Hudson Rides Dominating Defense to Lock Down Division 8 Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 26, 2021

DETROIT – For a team not used to giving up points – or yards, for that matter – it would have been easy Friday for Hudson to make some big changes at halftime to slow down a Beal City offense that had found success through the passing game.  

But the Tigers – who entered the MHSAA Division 8 Final having allowed 107.7 yards and less than a touchdown per game through the Semifinals – didn’t stray from the gameplan. 

“Honestly, (the adjustment was) just keep playing,” Hudson coach Dan Rogers said. “They did a great job, their line, we couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback. He could get out on the edge and we struggled getting to him. That made us cover a lot longer than we want to, so we were trying to get to the quarterback a little bit more, keep the receivers in front of us and make plays on the football.” 

It worked, as Hudson smothered Beal City in the second half, allowing just 17 yards over the final 24 minutes of its 14-7 victory at Ford Field to claim its second Finals title. 

“I can’t even describe it yet; it hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Hudson senior running back and safety Bronson Marry, who had a crucial late-game interception. “I’m just waiting to walk out of the locker room and find our families. It’s going to (hit like) a brick wall.” 

While Hudson (14-0) never led by more than one score, Beal City never threatened to overcome it, spending the entirety of the second half offensively on its own side of the field. The Aggies’ five second-half possessions went for 4, -6, 13, 1 and 5 yards, and totaled 5 minutes and 29 seconds.  

A fumble, an interception and downs ended the last three drives, with Nick Kopin breaking up the final Beal City pass attempt with 1:51 to play, sealing the game. It was a fitting end to Kopin’s big day, as he also had forced a fumble earlier in the fourth quarter and rushed for 131 yards and both of Hudson’s touchdowns. 

“It’s amazing,” Kopin said. “Obviously, I’m going to credit all my runs to our offensive line and our play-calling by coach (Jeremy) Beal. It set up really good cutbacks, and they were blocking real well. Defensively, credit to (Coach Rogers), he’s very strict on us reading our keys and doing our jobs. I think all of us, including myself, just did that, and the game turned out in our favor.” 

Hudson/Beal City footballKopin’s second score, a 2-yard run, came with 6:58 to play and put the Tigers up 14-7. The two-point pass was no good, however, keeping Beal City within a touchdown. The Aggies received a further boost with the return of quarterback Hunter Miles, who had been injured midway through the third quarter, but Hudson’s defense didn’t allow for a storybook comeback. 

“Hunter Miles is Hunter Miles; he’s a warrior,” Beal City coach Brad Gross said. “That’s Hunter Miles. Ankle, ribs, everything else (was hurt). We have a lot of guys dinged up. Cade Block’s had a (injured) shoulder that he’s been playing with for three weeks. Wade Wilson has a broken hand that he played the whole game with. We’re just banged up. We have a bunch of warriors. That’s why we’re here.” 

Miles had more success in the first half, mostly on the strength of a pair of big pass plays to Carter Fussman. The first was a 53-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. Miles rolled to his right before finding Fussman open near the 10-yard line.  

The second was a 56-yard throw and catch on the penultimate play of the first half, which came immediately after Hudson had taken an 8-7 lead on a 2-yard run from Kopin and a two-point conversion pass from Anthony Arredondo to Ambrose Horwath. The big pass play ended with Fussman being hauled down by Horwath at the Hudson 7-yard line with four seconds left in the half.  

That tackle wound up being enormous, as an incomplete pass on the next play ended the half with Hudson still in the lead. 

“It probably made the conversation at halftime better,” Rogers said. “It was a huge tackle. That’s what we talk about: You just have to keep playing. They’re going to make plays, things are going to happen, and it would have been just as easy to hang your head and he runs into the end zone. Our kids don’t do that, and Ambrose, he made a play, and that’s what we had to have.” 

Hudson’s offense had success on the ground, rushing for 282 yards, but strong red zone defense from the Aggies kept them in the game. All five of Hudson’s second half drives – excluding the final one, which consisted of three kneel downs – ended at least within the Beal City 35, but just one led to a score. 

“You have to give credit to Beal City, too,” Rogers said. “When we got down there, they stiffened up defensively and took all the inside runs away. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to score and it kept the game close.” 

Payton Rogers added 62 yards on the ground for Hudson, while Horwath hauled in the lone completed pass for the Tigers, a 17-yard catch from Easten Strodtman that converted a 3rd-and-long on the Tigers’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Kopin led the Hudson defense with six tackles, while Strodtman and Ethan Harris each recorded a sack. 

Fussman led the Beal City (12-2) offense with two catches for 109 yards, while Miles finished with 128 yards through the air – all in the first half. Josh Wilson recorded 13 tackles to lead the Beal City defense, while Miles had eight. 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Hudson’s Easten Strodtman brings down Beal City quarterback Jack Fussman during Friday’s Division 8 Final. (Middle) The Tigers’ Ambrose Horwath (10) tries to get a hand on the ball with the Aggies’ Carter Fussman (2) and Jack Fussman defending. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs 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.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. 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.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. 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.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. 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 ShebestPam 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.)