Muskegon Catholic Earns Photo Finish

November 29, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

DETROIT – Muskegon Catholic Central’s players emerged from the Ford Field tunnel Friday morning for the first time, in shirts and ties and with awe over their faces.

The Crusaders as a community are used to making this trip, with 11 MHSAA Finals appearances and eight titles. But this was their first time in a championship game since 2008, before any of these players were in high school.

“We have a bunch of pictures in our weight room of all the state champions. And we always talk at the end of each year about how we want to be the next picture on the wall,” MCC junior quarterback Nick Holt said. “Especially this group of kids, we wanted to come down here and win.” 

And now they’ll be remembered forever among the school's best.

The Crusaders shut down one of the highest-scoring offenses in Michigan history and moved up to sixth on the list of most MHSAA football titles in beating Beal City 35-12 in the Division 8 Final.

Beal City finished this fall with 737 points, second-most all-time. But the top-ranked Aggies (13-1) mustered only 263 yards against an MCC defense that gave up more than 16 points only once this fall – on opening night.

Meanwhile, Crusaders senior running back Alex Lewandoski ran for 218 yards, good for 15th-most in Finals history. He scored on runs of 78, 1 and 66 yards. 

The team – ranked sixth at the end of the regular season – was directed by first-year coach Steve Czerwon, a player during the early 1990s and among the many on his sideline connected with MCC’s historical success.

The backfield alone included Lewandowski, whose dad played for the Crusaders, and third-generation MCC students Tommy Scott and Blake Sanford. Holt’s dad has taught at the school for 12 years. 

“It’s a lot of the same families coming through, and that’s what makes it so special here – it’ the second and third generation we’re getting of (Muskegon) Catholic kids,” Czerwon said.

“I always dreamt of playing at Ford Field,” Scott added. In ’06 coming to watch that Catholic team and that Muskegon team, and in ’08 watching both teams play. To have that experience, it’s awesome.” 

Beal City was experiencing Ford Field for the second straight season and with most of its standouts from 2012’s Finals loss to Harbor Beach back for one more shot at the school’s first title since 2009.

By the end of the first quarter, the Aggies had nearly evened Lewandowski’s touchdown on his team's first offensive play of the game, just missing on an extra point to trail 7-6. MCC added a second-quarter touchdown, but didn’t break things open until scoring twice during the first eight minutes of the third quarter. That allowed the defense to take a few more risks and send a few more rushers and make Beal City’s comeback attempt much tougher – especially after the Aggies' initial strategy included long possessions to drain the clock.

“You’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole right off the bat, but it puts you in a different play-calling situation when they break off those big runs,” Beal City coach Lou Rau said. “We responded, and then we gave up another big play. That definitely changes what we do and how we do it.”

Senior Hayden Huber led Beal City with 52 yards rushing and its lone touchdown on the ground. Senior quarterback Kurt Gross did complete 8 of 16 passes, but the Aggies just couldn’t get their offense clicking.

MCC's defense had is share of big plays as well. The Crusaders had three tackles for losses, two interceptions and broke up five passes. Lewandoski had a team-high nine tackles and two of those break-ups.

“They sent a lot of guys; they were on a mission,” Gross said. “A couple of times when I was passing, I knew what they were doing. But the DBs were covering well, and they shifted over well and played their zone really good. They were really disciplined; that’s the best way I could describe them.” 

Although Holt didn’t complete any of his four passes, it wasn’t needed. He ran for 123 yards and a touchdown and Scott ran for 53 yards including a 21-yard score.

MCC’s last three playoff losses had come by seven points or fewer, including once to Beal City in a 2009 Semifinal and last season to Harbor Beach by five in another semi. But a number of this year’s contributors got valuable experience during that run, no doubt preparing them to finish the job.

“I think the expectations were there because this is the same group of kids that lost, and we knew we had started some sophomores and some freshman in the Semifinals last year,” Czerwon said. “Not only did we have expectations, but the kids had expectations for themselves. That being said, we were able to take that next step.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Catholic Central players hold up their first MHSAA championship trophy earned since 2008. (Middle) A trio of Crusaders tacklers wrap up Beal City running back Ty Rollin. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)