March to Marquette: 8-Player Preview
November 22, 2019
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For the second straight season, the majority of teams making the trip to the 8-Player Finals at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome will come seeking their first MHSAA football championship.
Colon, Suttons Bay and Pickford will be first-time title hopefuls Saturday. Portland St. Patrick is seeking its first football title since 1992, long before any of these current players was born.
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 FOXSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports app, and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel on Nov. 26 – Division 1 at 8 p.m. and Division 2 at 11 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason.
Record/rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Robbie Hattan, fourth season (28-13)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 27-8 over No. 6 Morrice in Semifinal, 56-12 over No. 3 Martin in Regional Final, 60-12 (Pre-Regional) and 55-0 over No. 13 Camden-Frontier, 43-8 over No. 11 Bellevue, 42-0 over Division 2 No. 5 Climax-Scotts.
Players to watch: RB/DL Brandon Crawford, 6-2/240, jr. (1,491 yards/22 TDs rushing); SL/DB/P Jonathan West, 6-2/160, sr. (653 yards/7 TDs rushing, 498 yards/12 TDs receiving); QB/DB Phillip Alva, 5-9/140, sr. (954 yards/19 TDs passing, 903 yards/17 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Colon moved to 8-player before the 2018 season after a nice recent run in 11-player that had included eight playoff appearances over the previous 14 seasons. But the Magi have succeeded at a higher level since making the switch, putting up double-digit wins last season for the first time and again this fall. Last season’s champion Morrice was the first opponent to hold Colon to under 34 points and also the first to come within 34 of catching the Magi this fall. Crawford and West both earned all-state honorable mentions in 2018, and 6-4 junior Brayden Ireland gives Alva another big target in the passing game. West also has scored off interceptions and punt and kickoff returns this season.
Record/rank: 12-0, No. 4
Coach: Garrick Opie, second season (21-2)
League finish: First in Midwest Central Michigan Conference West
Championship history: Division 6 runner-up 2004 (11-player).
Best wins: 45-14 over No. 8 Kingston in Semifinal, 36-30 over No. 14 Gaylord St. Mary in Regional Final, 36-14 over No. 16 Brimley in Pre-Regional, 20-14 and 29-18 over Division 2 No. 9 Onekama.
Players to watch: RB/DB Lucas Mikesell, 5-11/175, sr. (1,259 yards/29 TDs rushing, 501 yards/9 TDs receiving), QB/DB Bryce Opie, 6-4/194, sr. (1,167 yards/15 TDs passing, 692 yards/13 TDs rushing); OG/DT Gavyn Shananaquet, 6-0/230, sr.
Outlook: Suttons Bay has run its record over three seasons of 8-player to a combined 28-6 after being forced to end its final 11-player season early in 2016. The Norsemen had only three games decided by single digits this fall. The first was a six-point win over Onekama, and Suttons Bay won the rematch by 11, and the other two were against Gaylord St. Mary – a one-point loss on the field that became a forfeit win and a six-point win in the Regional Final. The defense has been especially impressive, giving up 16.7 points per game on the season but more than 18 only twice (both times to St. Mary). Bryce Opie also has five interceptions, and the team had a 23-14 turnover advantage heading into last week’s Semifinal.
PORTLAND ST. PATRICK
Record/rank: 12-0, No. 3
Coach: Patrick Russman, 13th season (88-48)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017 (8-player), Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1991 and 1997 (11-player).
Best wins: 49-6 over No. 5 Climax-Scotts in Semifinal, 51-16 over No. 11 Kinde North Huron in Regional Final, 45-0 over No. 16 Bay City All-Saints in Pre-Regional, 42-24 over No. 9 Onekama.
Players to watch: RB/DL Ned Smith, 5-10/195, sr. (1,510 yards/24 TDs rushing); QB/DB Connor Cross, 6-2/175, jr. (1,688 yards/36 TDs passing); WR/DB Zach Spitzley, 6-2/180, sr. (1,133 yards/19 TDs receiving).
Outlook: The Shamrocks have made at least the Semifinals the last three seasons and four times since switching to 8-player in 2012, and this has been their most successful run of all four. St. Patrick has won all of its games by at least 18 points (not counting a 2-0 forfeit in Week 3) and by an average score of 52-10. Senior linebacker Alex Kissane, sophomore linebacker Derec Fedewa, senior defensive back Riley Kissane and senior lineman Jeff Davlin are among leaders of a defense that has given up more than 16 points only twice and a combined 22 points over three playoff games.
Record/rank: 11-1, T-No. 1
Coach: Josh Rader, 16th season (110-55)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference East
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2018 (8-player).
Best wins: 22-14 over T-No. 1 Powers North Central in Regional Finals, 40-8 over No. 4 Hillman in Semifinal, 57-12 (Pre-Regional) and 58-15 over No. 6 Engadine, 48-16 over No. 7 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 64-20 over No. 12 Cedarville, 46-23 over Division 1 No. 14 Gaylord St. Mary.
Players to watch: QB/LB Jimmy Storey, 6-0/185, sr. (1,400 yards/19 TDs passing, 1,809 yards/24 TDs rushing); TE/DE Nick Edington, 6-7/220, sr. (307 yards/3 TDs receiving); RB/DB Stephen Lamothe, 5-10/175, sr. (752 yards/11 TDs rushing, 813 yards/11 TDs receiving).
Outlook: After reaching last season’s Division 1 championship game with a junior-heavy roster, Pickford is back playing for its first Finals championship with many of the same standouts. Edington, Storey and senior lineman Isaiah May all made the all-state team last season, and Storey was the statewide Player of the Year for 8-player by The Associated Press. The team’s only loss this fall came in Week 3, by six points, to Powers North Central – and the Panthers avenged the defeat in the Regional Final. The Jets also were the only team able to hold Pickford under 40 points this fall. Senior running back Isaac Brown provides another valuable option on offense with 613 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing.
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:
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.)