North Central Builds On High-Flying Fame with Repeat Title

By Adam Niemi
Special for Second Half

November 20, 2021

MARQUETTE — In the end, the encore wasn't that much different than the first title run for the latest Powers North Central powerhouse team.

The Jets got off to a fast start en route to a 63-0 win against Colon to repeat as MHSAA 8-player Division 2 champions Saturday. Last season, many of the same standouts led North Central to a 70-48 championship game win over Portland St. Patrick.

"Oh gosh, it just feels great," Powers North Central head coach Leo Gorzinski said. "Like I've been telling these guys all week, we come this far, we work this hard and let's finish it. And that's been the rallying point all week. We talked about all the time people didn't work. They were in a weight room since February, two-a-days in August. So they weren't going to let this one slip away. But it's a great feeling."

Saturday's title adds to the Jets' 8-player football championship pedigree with go-to athletes. This championship also was the their fourth in seven years.

The Jets (13-0) won these two with Luke Gorzinski at quarterback. The Jets also won back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016, led by quarterback Jason Whitens, now a redshirt senior basketball player at Michigan State, with then-head coach Kevin Bellefeuil.

"I want to thank all the guys that come before us," Gorzinski said. "Once they showed it can be done, everybody started believing that it was possible. And then once they believed it, now they want to be the ones to let it go. We've got a pretty good thing going right now."

The 2021 season will go down as one of the most dominant in Michigan 8-player history. Through 13 games, the Jets outscored opponents 745-43, an average game score of 57 to 3.

The details of Saturday's win hinted at the athleticism and depth that spurred the Jets on. They had 520 yards of offense. Colon had 126.

Colon received the kickoff to start the game, and the Jets' defense set the tone with three straight tackles for loss and forced a three-and-out from Colon's 4-yard line.

The Jets' potent defense went on to hold the Magi rushing game to minus-14 yards on 20 carries.

Saturday also spelled the end to Colon's Cinderella run. The Magi had beaten undefeated teams in every round of the playoffs except Saturday.

Junior quarterback Simon Vinson went down with an injury with 1:01 remaining in the first quarter. Magi head coach Robbie Hattan said Vinson's injury changed the mood on the sidelines.

"Losing Simon, when Simon went down, some kids put their heads down and they couldn't bounce back from that," Hattan said. "I'll give my kids credit. The second half they battled, we played much better in the second half defensively. A lot of the kids struggled getting used to the heat here. Right away they're cramping, and somehow our Gatorade was left on the bus and the kids couldn't refuel. It just was a weird day for us."

Powers North Central senior running back Wyatt Raab scored both touchdowns to open the game, from 15 and 30 yards out, respectively. He finished the day with 101 yards on five carries (20.2 yards per carry).

Luke Gorzinski led with a game-high 125 yards on 15 carries (8.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Colon/Powers North Central footballColon (11-2) started drives deep in its own territory early on, and were forced to punt. Their average field position to start a drive was their own 27-yard line.

Holding the Magi deep in their territory meant the Jets had a short field for most of the day, leading to a quick succession of scores. North Central had 369 yards of total offense in the first half alone.

Powers North Central rushed for 236 yards on 20 carries with four TDs in the first half and led 49-0.

North Central executed as efficiently as it had all season. The Jets moved the chains all game while their defense prevented Colon's offense from doing the same.

Gorzinski had two sacks and 10 tackles. Drew Webber had six tackles. Caden Tietz, Drew Allgeyer and Lane Nehring each had a sack. Owen Eichmeier had an interception.

Tucker Lafler had 11 tackles to lead Colon's defense. Owen Wilson had eight and Kaleb Johnson had six.

"They're so competitive with one another — it's our depth" Leo Gorzinski said of the defense. "We've got so many kids that are the same caliber, same type of athlete. So day in and day out they're fighting for every single position. They want to show Coach 'l caught it over so-and-so, tackle over so-and-so.’"

Saturday was the Magi's second Finals appearance in three seasons after winning the 2019 Division 1 championship against Suttons Bay. The Magi lost in the Regional Finals in 2020 to Portland St. Patrick, which then lost to the Jets in the Final.

Hattan said there were naysayers even within Colon as the team made its playoff run. That, and falling a game short of a championship, is a motivator for next year, he said.

"Nobody expected us to be here. Even some people in our community were 'It's a rebuilding year,'” he said. "We lost, we only had two returning starters on offense, two returning starters on defense. Nobody expected us to be here. We return a lot of players (next season). We graduate like six seniors, three of them that were starters. We have some holes to replace, but we return a lot of kids. Now, this is motivation for some of our guys to get bigger, faster, stronger.

"They understand where they’ve got to work now to bring us back here and get to the next step, which is winning the state championship."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Powers North Central’s Wyatt Raab (17) celebrates a touchdown during Saturday’s Division 2 Final at Superior Dome. (Middle) Colon’s Kodey Dovey (5) works to elude the Jets’ Carter Tietz (32). (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click for more.)

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.)