March to Marquette: 8-Player Preview

November 13, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The following statement is both rare and thrilling to announce:

We are guaranteed Saturday to celebrate two first-time MHSAA champions at the 8-Player Football Finals at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome.

In fact, three of Saturday’s four finalists will be playing in their first championship game. Both Division 1 contenders – Morrice and Pickford – are making their first trips past the Semifinals. In Division 2, Rapid River is a two-time runner-up and Onekama another first-time finalist.

Kickoff for the Division 1 game is 11 a.m., with the Division 2 game following at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and one is good for admittance to both games. Both games also will be broadcast live on and the FOX Sports app, and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel on Nov. 20 – 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. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason.

Division 1

 12-0, No. 4
Coach: Kendall Crockett, fifth season (41-14)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 40-8 over No. 5 Colon in Semifinal, 44-14 over No. 2 Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in Regional Final, 34-14 over No. 8 Deckerville, 40-0 over Division 2 No. 5 Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.  
Players to watch: QB Hunter Nowak 5-11/164 sr. (1,922 yards/33 TDs rushing, 529 yards/8 TDs passing), RB/LB Austin Edington 5-9/152, sr. (851 yards/15 TDs rushing, 313 yards/4 TDs receiving; 54 tackles), OG/NG Sam Koresky 5-7/170 sr. (68 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 10 sacks), FB/LB Connor Lucas, 5-10/180 sr. (91 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss).
Outlook: Morrice had an often-solid 11-player program before switching to 8-player in 2014, and has since become elite. The Orioles are a combined 21-2 over the last two seasons and have allowed only 62 points this fall over 11 games (one win was a forefeit) – with six straight shutouts from Weeks 5-10. Junior defensive back Shane Cole with seven interceptions leads an opportunistic unit that is enjoying nearly three turnovers per game. Nowak made the all-state team as a junior and will enter the record book with 232 points and counting this fall.

 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Josh Rader, 16th season (99-53)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Conference East
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 50-20 over No. 3 AuGres-Sims in Semifinal, 48-42 over No. 7 Suttons Bay in Regional Final, 52-7 over Division 2 No. 2 Engadine, 58-12 over Division 2 No. 7 Rapid River.
Players to watch: QB/LB Jimmy Storey, 6-0/180 jr. (1,638 yards/30 TDs passing, 920 yards/18 TDs rushing; 89 tackles, 3 interceptions); RB/DB Stephen LaMothe, 5-9/165 jr. (913 yards/15 TDs rushing; 4 interceptions); RB Matt Bush, 5-10/170 jr. (786 yards/10 TDs rushing; 62 tackles); SE/DE Nick Edington, 6-8/220, jr. (836 yards/16 TDs receiving; 46 tackles).
Outlook: Pickford also has been on the cusp of this opportunity, emerging from a third-straight Semifinal appearance to make the championship game for the first time. The Panthers are a combined 39-7 since switching to 8-player four seasons ago, and the dominance should continue as only two of this year’s players are seniors (although both start). Storey guides an offense averaging 54 points per game that hasn’t slowed in the playoffs with 51, 48 and 50 in its three postseason wins. Juniors Isaiah May (96 tackles) and Sam Burton (67 tackles/12 sacks) are two more impact players.

Division 2

 10-2, No. 4
Coach: John Neph, second season (19-4)
League finish: Third in Midwest Central Michigan Conference West
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 28-14 over No. 10 Portland St. Patrick in Semifinal, 52-0 over No. 8 Brethren in Regional Final, 22-6 (Pre-Regional) and 30-0 over No. 12 Marion.
Players to watch: HB/LB Ben Acton, 6-2/175 sr. (726 yards/7 TDs rushing, 241 yards/2 TDs receiving); QB/DB Luke Mauntler (5-8/145) jr. (659 yards/9 TDs passing, 433 yards/6 TDs rushing); HB/LB Aaron Powers, 6-0/175 jr. (625 yards/11 TDs rushing); WR/DB Ben Johnson, 6-0/150, sr. (6 interceptions).
Outlook: The Portagers navigated a tough league finishing behind two Division 1 playoff teams and just ahead of reigning Division 1 champion Central Lake before opening up their longest postseason run ever. Onekama is another 8-player success story at 19-4 over the last two seasons after a solid recent run in 11-player as well. The numbers above might seem modest, but the team played only 10 games on the field as two wins came by forfeit. Not modest is the defense’s giving up only 8.1 points per game, with the team’s two losses by a mere seven points combined.

9-3, No. 7
Coach: Steve Ostrenga, 20th season (109-82)
League finish: Third in Great Lakes Conference East
Championship history: 8-Player (one division) runner-up 2011, 2013.
Best wins: 36-30 (Semifinal) and 28-20 over No. 16 Cedarville, 40-34 over No. 14 Crystal Falls Forest Park in Regional Final, 20-18 over No. 2 Engadine in Pre-Regional.
Players to watch: RB/S Tyler Sundling, 5-11/170, jr. (1,252 yards/16 TDs rushing, 504 yards/7 TDs receiving); QB/S Brent Lundquist, 6-3/180 sr. (1,424 yards/21 TDs passing); RB/LB Azariah Hernandez, 5-6/135, jr. (870 yards/11 TDs rushing); RB/DL Gunner Larson, 6-1/240 sr. (945 yards/8 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Rapid River has developed one of the strongest 8-player traditions during this first decade of the format in Michigan, appearing in the inaugural championship game and now heading for its third Finals. The Rockets held off league rival Cedarville for a second time last week after upsetting GLC East runner-up Engadine in the playoff opener and just two weeks after losing that matchup by 18. If this game is close, Rapid River can dig deep – five wins are by eight points or fewer. Senior Nate Olson is another two-way starter and the leading receiver with 685 yards and eight scores on 26 catches.

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.)