Opportunistic GRCC Breaks D4 Stalemate
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
November 25, 2016
DETROIT – One big pass, a solid kicking game and a handful of fine defensive plays were all Grand Rapids Catholic Central needed to lock up the school’s first MHSAA football title since 2010.
Trailing much of the game, GRCC scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and then relied on its defense to complete a 10-7 victory over Detroit Country Day in the Division 4 Final on Friday at Ford Field.
The championship was the Cougars’ third. Country Day finished runner-up for the fourth time in 11 seasons.
And this loss must be one of the more painful.
Country Day’s defense was outstanding. But the one time the Yellowjackets were caught out of position, it cost them.
The Cougars (13-1) faced a 3rd-and-7 from the Country Day 44 when junior quarterback Jack Bowen got the protection he needed and completed a pass to Michael Brown, who ran a delayed crossing pattern. Brown caught the ball at the 30 and split the Country Day defenders to complete the 44-yard touchdown pass to give GRCC the 10-7 lead with 11:11 remaining.
“We couldn’t draw it up any better,” Brown said. “I had to shut my feet down and get the corner to bite. (Bowen) threw a perfect pass. I just caught it.
“We knew coming in both teams had good defenses. Our defensive line didn’t stop. We had to hang in there.”
No one could have guess just how good these defenses would play.
GRCC gained one first down – on the touchdown reception. That set an MHSAA Finals record for fewest first downs; the previous record was set during the first playoffs, in 1975, when Flint Holy Rosary was held to four first downs by Crystal Falls Forest Park in Class D.
The teams also set a Finals record for fewest combined total yards, combining for 173. Farmington Hills Harrison and Muskegon Catholic Central set the previous record of 196 in the 1981 Class B title game.
It was fitting that Country Day’s final offensive play resulted in a sack by Derek Saukas, one of 10 recorded by the Cougars for a total of 82 yards lost by the Yellowjackets.
It was that type of game. GRCC totaled 15 yards on its first three possessions of the second half, which all resulted in Josh Steffes punts.
Jaylen Mayfield’s fumble recovery at the Country Day 47 with one second left in the third quarter gave the Cougars the field position they were hoping for and set up the go-ahead drive.
GRCC coach Todd Kolster said his defense has played like that all season, and the play Bowen and Brown made also had a familiar ring to it.
“These guys are bigtime football players,” Kolster said. “They’re great students. They’re great people.
“Defensively this is what we’ve done all year. Our offense has been opportunistic. Our defense is as good as anyone’s. It’s something we believe in.”
With the defenses so dominant, it was apropos that Country Day’s touchdown was scored on a turnover.
Country Day (13-1) trailed 3-0, and GRCC faced a 3rd-and-8 from the Country Day 17 when linebacker Adam Fakih applied pressure on Bowen, hitting the quarterback as he tried to throw. The pass fluttered into the hands of Roy McCree IV, who raced down the right sideline for an 82-yard interception return touchdown and Country Day lead, 7-3, with 4:54 left in the half.
The Yellowjackets went to senior Steve Mann at quarterback on the next series and threatened to increase their lead. Mann took over for the starter, sophomore Jalen Graham, and moved his team from its 36 to the GRCC 25 – but a sack and a penalty pushed Country Day back, and a fourth down conversion attempt failed, ending the half.
GRCC scored with 1:18 left in the first quarter on Josh Steffes’ 31-yard field goal. That score was set up by Antonio Strong’s 58-yard punt return.
Country Day had 40 yards in the half; the Cougars did not gain a yard.
The loss was especially tough on Country Day coach Dan MacLean. He switched quarterbacks in an effort to add a spark.
Each quarterback was sacked five times. Graham was 3 of 5 passing for 18 yards, and Mann was 9 of 15 for 87 yards.
“We needed to,” MacLean said. “We had to get something going.
“Our defense has been a fantastic group. The (10) sacks, I have to see the film, but it wasn’t good.
“It’s very difficult to take right now.”
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) A collection of Grand Rapids Catholic Central defenders tackle Country Day’s Chris Bergin (5). (Middle) GRCC’s Antonio Strong follows a block during Friday’s Final.
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.)