Much Different Story, Same Final Result as Lenawee Christian Repeats
By Travis Nelson
Special for Second Half
November 20, 2021
MARQUETTE — It was a different stadium, but the same end result Saturday as Adrian Lenawee Christian defeated Suttons Bay for the second consecutive season, this time 31-20, to repeat as 8-player Division 1 champion.
But Saturday’s game at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome proved a much tougher test for the Cougars, who needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to finally take down the Norsemen.
Lenawee Christian had won last season’s championship game 47-0 at Legacy Center in Brighton.
“What a tremendous game; my hat’s off to Suttons Bay,” Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Bill Wilharms said. “To make it here three straight years in a row, man what an amazing program coach (Garrick) Opie has.
“To all of the fans, it was so cool in this environment. It was so loud. This is what small-town football is all about. I can’t say enough about the venue and just having the opportunity to be here. I appreciate that a great deal.”
The game couldn’t have started better for the Cougars, as on the second play, Ashur Bryja intercepted a Suttons Bay pass and returned it 22 yards for the opening score. Suttons Bay had multiple scoring chances in the first quarter with drives reaching the Lenawee Christian red zone, but the Norsemen turned the ball over on downs.
The second quarter came with better fortunes for Suttons Bay, with Hugh Periard taking a handoff 90 yards for a score. Shawn Bramer’s two-point conversion run was sniffed out by the Cougars’ defense, and Suttons Bay trailed 7-6 with 6:44 left in the half. Lenawee Christian had a nice drive going inside the Norsemen 10-yard line before a pass was tipped and intercepted at the goal line by August Schaub, and returned it 99 yards for a score. Another Suttons Bay two-point attempt was no good, but the two touchdowns built a 12-7 lead with 4:58 to go in the half.
But Adrian Lenawee Christian didn’t fold because of the momentum changes, and responded with a six play, 65-yard drive capped off with a Bryja 11-yard touchdown run to take the lead back. The Cougars led 14-12 at halftime, and responding to Suttons Bay’s punches went back to being tested throughout the season, Wilharms said.
“I think this year, we’ve been tested a couple times,” Wilharms said. “Colon did it to us at their place, we had to weather some storms there as well, so I think we were tested. BD (Britton Deerfield) on the first play of the game in Week 9 comes out and scores on us. These kids have weathered the challenge on it and they understand, they play together as a team.”
Suttons Bay had another turnover on downs in Lenawee Christian territory in the third quarter, which turned into three points for the Cougars as Brady McKelvey nailed a 28-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-12 with 2:02 remaining in the period.
Defense continued to carry the second half well into the fourth quarter, when the first touchdown of the half was scored with only 6:21 left in the game. Clay Ayers, who battled injury, ran the ball in for the Cougars to extend the lead to 24-12. Ayers was limited to only seven carries, but he showed well when it mattered most.
Suttons Bay fired back just 1:06 later with a deep pass from quarterback Dylan Barnowski to Periard for a 55-yard touchdown to cut the Cougars’ lead to 24-20 after Bramer’s ensuing two-point run. In his third consecutive Final, Periard had 209 yards from scrimmage. In also his final high school game, this loss was the most heartbreaking.
“Obviously, the previous two hurt pretty bad, but I think this one was the most because it’s my last time ever playing football and we were so close to pulling this one off,” Periard said. “So this year’s definitely the worst, in my opinion.”
Any doubt of the game’s finish was put away with a 33-yard run from Bryja to slam the door. Bryja, also Lenawee Christian’s quarterback, threw for 229 yards and ran for 161 and two touchdowns, in addition to his interception return.
At the end of the day, the Norsemen didn’t falter, but it was tough to overcome the Cougars.
“Sometimes you have the cards falling your way, and sometimes you don’t,” Suttons Bay coach Garrick Opie said. “Today was one of those days where timing mixed with lack of execution or otherwise. Or the fact that Lenawee Christian is just a very good team, was just very tough.”
The 2022 Adrian Lenawee Christian senior class finished 24-0 in leading the program’s first two seasons of 8-player football.
“They’re going to leave as the all-time winningest group in school history. They will have the single-season win record. They will have a ton of stuff,” Wilharms said. “As a collective group, oh my goodness, what a wonderful, wonderful group.”
PHOTOS (Top) Lenawee Christian’s Ashur Bryja (15) breaks into the open on the way to a second-quarter touchdown. (Middle) Suttons Bay’s Hugh Periard (1) makes a cut as the Cougars’ Clay Ayers (2) attempts to wrap him up. (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click for more.)
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.)