Prepare to Compare: Clarkston Wins D1

November 29, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — Nolan Eriksen dislikes two things: Losing and comparisons to his older brother, Ian.

He's never had to experience a loss since being promoted to Clarkston's varsity football team before last year's MHSAA playoffs, so that's never been an issue.

But comparisons between the Eriksen brothers are plentiful — and valid.

Nolan, a junior running back, ran 28 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolves repeated as MHSAA Division 1 champions with a 33-25 victory over first-time finalist Saline on Saturday at Ford Field.

A year ago, Ian Eriksen ran 32 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns against Detroit Catholic Central, leading Clarkston to its first title.

So, you'd think that Nolan would've leaned upon his brother's advice now that he was the starting running back in the championship game.


"I was just trying to do what I do," Nolan said. "People always try to compare us and stuff, but I just try to play my game and do the best I can for my team. No advice. ... Every now and then we'll talk about it a little bit, but mainly we try to keep it pretty separate. We just do our own thing."

Senior quarterback D.J. Zezula has no problem comparing the brothers. He's got a unique perspective, having handed the ball to each during his three-year career as Clarkston's starter.

"Noah doesn't want to be compared, but they're twins in my eyes," said Zezula, who ran 17 times for 120 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. "They're both hard-hitting football players. Mr. (Mark) Eriksen coached me when I was younger; he's the same way. They're awesome kids. They want what's best for the team. I love both of them. I love Mr. Eriksen. They're great guys. He coached me my first two years of football that I ever played."

While Ian Eriksen was the workhorse for Clarkston's first championship team, Nolan watched from the sidelines, as is typical for junior varsity players who are promoted after the regular season. He said he "got a couple plays" during the 2013 playoff run, but never saw action at Ford Field.

Just being part of the atmosphere last year was beneficial once he stepped onto the field Saturday, Eriksen said.

"We've been here before," he said. "We weren't too shocked looking around. We knew what the deal was. We knew what it felt like to be here. We knew what was riding on it. It was just the experience. It was incredible being able to look up there and see your whole town there and getting it done."

Eriksen had a solid first half, running 12 times for 61 yards and a touchdown, but he was a key reason why Clarkston took over in the second half after trailing 10-7 at halftime. Eriksen ran 16 times for 111 yards and two scores in the second half, as Clarkston scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions after halftime.

"These guys have taught me something," Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said. "The old Kurt Richardson would've blown up at half with two turnovers and stuff. We just said, 'Hey, we're fine. We're down three. We didn't play very well. We're getting the ball, so everything's fine.' I learned it from these guys."

Poise comes more naturally when a team has won 27 straight games — now the longest active streak in Michigan following Finals losses this weekend by Ithaca (69) and Ishpeming (33).

The Wolves needed only four plays after the second-half kickoff to take the lead for good on a 52-yard pass from Zezula to Merrick Canada with 10:09 left in the third quarter. A bobbled snap prevented an extra-point kick, leaving Clarkston up by a 13-10 score.

Clarkston's only three-and-out of the second half came on the next series, but the Wolves followed with three straight touchdown drives. A 2-yard run by Eriksen made it 20-10 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter before Zezula kept it and ran 70 yards for a touchdown with 8:17 remaining in the game, expanding the lead to 27-10.

Just before that touchdown, Saline missed a chance to make it a one-possession game. The Hornets had first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, but settled for a 24-yard field goal attempt that was wide left.

Saline also missed a field goal on the first series of the game, as linebacker Cole Chewins blocked the kick. Chewins, who has committed to Miami (Ohio) as a tight end, also batted down three passes.

"With the deflections and stuff, that was just playing the game," Chewins said. "I was able to make plays and just play football."

Saline coach Joe Palka tried to run plays away from Chewins, who had his blocked kick and two of his knockdowns early in the game.

"We had to adjust and go to the other side, just because he can cover so much ground and he's got such good range," Palka said.

Saline cut the deficit to 27-17 when quarterback Josh Jackson scored on a 1-yard run with 5:15 remaining.

Clarkston (14-0) recovered the onside kick, then marched 50 yards in eight plays, the final 22 yards coming on a touchdown run by Eriksen with 1:57 on the clock. The extra point failed, keeping it a two-possession game at 33-17.

That loomed as a potential issue when it took Saline only four plays to reach the end zone on a 2-yard run by Kevin Gross with 1:09 to go. Cameron Cole caught a 2-point pass from Jackson to make it an eight-point game.

Clarkston's Shane Holler recovered the onside kick, allowing the Wolves to clinch the title with two kneel-downs.

Jackson, a junior, was 20-for-31 for 237 yards while running 17 times for 82 yards and a touchdown to lead Saline, which won a school-record 12 games (to finish 12-2) and advanced beyond the Regional Final for the first time.

"It's an amazing thing for Saline football," Jackson said. "It's the best team ever in Saline. That we got to play on this stage was an amazing opportunity. Going into next year, that will just give us fire to come back here and try to win it."

Even though his career ended Saturday after starting at quarterback for teams that went 37-2 over three seasons, Zezula is mindful of what these back-to-back championships will mean for the future of the Clarkston program. The Wolves lost in Semifinals three times in 16 playoff appearances under Richardson before breaking through last year.

"Last year was kind of like breaking the mold, breaking this dark cloud over Clarkston that we could never win, could never get there," Zezula said. "This year was about building a legacy, a tradition here at Clarkston. ...

"It hits home when the little kids, the seventh-graders at our youth camps, wear my jersey and wear No. 5. That's where it really hits home, just to pave the way for the younger kids and start a legacy, start a tradition here that winning is what's got to happen at Clarkston." 

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston's Nolan Eriksen takes a handoff as his lineman work to open a gap near the goalline Saturday. (Middle) Quarterback D.J. Zezula looks for a receiver while those on the Saline sideline look on. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


GROSS GETS SALINE STARTED - Saline started the scoring in the second quarter against Clarkston with Kevin Gross running it in from 27 yards out.
OH CANADA! CLARKSTON GOES ON TOP - Clarkston took the lead to stay in the Division 1 championship game when D.J. Zezula hit a wide open Merrick Canada on a 52-yard pass.

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Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.)