Powers North Central Extends Title Legacy

November 18, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GREENVILLE – Their parents are taking credit for this, and for many reasons, rightfully so.

But the moms and dads who birthed the athletes rolling through Powers North Central’s football and boys basketball programs these last few years never stacked championships like this. For that matter, no class at any Michigan school has accomplished what the Jets seniors added to Friday night.

North Central’s 58-22 win over Deckerville at Legacy Field finished a second straight undefeated 8-player football championship season for the Jets, to go with two straight undefeated Class D championship teams for their boys basketball team – and ignited questions of how a school with only 115 students from a small Upper Peninsula community could come up with such a collection of talent.

Jets assistant coach Gerald Whitens provided his son, star quarterback and hoops guard Jason Whitens, with one explanation.

“Most of our parents went to North Central. It’s coming back around,” Jason Whitens said. “We had a good family group that stayed at Powers North Central, and we just kept filtering through and growing as a group. My dad said he blazed the path for us, and we just made it even bigger. So I have to give him a little credit.”

Added senior running back Bobby Kleiman, whose dad Scott also is a football assistant and played with Gerald Whitens on the school’s 1984 Class D champion basketball team: “(This kind of group) doesn’t come by often, I can tell you that. But we’re blessed to have the kids we have. The timing, everything, it just fell into place. We grew up with each other, we love each other, and it’s just a blessing to have the kids we have.”

That blessing to North Central athletics has been an unmovable obstacle for football opponents the last two seasons.

The Jets finished this run 13-0 to move to 26-0 since switching to 8-player before the start of the 2015 season.

But this most recent win didn’t come as smoothly as the score might indicate – at least during most of one quarter.

The first belonged to North Central, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Whitens in particular. In 2015, Kleiman became the first player in the then-five seasons of 8-player football to run for more than 200 yards in an MHSAA Final, finishing with 205. Whitens obliterated that record in the first quarter Friday, running for 231 yards and three touchdowns on only five carries as the Jets opened up a 20-0 lead.

But Deckerville, also undefeated and making its first championship game appearance since winning 8-player in 2012, didn’t fold. In fact, the Eagles (11-1) rode the running of senior tailback Austin Fritch and senior quarterback Brandon Pattullo, who combined for 162 yards rushing and three touchdowns during the second quarter to put the Eagles up suddenly 22-20 with 1:57 to play before the break.

North Central had trailed only once before this season, into the third quarter Week 2 against Crystal Falls Forest Park before coming back to win 60-42.

“We’re not used to other people scoring on us and having close games,” Bobby Kleiman said. “But we played Crystal Falls two weeks ago (a 60-50 Regional Final rematch); they’re an exact replica of this team. We had one of the craziest games ever with them, and they really prepared us for this game.”

Indeed, Whitens scored on a 44-yard run a minute after Deckerville took its lead, and the Jets never trailed again. Kleiman added a 49-yard scoring run less than three minutes into the third quarter, and Whitens added 37 and 2-yard scoring runs and a 71-yard touchdown pass to senior Marcus Krachinski.

Whitens finished with an 8-Player Finals rushing record that may not be broken in some time, 352 yards on only 17 carries (20.7 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. His numbers could’ve been greater, or at least different if for just two plays, both dropped passes that likely would’ve resulted in touchdowns. Still, Whitens completed 6 of his 12 throws for 100 yards despite rain that blew sideways for most of the first three quarters.

Deckerville had given up only 50 points total this season and only 18 during the playoffs despite facing two other undefeated teams.

“We made a nice comeback there, but you’ve still got to keep going, and we weren’t able to make some plays,” Deckerville coach Bill Brown said. “We can’t give up big plays and expect to win. We don’t have a kid like that that can get 80-yard runs every time and score.”

Fritch and Pattullo did both finish with 133 yards rushing, Pattullo on only 12 carries for an average of 11.1 yards per attempt.

Kleiman added 123 yards rushing on 10 carries despite what North Central read as Deckerville aligning to stop him early on. That read led to Whitens’ big first quarter, including a 38-yard run on the first offense play of the game, on the “dart” quarterback keeper play that North Central continued to throw at the Eagles throughout the night.

The addition of Friday’s performance gave Whitens 2,496 yards and 44 touchdowns passing this season, along with 943 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing.

He’s one of 11 seniors who played his last high school football game – and six of those seniors also played in last season’s Class D Basketball Final.

“This is the best class probably ever in the state, to do what they’ve done,” North Central coach Kevin Bellefeuil said. “Two basketball titles, two football titles, and they have to be a favorite to win a third one (in hoops).

“This is a special group of kids. We have the right mix of skill players, offensive linemen, linebackers; we have a little bit of everything.”

And some will take only a short break. Whitens said at first he’d be back to work for basketball Saturday morning. Then he self-corrected – he’ll wait until Monday instead.

“You’re never satisfied with who you were last year, or the day before. You’re always growing to get better each and every day of your life, and that’s how I go about my life,” Whitens said.

“We’ve got our eyes on the ultimate prize. This is our last year, last run at it, and we’re going to enjoy it. … I’m going to get home, join our community, let them bask in the glory with us. And then Monday morning, I’m ready to go.”

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Powers North Central quarterback Jason Whitens breaks away for one of his six rushing touchdowns Friday. (Middle) A Deckerville ball carrier works to get free of a North Central defender. (Below) Whitens confers with Jets coach Kevin Bellefeuil. (Photos by John Johnson/MHSAA.)

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.)