Ishpeming 'Makes Way' to MHSAA Title

November 24, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – When Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson watched film this week of Saturday opponent Detroit Loyola, he saw a team that continuously “demoralized” its opponents.

By midway through the second quarter of the MHSAA Division 7 Final, his players understood what he meant.

Senior Brad Wootke, easily the Hematites’ biggest player, joked after about getting knocked around by the multiple more sizable Bulldogs across the line. Junior quarterback Alex Briones rolled his eyes into his head describing a blast he withstood.

But it would’ve taken more than that to knock Ishpeming off its path to an MHSAA football title. As Olson also explained, “They guys made their own way, and they made it all year.”

The Hematites doled out plenty of physicality and turned away a few late rushes to hang on to a 20-14 Division 7 championship win at Ford Field.

“First of all, we’re a hard-nosed football team. We don’t take anyone prisoners. We’re going to fight all we can,” Briones said. “They’re big, but we just didn’t let them dominate us.”

The championship was Ishpeming’s first since 1979, and came two seasons after the team fell 28-26 to Hudson in a 2010 Final. The Hematites finished this fall 13-1.

Loyola, 13-0 entering the day, was playing in its first MHSAA championship game and could be back again soon – the Bulldogs had only five seniors this fall.

But Loyola also was ranked No. 1 heading into these playoffs, featured the second-leading scorer in MHSAA single-season history in senior running back Keymonn’e Gabriel, and had eight players – to Ishepming’s one – weighing in between 250 and 290 pounds.

The No. 4-ranked Hematites were underdogs. And they knew it. But they obviously didn't believe it.

“Our coach he said it best before the game when we were at our school. He said the game’s going to be won or lost on the first smack, the first hit,” Gabriel said. “I guess we were just on the receiving end. We didn't come out strong like we were supposed to, and we just came up a little bit short.”

Although Loyola led at halftime, that advantage was slim – only 8-6. The Bulldogs had outgained the Hematites, but only 153-80. Seven minutes into the second half, Ishpeming appeared to change the tide with senior Eric Kostreva’s second touchdown run. But Loyola turned it back when Gabriel scored on a 20-yard run on the final play of the third quarter to make the score 14-12.  

In the end, it would come down to a few close plays, all coming on fourth down. Ishpeming made good on both of its fourth-down attempts. Loyola was successful on four of five – but that one miss might have eventually been the decider.

Loyola faced fourth-and-seven with 7:47 to play and trailing 20-14, when Gabriel ran on a punt fake for 38 yards to Ishpeming’s 17-yard line. But four plays later, on fourth-and-one, Gabriel was hung up for no gain by the waiting Briones, who had senior R.J. Poirier right behind providing support.

Then it was Ishpeming’s turn to convert instead. Its first fourth-down make set up a third-quarter touchdown. That wasn't the case this time. But making good on a fourth-and-one try from its own 18 – after twice trying to draw Loyola off-side and calling two timeouts – allowed the Hematites to drain two more minutes off the clock before junior Tyler Windahl’s 44-yard punt pinned the Bulldogs on their 28 with 1:14 to play.

Loyola made one more first down, but ended the game on its 41-yard line.

“I’m surprised I didn't want to go for it right off the bat. When we called timeout, I said we’re going to punt it, and I think half of you guys (his players) said, ‘Nope, we’re going for it,’” Olson said. “And when I thought about it, we always go for it on fourth and one. But if somebody offers me fourth and three inches for a state championship, I’m going for it.

“We weren't going to punt it away and hope it happened. We wanted to make it happen.”

Gabriel finished with 21 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown rushing, and also caught four passes for 52 yards and a score. That gave him 326 points this season – second-most in MHSAA history, and final unofficial rushing numbers of 145 carries, 2,516 yards and 36 scores. The yards rank 20th in MHSAA history for one season, and the rushing touchdowns are 11th.

He did so running in part behind junior tackles Malik McDowell (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) and Kajohn Armstrong (6-5, 275), and Loyola certainly felt the impact Saturday when Armstrong had to leave the game early with an injury.

“Our seniors are the reason we’re here; they were our leaders although there were only five of them. But now it’s time for the other group to step up,” Loyola coach John Callahan said. “We had a lot of sophomores playing, a lot of freshman playing. I’m pretty sure I know what we did and what we didn't do, and we've got all offseason to work on and correct, and next season, to start over again.”

Kostreva ran 20 times for 182 yards and all three Ishpeming touchdowns, and also had 16 tackles. He’s one of 12 seniors who helped guide the program through a tough start to the fall after Olson’s son, Daniel, was found after committing suicide in July.

Jeff Olson said after this game wasn't about him, but Briones was quick to point out that the players certainly wanted to win in part for their coach and the memory of their former teammate.

“I didn't know how this year would go. But I know once I got on the football field, it was a relief for me,” Olson said. “It was where I really felt comfortable. It’s because of these guys right here. They made it comfortable for me.” 

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game. See below for the full press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming running back Eric Kostreva (11) races down the sideline as Detroit Loyola's Anthony Frierson gives chase Saturday. (Middle) The Hematites celebrate their first MHSAA championship since 1979. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)