Perry Eager to Begin Playoff Chase Again

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

August 7, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

PERRY – Swirling around in the back of his mind, Tanner Orweller sees what the most historic moment in Perry football history will look like.

The Ramblers, after coming so close so many seasons before, will make the playoffs for the first time. The entire town will turn out for the game – so many fans the bleachers won’t hold them all.

A motivating memory also replays frequently: Orweller, playing safety last fall as a sophomore on the varsity, biting on a pitch to the halfback against Maple Valley although his responsibility was to cover a receiver heading downfield.

That halfback threw a pass to the uncovered receiver, who ended up on the ground just short of the goalline. The Lions went on to defeat Perry by a point – 28-27 – and two weeks later the Rambers ended the season 5-4 and just short again of that elusive postseason berth.

“I know championships are not made in a matter of a year, or two years even,” said Orweller, also a Regional-qualifying wrestler during the winter. “You’ve got to train your whole life in order to be the best at what you do.

“There’s going to be failure in what you do, and you’ve got to know it’s not, ‘Oh no, I’m done.’ It’s, ‘Look, I’ve learned something from this. I know what I can do better. I’m going to practice those things I did wrong and make those mistakes go away so I can succeed next year.’”

Orweller and 19 teammates have been training most of their lives for the opportunity that began again Monday all over the state with the first practices of the 2017 football season.

Not counting schools playing varsity football for the first time this fall, there are 17 programs statewide that have never made the MHSAA Playoffs.

Of those 17, nine schools have existed since at least 1975, the first year football playoffs were conducted by the MHSAA.

And of those nine, Perry is one – and can make a great argument that none of the other 16 has come closer to earning another game more often.

From 1975-98, when playoff qualifiers were determined regionally by playoff-point average (based on success and strength of schedule), Perry enjoyed eight seasons of at least six wins – which would have been plenty under the current playoff format, which set an automatic qualifier at six victories when the 11-player field was expanded to 256 teams in 1999.  The Ramblers had at least six wins four straight seasons from 1983-86, finishing the regular season 9-0 in 1984 but getting left out of the postseason. They then went 7-2 three times over four seasons from 1990-93, but couldn’t break through.

Perry entered the 2006 regular-season finale 5-3 and needing a win over Williamston to qualify for the first time – but lost 14-0.  And then came last season and another 5-4 finish, the Ramblers’ best since that just-miss season a decade before but with a five-point loss to eventual Greater Lansing Activities Conference champion Lake Odessa Lakewood in Week 3 and then the one-point heartbreaker against the Lions a month later.

Telling that senior class that it wouldn’t have enough playoff points to make history was painful for then second-year coach Jeff Bott. And it was followed by a long offseason.

But Bott also saw the roots of a winner sinking in. An assistant at Perry for two years before taking over the program in 2015, Bott grew up in Haslett and never made the playoffs as a player – but was on the coaching staff as the program made the playoffs 12 times over 17 years with two trips to the MHSAA Finals.

He’s seen what it takes to become an annual playoff team. And he’s seen those steps taken, especially from an offseason training point of view, as the Ramblers have climbed back into the conversation.

“They playoffs weren’t something we talked about until we earned (it). I feel last year we earned the right to talk about it,” Bott said. “We aren’t there yet. But now, it’s time to finish. We just have to finish this year.”

Those finishing will mostly be new players. The roster has three seniors plus Orweller and two more juniors who were sophomores on varsity last season. The rest of their teammates are new to the top level.

But the other 13 juniors played together on junior varsity and led a team that finished 7-2, the latest strong run for a class that Orweller recalled finishing 6-1 in fourth grade – when he started having those playoff dreams for the first time.

If the Ramblers succeed in making the playoffs this season or next (or both), junior Drew Crim would be the first of his family including his dad Todd (a 1990 grad) and two uncles who preceded him to play in the postseason in a Perry uniform.

He’s seen success from a distance, cheering on cousin D.J. Zezula, who quarterbacked Clarkston to Division 1 titles in 2013 and 2014 before moving on to Wayne State University. Zezula has imparted on his cousin the importance of keeping his teammates working together and making sure they are accountable to each other on the field and off. Drew was another of the then-sophomores who came up to varsity in 2016. And Todd has pumped up his son’s confidence after watching he and his classmates grow up together. 

“He says this year will be the greatest of probably all. We have a very athletic group of kids, and he thinks we will do great things – Yes, I agree,” Drew Crim said.

“I work with these guys, and I know their tenacity and drive to do better things.”

Bott, who teaches in Haslett and also coaches basketball at Perry, recalled how the Ramblers used to be known for having some sizable guys, but this year’s team has more athletes. He made a point when taking over the program to push for the addition of local Spartan Performance, which trains the team year-round with a focus on improving as a complete athlete instead of just hitting the weights.

That offseason dedication and continued improvement in a wide-open spread attack all contribute to Perry looking the part of a program on the rise. 

Now the Ramblers hope to look the part of playoff team.

“This town loves football. Every Friday night there are 2,000 people here, three deep on the fence,” he said. “(Our players) are focused on giving something back here – for us, for them, but for this town. This program has been looked down on at times, and it hasn’t always been successful, but there have been great athletes and teams that came through in the 90s and we’re trying to get back to where it was.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me in town that this is the way it used to look.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Perry linemen work through a defensive drill during Monday's opening practice. (Middle) Ramblers coach Jeff Bott addresses his varsity and junior varsity players before those first drills of the 2017 season. 

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.