Moment: Streak-Ender Highlights 1st Finals

December 11, 2020

By John Johnson
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

It’s been 45 years since the first MHSAA Football Playoffs took place, a two-week, 16-team tournament with the top teams of each of four regions in all four classes finally settling gridiron championships on the playing field.

In that first year, cries of “U.P. Power” thundered through the stands at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo and the new Perry Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant as Crystal Falls Forest Park and Ishpeming claimed the 1975 titles in Classes D and C respectively. Bill Santilli ran wild for 179 yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns as the Trojans manhandled Flint Holy Rosary, 50-0, in the Class D game. But the Class C affair was one for the ages - perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the finals.

It was billed as David and Goliath. The mighty Hudson Tigers roared north to Mt. Pleasant riding a 72-game winning streak, which would stand as a national record until 1992; and is still a state record, only threatened once by a 69-game skein by Ithaca which ended in the 2014 Finals. Hudson had also laid claim to mythical state titles in Class C the three previous seasons. Ishpeming’s pedigree dated back to 1900, when it won the first of three straight - and of four in a five-year period - state titles in a championship conducted at and by the University of Michigan, primarily for the purpose of recruiting for Fritz Crisler’s Wolverines football program. The Hematites, having their best season in 15 years, had even lost a regular-season game along the way to a 9-0 Marquette squad that didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

On a cold, windy day at Central Michigan University, Ishpeming struck first and struck hard. Four minutes into the game, Tom Andriacchi blocked a Hudson punt and returned it to the Tigers' 10-yard line. Four plays later, quarterback Mark Marana kept the ball on the option and scored from two yards out. On its next possession just midway through the first period, the Hematites ripped off a 61-yard drive capped by a three-yard scoring run by Dave Farragh, and Ishpeming was up 16-0.

Hudson rallied following the ensuing kickoff with its first score, a 28-yard pass from Chris Luma to Dan Salamin, but the Hematites came right back with their third score of the opening frame, a 60-yard run by Mike Dellangelo to give Ishpeming all the points it would need.

The two teams traded scores in the second period, when Hudson then missed a golden opportunity to tighten things up just before halftime, fumbling at the Hematites' 2-yard line and with Ishpeming recovering for a touchback.

Dellangelo picked up a second TD in the third quarter, and finished the game with 156 of Ishpeming’s 336 rushing yards in the 38-22 victory.

“It wasn’t hard getting our guys up for the game,” Hematites coach Mike Mileski told Central Michigan Life after the game. “The emotion factor was a ready-made thing considering Hudson’s streak …”

Our action footage this week comes courtesy of Brian Sarvello, a member of that 1975 Ishpeming team. About 17 minutes film from that game was assembled with some of the local radio station call into a DVD that was shared with the team several years ago. We found it in a random internet search for this most recent series of MHSAA Moments, and appreciate Mr. Sarvello’s help in bringing it to you.

If you know of championship game footage from those pre-television years (1975-88) of the MHSAA Football Finals, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line at [email protected].

PHOTO: Ishpeming's Mark Marana works to break away from a tackler during the 1975 Class C Final. (MHSAA file photo). 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)