Martin Seizes Long-Awaited Opportunity with 1st Finals Win Since 1987

By Jason Juno
Special for

November 19, 2022

MARQUETTE – When their playoff run ends, teams can normally find some consolation if their loss comes to the eventual state champion.

But that got a little old for Martin.

The Clippers fell to Adrian Lenawee Christian in Semifinals the past two seasons and then watched them go on to win two 8-Player Division 1 championships. 

But this year was different; this was Martin’s year. The Clippers (11-2) took care of Lenawee Christian in the Regional round of the playoffs with a convincing 56-14 victory. And it was the Clippers lifting the Finals championship trophy at the Superior Dome on Saturday after a 74-24 victory over Merrill.

“This was our goal at the beginning of the year; it’s been our goal the last couple of years,” Martin coach Brad Blauvelt said. 

Merrill quarterback Joel Tack finds running room. The Clippers accomplished their mission with a star quarterback, JR Hildebrand, who ran for 191 yards and four touchdowns to lead the program to its first Finals title since his dad won one in 1987. They also made some big plays at big moments and relied on a stout run defense to contain Merrill, which made it closer than the score indicated.

“When I first found out what a state championship was, I knew that was our goal in the end,” said running back Karter Ribble, who rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns. “Then falling short the past couple years and then progressively getting better throughout the year, this year I knew it was coming. I knew we had what we needed to get to this moment.”

And what a moment it was for them.

The Clippers took a 20-0 lead thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by Hildebrand and another by Ribble. 

“We have a very fast team, and we used that to our advantage,” Blauvelt said. “We got outside, broke a couple tackles. We started fast all year, and tonight wasn’t any different.”

Merrill hung around throughout the first half. 

Vandals quarterback Joel Tack, who threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns, found Kaleb Walker for a 90-yard score late in the first quarter. It was 20-8 heading into the second.

Ribble ran 42 yards for a score 4 minutes, 14 seconds into the second quarter, to answer, and Hildebrand added a 10-yard TD run to put Martin ahead 34-8.

Merrill (12-1) struck with another big play, a 68-yard TD pass from Tack to Denver Coty that seemed likely to give the Vandals some momentum.

But Taegan Harris had other ideas.

The 5-foot-11, 155-pound junior ran the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, and Martin’s lead was 40-16 with 1:35 left in the first half. 

“That was huge,” Blauvelt said. “The game was kind of teeter tottering right there. I know we still had the lead, but we didn’t really feel comfortable after all that happened.”

Merrill turned it over on downs before the half was over, and Martin added a 25-yard field goal by James Blackburn for a 43-16 halftime lead.

Merrill coach Christian Wiley called the kick return a backbreaker.

“If we don’t give that up, we probably are able to do some different things,” he said. “Unfortunately, No. 1 (Harris), we knew he was a speed guy for them. He got the edge on us, and we got sucked down inside. Kicking it to the corner there, everybody drove down into that corner and he got around to the outside. That was a backbreaker for sure.”

The Clippers’ Karter Ribble (22) gets some air while celebrating at the Superior Dome. Merrill scored first in the second half, and it was the play of the day. Walker made a spectacular one-handed catch and then ran free to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown with 8:30 left in the third quarter.

“We felt confident we could shut them down in the run game,” Blauvelt said. “And then we knew they were gonna chuck it on us, which they did. And their quarterback can throw, and their kids can catch. That one throw across the middle was a phenomenal catch.”

But it was all Martin from there. Hildebrand ran 57 yards for a TD, Braeden Shanley rushed 37 yards for another, Ribble ran one in from two yards out and Gavin Meyers hit Sam Jager for a 75-yard touchdown pass to wrap it up.

“Hat’s off to Martin,” Wiley said. “They did a tremendous job. They lost the last two years to the team that went out and won the state championship. They were loaded coming back, and they were a good team.

“... I thought we did some good things. We shot ourselves in the foot. But when you lose to a team that is of that caliber, there’s no shame in that. We played our hearts out right to the very end.”

Martin outrushed Merrill 374-26, led by the 190 from Hildebrand.

“If he’s not the Player of the Year in 8-man football, I don’t know who is,” Wiley said. “He’s a legit college-level football player.”

A tough schedule helped Martin go back downstate with a championship trophy. The Clippers defeated Division 2 runner-up Mendon to start the year and lost a pair of games to unbeaten teams, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and Bridgman.

While it may not have prepared them for the awe of playing in the Superior Dome and the Final, it certainly helped them during their playoff run.

“Walking in the Dome the other day and seeing it for the first time, we knew it was a big moment,” Blauvelt said. “However, playing some good teams, quality competition throughout the year, got us ready. The last couple years, we’ve been undefeated going into playoffs and we had two losses this year. I think that totally helped us prevail, and the moment wasn’t as big as it could have been.”

And now they’re finally state champions. Nothing much bigger than that.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Martin’s Taegan Harris (1) celebrates a touchdown during his team’s Division 1 Final win. (Middle) Merrill quarterback Joel Tack finds running room. (Below) The Clippers’ Karter Ribble (22) gets some air while celebrating at the Superior Dome. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

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.