Older, Wiser MCC Ranks with Elite Again

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

October 21, 2020

Max Price is right – Muskegon Catholic Central football is back.

Not that the Crusaders ever went too far away. But after winning four consecutive Division 8 titles from 2013 to 2016, failing to make it out of Districts the past three seasons felt like a 100-year drought to Price and his teammates.

“I feel like this is the way we should be playing here at Muskegon Catholic,” said Price, the three-year starting senior quarterback who has his team at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Division 6 state poll.

“We were down, no doubt, but now we’re back up and ready for the playoffs.”

MCC has one more hurdle to clear to complete its first unbeaten regular season since 2016 when it hosts Holton at 4 p.m. Friday.

The Crusaders are doing it with defense, allowing a total of 18 points over five games. But even that low number is misleading, as the defense has only allowed one TD from scrimmage (a 79-yard run against Ludington), with the other points coming on an interception return and a kickoff return.

While the defense has been reminiscent of those MCC championship teams, one big change is that the Crusaders are now competing in Division 6 because of a cooperative agreement with nearby Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.

As a result, MCC appears on a collision course to host top-ranked Montague in a Division 6 District championship game next month – which would be a showdown between a pair of three-year starting quarterbacks in Price and Montague’s Drew Collins.

Ironically, MCC’s recent gridiron struggles can be traced back to its first-ever meeting with Montague during the 2017 regular-season finale. The Crusaders came into that game with a 27-game winning streak, but suffered a humbling 34-10 home loss. That game was followed by a lackluster 42-20 win over Decatur in the Pre-District, before a season-ending 26-15 loss at Mendon the following week.

The bad news continued that offseason, when three key sophomores transferred, leaving behind the youngest varsity team in MCC school history.

“We started 10 underclassmen and five freshmen in 2018,” said eighth-year MCC coach Steve Czerwon, whose team finished 3-6 that season. “There’s a lot of JV teams that don’t start five freshmen. I’m as proud of that team as any I’ve coached because of how they hung in there, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that this season.”

Price was thrust into the starting quarterback role as a sophomore and took a pounding behind a small and inexperienced offensive line. He played at less than full strength most of that season and missed the final three games when it was discovered that he had three fractured vertebrae in his spine.

“Looking back, I was scared back there and really didn’t understand the quarterback position,” said Price, who helped MCC flip its record to 6-3 last season. “I was new, and the game was so fast. I am very comfortable now, and that’s a huge thing.”

Price (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) came out this fall flinging the ball around in the Crusaders’ opening win over Ludington, completing 10-of-13 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns.

But for those worrying that the quintessential running football team has gone pass-happy, no worries. Since that game, MCC has settled into its running ways, with Price passing for just 235 yards and one touchdown over the past four games.

The Crusaders are back to pounding teams on the ground behind an offensive line that has grown bigger and more experienced under the direction of veteran line coaches Mike Ribecky, Joe Perri and Mike Hornak. Guard AJ Lock (6-1, 220) is still the lone senior starter on the interior line, with the other four being juniors – tackles Jaden Johnson (6-4, 235) and Alex Barnhill (6-0, 260), guard Jack Heminger (5-10, 210) and center Landon Patterson (6-0, 220).

The real secret of this year’s team is a stable of talented and interchangeable backs, led by senior Tommy Kartes and junior Joe Waller. The other backs getting significant touches are all underclassmen – juniors Nick Powell, Dane Rutz and Eliot Riegler.

“We were still in the first quarter last week against Orchard View, and seven different kids had touched the football,” said Czerwon. “I don’t think this team has any superstar on it. Quite frankly, we have a lot of kids of equal ability – we have a lot of good, solid players.”

The first to touch the ball each play is Price, who then distributes the ball around.

Price is thankful to be playing at all, after the COVID lockdown wiped out his junior baseball season this spring and a team that many believed was poised to make a run at an MHSAA Finals championship.

He is also thankful to be healthy. Price likely appreciates his health more than most his age because of the health issues of his father, Paul, who was paralyzed in 2015 after a fall at their home.

“I was in middle school when that happened, and I wondered if I should even play football with all the risks,” said Price. “But I know he wants me to follow my passion and be out there. He is a motivation for me, and I love seeing him on the sidelines at our games.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top)  Muskegon Catholic Central senior quarterback Max Price runs behind the block of junior tackle Jaden Johnson during the Crusaders' 30-6 season-opening victory over visiting Ludington on Sept. 18. (Middle) MCC senior slot receiver Tommy Kartes hauls in this reception from Price while an Orioles defender works to break it up. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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.)