Pirates Rule Air, Capture 1st Title

November 22, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GREENVILLE – Peck’s players had started snapping at each other during their Week 6 Homecoming game against Kingston, getting on each other’s cases about missed tackles and other mistakes of the first two quarters.

The bickering became enough that coach Rob McDaniel decided that at halftime he and his players would have a talk. At least, that’s what he’s calling it now.

The message was clear. And McDaniel’s words that night proved true in Peck’s 67-32 victory over Rapid River in Friday’s MHSAA 8-Player Final at Greenville’s Legacy Field.

“We came out after halftime and put 52 on Kingston, and we haven’t looked back since,” McDaniel said. “I told them you can either bicker and your season will be done after nine games. Or, with the talent you have here, if you come together and be brothers on the field ... there aren’t any limits for you guys.”

“It was amazing,” Peck junior tight end Kyle Abrego added. “If you want to be state champions, you can’t fight against each other.”  

Instead, the Pirates took the fight to the rest of their opponents this season, finishing a perfect 13-0 and with their first MHSAA title.

This was only the second season of 8-player football for Peck and its third under McDaniel. The Pirates had won only one game, by forfeit, the season before McDaniel took over – and then went 1-8 in his first season of 2011, their last before switching to 8-player.

“Our numbers were down, and (8-player) was huge for us,” McDaniel said. “We were able to build success. We had success last year putting in a new system. And then the seniors this year took over, and last summer they were the ones making the phone calls saying get in the weight room.”

Peck stood tall all season, outscoring its opponents on average 51-16. But Abrego and the Pirates’ passing game chose the Final to no longer be overshadowed by a running game that gained more than 4,200 yards this fall.

Quarterback Tristen Haener had thrown for 1,166 yards and 12 touchdowns this season entering Friday night, and then connected on 12 of 16 passes for 379 yards and seven touchdowns – including four that were caught by Abrego.

Abrego’s twin brother Cody was the star of the Semifinal with 449 yards rushing against Lawrence, but the Rockets bottled him and his teammates up for a combined 165 yards rushing. Instead – and much to Kyle Abrego’s surprise – the Pirates decided to take advantage of his 6-foot-4 height as he grabbed six passes for 236 yards against defenders mostly four to six inches shorter.

“We thought we had good coverage, but we just didn’t turn our heads quick enough and the result was big plays,” Rapid River coach Steve Ostrenga said. “We thought we could cover them, but we were worried about their speed on the outside and speed on runs. They gave their quarterback just enough time to get the ball released.

“We took the run away. But we certainly didn’t take the pass away.”

McDaniel credited Ostrenga as well for slowing the Pirates' rush, but was able to deploy his speedy lineup in another useful way.

Rapid River senior quarterback Jake Pearson – also the starter when the Rockets (12-1) fell to Carsonville-Port Sanilac in the 2011 Final – put up simply incredible numbers this season. He entered Friday with 2,525 yards and 42 touchdowns rushing and 1,009 yards and 15 scores passing.

But although Pearson was able to run for 180 yards and three scores and throw for a fourth, he didn’t find enough room to help the Rockets keep pace when Peck pulled away during the second and third quarters.

“We have the ability to play sideline to sideline, and we pushed Pearson to the sidelines and didn’t let him get the corner. We tried to keep him in the pocket or trap him,” McDaniel said.

Pearson will go down as one of the first stars of 8-player football in this state, with numbers that will earn him recognition in the national record book. Senior lineman Hayden Hardwick also was a sophomore on that 2011 runner-up team, and Pearson got to finish his high school career connecting with Hardwick on a touchdown pass out of a spread formation that made the center eligible.

“The kid is humble. I’m not sure how many words I can say about Jake Pearson,” Ostrenga said. “He’s a true ambassador for our school, for 8-(player) football. We were 1-8 four years ago, 1-8 two years in a row, and 8-(player) football has been great. To have a Jake Pearson and this team stay together, it’s been phenomenal.

“He’s everything you see.”

Click for a complete box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Peck players chant while holding their first MHSAA championship trophy Friday at Legacy Field. (Middle) Pirates quarterback Tristen Haener (10) scores on a run during the second quarter. 

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.)