'Next Up' Help P-W to Next Championship

November 25, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – The Pewamo-Westphalia football program finished a second straight season hoisting a championship trophy at Ford Field on Saturday, thanks to the “next man up” … and the next man … and the next man after that.

It was easy to credit the Pirates’ first MHSAA football title ever, won last year, on the state’s all-time second leading rusher Jared Smith. But he graduated in the spring.

They got back to Ford Field in large part on the running and passing skills of senior quarterback Jimmy Lehman. And then Lehman potentially broke his left hand in the second quarter and didn’t play the final two.

In both instances, and a few more this fall, someone stepped right in. This time, the Pirates weathered the loss of Lehman and stood strong as Saugatuck’s offense caught stride to close with a 21-0 win that proved once more P-W’s teams of the last two seasons were even better than the sum of some truly elite parts.

“We had a lot of people that just really felt like they had to step up,” Lehman said. “We lost our first game (28-21 to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central) and that was some of the adversity we had to go through all year – how were we going to respond from that? We just made sure we took every day and made it the best we could, and just improve from there.”

That loss to the Falcons was P-W’s only defeat of the last two seasons, and they improved to 40-3 over the last three years after also finishing Division 7 runner-up in 2015.

The “next man up” success sort of began in last season’s championship game, when Smith served as a tremendous decoy running for 48 of his 8,182 career yards while Lehman and others starred in a 28-14 win over Detroit Loyola.

Lehman took the reins fulltime this fall and threw for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns, running for 728 yards and 16 scores – and while starting as a forceful 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive end as well.

His late first quarter touchdown run from 12 yards out said it all as Lehman broke two tackles and dragged three more defenders into the end zone. He stayed in the game at first after injuring the hand on P-W’s final possession of the first half, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Peyton Heckman to finish his day.

The Pirates threw only one pass during a scoreless second half. Junior Noah Spitzley stepped in and helped that effort on the defensive side, tying for third on the team with six tackles. 

“It says a lot about the other guys on the team, the other guys in the program that are just continually working and waiting for an opportunity,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “Cameron Wirth started for us all year at fullback and linebacker, and we lost him on the opening kickoff of the Semifinal. Justin Pohl, who hadn’t played a whole lot, stepped in and did a great job at fullback for us today. So we always have the ‘next man up’ mentality, and these guys are constantly ready. And I think it says a lot about them.”

Saugatuck’s run this fall said plenty as well. The Indians this spring graduated Blake Dunn, the eighth-leading rusher in MHSAA career history. But they made it to Ford Field for the first time since finishing Division 8 runner-up in 2010, ironically after seeing perfect seasons end against P-W in District Finals the last two years in losses of 10 and six points.

“It’s been our dream forever to get here, and the first thing yesterday when we first walked in here, it was amazing – it just opened up,” Saugatuck senior linebacker Reece Schreckengust said. “It’s a great stadium, a great atmosphere. Losing hurts, but to get all the way here, it was a great season. I’m proud of every one of my teammates, my coaches, and myself and everyone else in our community for getting here. … To go out at Ford Field is probably the second best, besides winning it.”

After struggling during the first half, Saugatuck (10-4) took its shots at making it close during the second.

The Indians drove to P-W’s 18-yard line on their second possession of the third quarter, but sophomore linebacker Jacob Pung ended that rally with an interception at the 11.

Saugatuck then drove to the Pirates’ 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter, before having first and second-down runs stopped for a one-yard loss and no gain, respectively, seeing a third-down pass fall incomplete and getting sacked on fourth down for a 16-yard loss by Spitzley and senior Damon Schneider.

Total, P-W (13-1) held Saugatuck to 147 yards of offense. The shutout was the Pirates’ second of the playoffs and sixth this season, not including a 2-0 forfeit win in Week 7.

“They’re just a big, physical, fast team,” Saugatuck senior quarterback Jackson Shriver said. “That’s what makes a great defense. They follow their system and play hard. They have a great team, and it was hard to play against them.”

Saugatuck’s defense deserved praise as well. The Pirates’ 21 points were their fewest since that opening-night loss.

“We had our moments when we could’ve come back, and unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Indians coach Bill Dunn said. “To hold a team like that to 21 is a good credit. A couple of those came off miscues either offensively, or a turnover. Our defense was exceptional considering the opponent. They were just a little bit better today.”

Senior Bryce Thelen added 92 yards rushing on 14 carries and scored P-W’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter. Schneider paced the defense with eight tackles including two sacks.

Schreckengust, who will graduate as Saugatuck’s career tackles record holder, had nine more, as did senior Connor Carper.

“They always play hard, and so respectful,” Thelen said of what’s become an annual meeting between the programs. “It’s always a hard-nosed game, always close, always super physical. They’re just fun games to play in that come down to a couple plays throughout the game that tilt the game one way or the other.”

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) P-W quarterback Jimmy Lehman charges upfield during the Division 7 championship game. (Middle) Bryce Thelen eludes the grasp of a Saugatuck defender. 

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:

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.)