Pickford Prepping for Next Chance to Shine

October 10, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The Pickford football team has relished the opportunity to learn the last two seasons.

The Panthers’ 2016 run ended in the 8-Player Semifinals with a loss to eventual repeat champion Powers North Central. Last season, Pickford didn’t lose a game until the 8-Player Division 2 Semifinals – when it fell to eventual champion Crystal Falls Forest Park by a mere two points.

“There was a point in (last year’s) game where if we could’ve gotten the ball back, we had a chance to win that game,” Pickford coach Josh Rader said. “We know sometime during the season, it’s going to be on the line, and we’re doing our best to prepare for that moment. We put ourselves in different situations in practice. We practice those specific moments … that (are) going to propel you to the next level.”

All signs point to the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for September being well on its way.

After finishing 11-1 a year ago, Pickford is off to a 7-0 start this fall. A 38-20 Week 3 win over Forest Park was the only game where Pickford didn’t score at least 52 points. And the defense has given up 69 points total.

Pickford’s program is the reason the MHSAA introduced 8-player football playoffs in 2011. The school, located on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula about 25 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie, has roughly 130 students. The varsity has 14 players – with only two seniors and just one sophomore.

Three juniors were on varsity for all of last season, and two more played several games with the top team. “The last few years we’ve had a good group of guys; they work together, they trust each other and they’re just playing good football because of that,” Rader said. “They build on each other.”

Five players have run for at least three touchdowns this season, with junior running back Stephen LaMothe finding the end zone a team-high 10 times to go with 539 yards on the ground – at 10.2 per carry. Junior Matthew Bush has run for a team-high 613 yards – at 9.6 yards per attempt.

But making this Pickford team even more dangerous is junior quarterback Jimmy Storey, a threat both on the ground and through the air. He also averages 10 yards per carry, with 414 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He’s completed 63 percent of his pass attempts for 1,043 yards and 23 scores – without an interception. Junior Nicholas Edington is his leading receiver with 18 catches for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns.

And then there’s the defense. Pickford has seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries – an average of two takeaways per game. Junior Isaiah May has a team-high 61 tackles, and junior Sam Burton has eight sacks. Bush is the team’s second-leading tackler.  

How do the Panthers’ pull this off with just 14 players? They stress daily improvements in practice and bringing physicality against opponents. A few defensive stops followed by quick scores, and Pickford is rolling.

Rader joined the staff in 2003 as defensive coordinator and took over as head coach a year later. The Panthers made the 11-player playoffs in eight of 12 seasons with him on staff or leading it, and are 34-7 in 8-player since making the switch in 2015.

But they’re hoping for more this fall. Pickford is prepping for that next step after building up the schedule with seven 2017 playoff teams. After so much success, the Panthers are getting everyone’s best shot, all the saved-up trick plays – and Rader likes that as well. All of it helps his team prepare for next month.

And the community is excited to support another run. Pickford’s best-known sports legend is a boys track & field program that won 27 straight Upper Peninsula Finals from 1952-78. The football program has made four MHSAA Semifinals total over the years and is eyeing a possible championship game trip to Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome.

“We tried to step that (schedule) up to prepare for those playoff moments and those tough type of games,” Rader said. “(It’s) ‘Let's play this as a playoff game’ – so when we are in the playoffs, hopefully we’ll be battle tested.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19

August: Northville girls golf – Read 

PHOTOS: (Top) Pickford quarterback Jimmy Storey breaks free during his team’s Week 6 win over Stephenson. (Middle) Panthers senior Mitchell Miller leads the team onto the field this season. (Photos courtesy of the Pickford football program.)

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.)