At Hudson, Winning Starts with the 'Ride'

November 2, 2017

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

HUDSON – It was a couple hours before kickoff for the Hudson Tigers, and head coach Tom Saylor didn’t think his team was focused enough.

“It was early on in our winning streak,” said Saylor. “Everybody was kind of laughing and just not thinking about the game. I told them to get on the bus and we drove right out of town, past the cemetery and I think we drove clear to Clayton (a town about six miles away). The players were thinking, ‘What is this guy doing?’”

The home game for Hudson turned into a road game – complete with a bus ride. A tradition was born.

“I thought we played better on road games,” said Saylor, who coached the Tigers through their record-setting 72-game win streak during the 1970s. “There weren’t so many distractions.”

Friday night, Hudson’s players will board the bus once more this season and take the trip from the high school locker room into downtown Hudson to Thompson Field, where the Tigers play their home games. Hudson will take on Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in a Division 7 District championship game.

The head coach now is Chris Luma, who was a quarterback for Hudson during part of that win streak. He said the bus ride is a little shorter these days, but remains a surreal moment for all Tigers players and coaches.

“Coach Saylor liked to only make right turns,” Luma said. “That was his thing. We’d go out of the school and only make right turns to get to the field. Now, we just come out of the school, go down Maple, go right past my house and turn and go to the stadium. It’s about a five-minute ride.”

And it takes place in total silence.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Tigers running back Malik Ray, who has more than 1,500 yards rushing. “It’s a really different experience. It’s legit. We get on the bus and some kids pray and others just think about the game. We don’t have time to mess around. Once we hit the seats, it’s go time. There’s no joking around. No way.”

Luma said every so often a young player will board the bus and talk or say something and a captain will quickly let him know the bus ride is done in silence.

“I’ll get on the bus, count them up and make sure we have everybody and give them the look,” he said. “It’s all quiet. We drive to the stadium, pull up and the players get out and go to the shed. Everyone has their own routine.”

Hudson has been home to a lot of big games on Friday nights over the years. The Tigers’ tradition is well known. Hudson held the national high school football winning streak record of 72 games for 22 years. Thompson Field has been the site of a lot of those Hudson wins and impactful games.

“The place has held more huge games than any other venue in Lenawee County over the past 60 plus years,” said Hudson sports historian Bill Mullaly. “Thompson Field has been around since 1955, and there have been many exciting, thrilling and very meaningful games played there with upwards of 5,000-plus people watching, especially back in the winning streak days.”

Before 1955, Hudson’s field was located in a low area right next to the current stadium, which sits on a hill in town and was moved because the old field was prone to flooding. The stadium is not on campus, somewhat atypical at the high school level.

Saylor used to live right next to the stadium, on the hill.

“I would wake up and see the stadium every morning,” he said.

Luma said the bus ride is different to the ‘home’ game than it is for an actual road game.

“When I was a player, I’d sit right next to Coach Saylor,” he said. “For road games, we’d go over my assignments, what he expected out of me. We’d talk about situations and what I should say or do in the huddle. I think those times sitting on the bus with him is one of the reasons I went into coaching.

“Riding to a home game, though, there was no talking. It’s still that way.”

Luma has had a remarkable coaching career at Hudson, winning 175 games, including a Division 7 championship in 2010. Friday will be Hudson’s second game ever against St. Mary, a traditional power from Monroe County with a couple of MHSAA championships to boast about – including its most recent in 2014, a Division 6 championship. The Falcons are competing for the first time in the Division 7 playoffs.

Ironically, both teams run the ‘T’ offense and both teams have strong rushing attacks. Hudson (9-1) was the Lenawee County Athletic Association champion while SMCC (6-4) got into the playoffs at 5-4 after navigating a difficult Huron League schedule.

No matter the weather, Thompson Field figures to be a packed house.

When it’s game time, Ray will board the bus, make the silent ride, get to the stadium and play catch for a few minutes with Hudson quarterback Andrew Valdez. When the team is ready to take the field, they’ll leave the shed and take turns with the rest of the team touching a sign above the door that says “The Team, The Team, The Team.”

Then – and only then – will it be game time.

“On the bus ride to the game, you’ll see people on the streets and they are waving at you and they are excited,” Ray said. “You can see joy in their eyes.

“Anytime you play in a playoff game, it’s a truly great experience. Playing one more game with these guys … its more than I can say.”

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 Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hudson’s players enter Thompson Field at the start of a game this season. (Middle) Malik Ray works to elude a Morenci defender during a Week 2 win. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)

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.)