March to Marquette: 8-Player Preview

November 17, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA 8-Player Finals return to where they got their start Saturday, with two champions to be awarded for the first time.

Saturday’s games will be played at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome, which hosted the first MHSAA 8-Player Final in 2011. The 8-Player Playoffs also moved from one to two divisions this year, and Central Lake, Crystal Falls Forest Park and Portland St. Patrick all are seeking their first 8-player championships – while Central Lake will play 2012 champ Deckerville looking to win its first MHSAA title ever in the sport. 

Both games will be broadcast live on the FOX Sports Detroit Facebook page and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel on Nov. 21 – Division 1 at 8 p.m. and Division 2 at 11 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on

Below is a look at all four finalists. Statistics are through Semifinals unless noted. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

Division 1

 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Rob Heeke, seventh season (41-30)
League finish: First in Midwest Central Michigan Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-20 over No. 7 Stephenson in the Semifinal, 58-26 (Regional Final) and 44-14 over No. 10 Suttons Bay, 36-14 (Pre-Regional) and 64-38 over No. 15 Mesick, 42-28 over Division 2 No. 2 Onekama.
Players to watch: QB/DB Gavin Mortensen, 5-11/160, sr. (1,062 yards/12 TDs rushing, 680 yards/18 TDs passing); TE/DB Jayce Hoogerhyde, 6-2/145, sr. (223 yards/8 TDs receiving, 49 tackles); RB/DB Skyler Spangler, 6-0/160, jr. (1,652 yards/26 TDs rushing, 272 yards/7 TDs receiving); RB/LB Grant Papineau, 6-3/210, jr. (1,886 yards/25 TDs rushing, 95 tackles).
Outlook: Central Lake has shined in its first season of 8-player football, improving from 2-7 in its final season of 11-player a year ago. Onekama came closest to catching the Trojans, losing by 14 in the game Week 8 that decided the league championship. It’s no secret how Central Lake succeeds; led by three 1,000-yard rushers, the Trojans have run for nearly 4,900 yards at 8.3 per carry. Defensively Papineau is a stopper, but Mortensen and Hoogerhyde are impressive pass defenders with 13 and 15 pass break-ups, respectively. Mortensen also has six interceptions.

 11-1, No. 3
Coach: Bill Brown, 25th season (201-71)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League Stars
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2012, runner-up 2016.
Best wins: 52-18 over No. 5 Bellevue in the Semifinal, 38-0 over No. 4 Morrice in the Regional Final, 66-28 (Pre-Regional) and 42-8 over No. 12 Mayville, 20-14 over No. 6 Kingston, 52-0 over No. 16 Lawrence.
Players to watch: QB/DB Isaac Keinath, 5-10/155, soph. (660 yards/15 TDs passing); TB/DB Kenton Bowerman, 5-6/150, sr. (971 yards/14 TDs rushing, 8 interceptions); TE/LB/P Wyatt Janowiak, 6-4/255, sr. (288 yards/6 TDs receiving); TB/DB Cruz Ibarra, 5-10/150, jr. (1,430 yards/20 TDs rushing).
Outlook: A new cast of stars has emerged after most of last year’s graduated, and Bowerman stepped up even more last week scoring four touchdowns with leading rusher Ibarra reportedly out with an injury. Deckerville’s only loss this season was by a point to Morrice in Week 6, and was avenged with a 38-point shutout win in the Regional Final. Rival Kingston was the only other opponent to get closer than 20 points to catching the Eagles – despite a regular-season schedule that featured seven playoff teams. Senior Zachary Ostrowski has six catches as the team’s third-leading receiver – and five interceptions as its second-leading pass defender.

Division 2

9-2, No. 6
Coach: Dave Graff, fourth season (35-10)
League finish: Second in Western Eight Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2007), 10 runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 36-34 over No. 1 Pickford in the Semifinal, 62-20 over No. 9 Engadine in the Regional Final, 20-6 (Pre-Regional) and 66-58 over No. 7 Powers North Central, 52-38 over Division 1 No. 13 Ontonagon.
Players to watch: RB/LB Connor Bortolini, 5-8/150, sr. (1,749 yards/20 TDs rushing); QB Tommy Peltoma, 6-1/180, soph. (666 yards/10 TDs passing); RB/DE Peter Ropiak, 6-0/185, sr. (863 yards/12 TDs rushing); RB/DB Calvin Post, 5-8/170, soph. (765 yards/9 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions).
Outlook: Forest Park is one of the most successful programs in MHSAA history, especially among smaller schools – it played in the Division 8 Final six straight seasons from 2004-09. The Trojans moved to 8-player last season and might have been the second or third-best team in Michigan, but shared a league and playoff path with eventual repeat champion Powers North Central and lost to the Jets in the Regional Final. Forest Park opened this season 1-2, but hasn’t been defeated since falling to Division 1 semifinalist Stephenson in Week 3. Bortolini took over this fall as the main ball carrier after the Trojans graduated a 2,400-yard rusher, and he’s carried on the program’s tradition of productive backs.

 11-1, No. 3
Coach: Patrick Russman, 11th season (69-42)
League finish: First in Central Michigan 8-Man Conference
Championship history: 11-Player Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1997 and 1991.
Best wins: 33-14 over No. 5 Kinde-North Huron in the Semifinal, 50-0 over No. 8 Flint International Academy in the Regional Final, 44-6 over No. 13 North Adams-Jerome in the Pre-Regional, 24-8 over No. 10 Marion, 38-22 over Division 1 No. 14 Webberville.
Players to watch: QB/DB Tanner Lawson, 6-3/165, jr. (1,093 yards/20 TDs passing); RB/LB Isaiah Smith, 5-10/190, sr. (359 yards/7 TDs rushing); RB/DL Ned Smith, 5-10/160, soph (779 yards/8 TDs rushing); WR/DB Will Simon, 6-2/170, sr. (395 yards/8TDs receiving). (Statistics through nine games plus one forfeit win.).
Outlook: St. Patrick also was one of the state’s top 11-player small-school programs through the 1990s and has been on the verge of playing for an 8-player championship since switching formats in 2012 – and making the Semifinals that first season. The only blemish on this season’s record was a Week 4 loss to eventual Division 1 semifinalist Bellevue, and no other opponent has gotten closer than 16 points. Junior linebacker Paul Cook is among those pacing a defense that has given up only 12.7 points per game.

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.)