the matchup, the rivalry has been discontinued – leaving behind nearly a century of memories for both communities.
Hudson has dominated the series of late, winning 17 of the last 20 games on the field, although one of those wins was later forfeited. Over 99 years, Hudson holds a 61-39-2 advantage in 102 all-time meetings. But to those who have coached in and played in the game between two southern Lenawee County teams nestled near the state line, the game has always meant more than wins and losses.
“That game? That game was everything,” said Marc Cisco, a 1954 Morenci graduate. “It was the kind of game that kids lived for back then. Both communities would come out for that game. Heck, it would be packed for the JV game. We played in snow and rain. It didn’t matter.”
Cisco had families on both sides of the rivalry. His father’s farm backed right up to the Hudson school district line. His younger brother ended up playing at Hudson.
Cisco is a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He coached at Monroe Jefferson for 51 years, leading his team to the Class BB title in 1994. In high school he once led the state in scoring while playing for the Bulldogs. There was nothing quite like Hudson-Morenci, he said.
“It was the type of game that everyone talked about all summer,” Cisco said. “I knew a lot of players on Hudson’s team. We spent the summers up at Devil’s Lake, just like they did. It was really, really important to win that one.”
Hudson football historian Bill Mullaly has done the research on the rivalry. The two schools first met on the gridiron in 1921, meaning the 2020 game would have marked 100 continuous years of competition.
"It is sad to see this rivalry end,” Mullaly said. “I understand nothing lasts forever, but I always thought there would be a Hudson-Morenci game each fall.”
Both teams have enjoyed record-setting win streaks – and games against each other kept those streaks alive.
Morenci won 44 straight games from 1948 to 1953, setting the state record at the time. Hudson tied that record at Morenci in 1972, defeating the Bulldogs 42-0.
Hudson would go on to win 72 straight games, the national record at the time, under head coach Tom Saylor. One of the players for Saylor during that streak was Chris Luma, who played quarterback for the Tigers. Luma began coaching at Hudson soon after high school and was head coach of the Tigers varsity from 1997-2019, announcing his retirement this month. In 2009 and 2010, Luma coached the Tigers to shutout wins over Morenci – which was coached by Luma’s former coach, Saylor.
In 1982, Hudson opened the season with a 6-2 win over Morenci. The Bulldogs’ only score came when Hudson dropped back to punt and the snap went over the head of the punter and out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The Tigers didn’t give up a touchdown for the first 10 games that season but didn’t get the shutout against the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t allow them to score, we scored for them,” said Scott Marry, who played on that Tigers team that eventually lost in the Class C Semifinals. Marry, who has coached Hudson’s wrestling team to eight MHSAA Finals titles over the last 11 years, said it’s sad the game won’t be played going forward. “That game, every year, was so special. We’d open up with them every year, and you knew that if you won that game, you had a chance to go 9-0. That game was a measuring stick every year.
“I can still remember some of the collisions, the sound of the games against them.”
Jacob Bovee of Morenci played and coached in the rivalry. His wife is from Hudson.
“I remember my uncles and my grandpa talking about playing against Hudson,” Bovee said. “As a player, you liked to compete against them because you knew you were going to get their best shot. As a coach, you knew if you could play them tough you were going to be all right that season.
“We had some success against them, but records didn’t matter. You knew it was going to be a smash-mouth football game.”
Harley McCaskey was an all-state linebacker for Morenci before graduating in 2018. He played three games as a varsity player against the Tigers. The last two were excruciating two-point losses.
“My dad talked about the games he played against Hudson,” he said. “Everyone in school would talk about the Hudson game. When you started lifting weights for the season, you talked about beating Hudson.”
Hudson and Morenci were both members of the Lenawee County Athletic Association until Morenci left the LCAA to join the Tri-County Conference in 1981. Coincidentally, recent league shuffling played a major part in the move to discontinue the rivalry.
Whitmore Lake left the TCC before last season, causing a series of changes. Erie Mason left the LCAA to join the TCC. When that happened, Clinton left the TCC and joined the LCAA. Pittsford, left without an 11-player conference when Adrian Lenawee Christian and Athens decided to move to 8-player football for 2020, was added to the TCC as a football member starting this fall.
Pittsford and Morenci had been nonleague opponents for the last five years. With Pittsford joining the TCC, that left Morenci looking for a new nonleague opponent. The Bulldogs will open the 2020 season on the road at Three Oaks River Valley. Instead of keeping Hudson in the Week 2 slot – the teams have played each other that week for the last 15 years – Morenci instead will play Stockbridge.
Hudson, then, will play Erie Mason, now a nonleague opponent, in 2020.
Hudson has dominated the series in recent years, with several lopsided wins. The Tigers went 2-7 last season but beat Morenci 54-13 when the Bulldogs had fewer than 20 players on its roster. Morenci is 3-15 over the last two seasons, and the school district felt in order to rebuild the program, a new schedule would help.
But that doesn't mean the formerly annual meeting won't be missed. Marry said league or nonleague, home or away, Hudson vs. Morenci was a backyard rivalry that always seemed to be a little more important than some of the other games.
“If there was such a thing as a preseason playoff game, that was it,” he said. “It was a red-letter game for sure.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO: Hudson’s Malik Ray (26) breaks into the open as Morenci’s Harley McCaskey (20) pursues during the 2017 matchup. (Photo by Mike Dickie.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)