Lawrence Completes Turnaround with Title

November 21, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

GREENVILLE – Derek Gribler was a sophomore at the Lawrence school board meeting two years ago when it was decided the Tigers would try 8-player football the following fall.

Although the team had finished a combined 1-17 the previous two seasons, playing mostly bigger schools with multiple freshmen trying to match much larger seniors, there was skepticism. Some simply didn’t like the move. 

Friday night, it was hard to imagine a better fit.

Counting on a variety of skill players and a speedy defense necessary to succeed in the 8-player game, Lawrence finished its second season after the switch as an MHSAA champion with a 56-12 win over Cedarville at Legacy Field. 

Often, successful groups growing up anticipate success at the varsity level. But the Tigers didn’t give championships a thought during their struggles only a few seasons ago.

“Not a single second. Not in any of those practices, not in any of those games,” said Lawrence senior linebacker Jimmy Phelps, like Gribler a four-year varsity player. “Being a 14-year-old kid in a conference where you’d get 60 kids going out for a team; you’re a 14-year-old boy going against 18-year-old men for four quarters every day.

“Football always was my favorite sport, (but) there’s a time you see your rivals in conference and you’re going up against 6-(foot)-2, 200-pound kids and you’re 14-years old and 5-2, 135 pounds. It’s not really fun when those guys hit your guts.”

Moving to 8-player appears to have swung the advantage far into Lawrence’s favor.

The Tigers finished this fall 12-0 and 21-3 over their two seasons of 8-player football, becoming the first team in MHSAA history to win both 8 and 11-player football titles. Lawrence won the Class DD 11-player championship in 1997, but before 2013 hadn’t had a winning season since 2007.

Gribler, a running back before this fall, became over the last four months perhaps the most impressive standout in the MHSAA’s brief history of the 8-player format.

He followed up last week’s six touchdown passes and three touchdown runs against reigning champion Peck with three rushing and two passing scores against the Trojans. Gribler ran for 103 yards on just 12 carries and completed 11 of 14 pass attempts for 256 yards Friday, and for the season he threw for 2,599 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for 1,704 yards and 24 scores. 

With only three seasons against which to compare, Lawrence setting three MHSAA 8-Player Final offensive records might not seem as impressive. But they’re marks that could stand for a while – 23 first downs, 341 yards rushing and 597 total yards.

Lawrence coach Cody Caswell came into 8-player with a spread offense background and has built a network of 8-player coaches including contacts in Oklahoma and Idaho. He tailored the offense this year to allow Gribler to read and make decisions on the fly on nearly every play. 

Gribler ran four yards for the team’s first score just 1:06 into the game, and added two more scoring runs and a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior Mike Cammire as the Tigers built a 28-6 lead by the end of the first quarter. Cammire finished with six catches for 110 yards and junior running back Hunter Coombs helped set the tone with 127 yards and two touchdowns on only six rushes.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence defense spent much of the night chasing Cedarville senior quarterback Joey Duncan and forcing him to throw on the run. Cedarville gained only 276 yards and turned the ball over three times. Its 12 points were a season low. 

The Tigers finished with a school-record five shutouts under the direction of coordinator Aaron Amthor, and forced 39 turnovers while giving the ball away only five times.

“We believed we had the best defense in the state along with the best offense in the state. We didn’t go in like, ‘I wonder how this is going to go.‘ We thought we should stop them,” Caswell said. “Our motto all year was ‘fast and physical,’ and that’s what they do” 

Cedarville had made the 11-player playoffs seven straight seasons before moving to 8-player in 2011. But the Trojans had fallen short of high playoff expectations the last three years, finishing all three with losses to teams they had beaten during the regular season.

Friday’s Final appearance was the program’s first, and its 11 wins this fall a team record. 

Duncan threw for 125 yards and a touchdown and ran for 58 more yards. Senior running back Mike Bailey ran for 84, and senior receiver Brad Causley caught seven passes for 95 yards. Senior Blake Melvin ran for a score, and junior Mike Haske caught the other.

Duncan and Causley also played significant roles on the basketball team’s run to the Class D Semifinals in March, and that experience paid off the last four weeks. 

“It definitely helped our mindset. We’re used to winning, used to tournament time, and that helped us compose ourselves in big games,” Duncan said. “This year, we knew we had something special. We had a feeling that we were not going to lose, not give up. It definitely was a good mountain to overcome, and hopefully for years to come they can keep the winning going.”

Click for full game statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lawrence’s Derek Gribler drags a Cedarville defensive player into the end zone on one of his three scoring runs. (Middle) Cedarville’s Brad Causley works to get past Tigers defenders. (Below) Lawrence coach Cody Caswell talks with his team after Friday’s championship victory.

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.