Preview: Favorites to Meet in Final
November 18, 2016
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It’s easy to promote tonight’s MHSAA 8-Player Football Final at Legacy Field in Greenville as the meeting of the two best teams in the state this season.
Powers North Central and Deckerville entered the playoffs both undefeated and with the highest and second-highest playoff-point averages, respectively, in the division. And both have surged through the playoffs despite impressive opponents attempting to get in the way.
The Jets are known for a high-flying offense, while the Eagles are powered by a stifling defense – and yet, both are pretty strong on the other sides of the ball as well. See below for a glance at both teams, and if you can’t make it to Greenville the game also will be broadcast live on FoxSportsDetroit.com, with live audio streaming on MHSAANetwork.com. On-demand video will be available shortly after the game’s conclusion at MHSAA.tv.
(Statistics below are through Regional Finals unless noted. Rankings are based on playoff-point averages at the end of the regular season.)
Record: 11-0, No. 2
Coach: Bill Brown, 24th season (190-69)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2012.
Best wins: 36-6 over No. 4 Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Semifinal, 58-12 over No. 6 New Haven Merritt in the Regional Final, 40-0 over No. 11 Webberville in the Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: RB/DB Austin Fritch, 6-0/175 sr. (1,305 yards/23 TDs rushing); FB/LB Wade Saldana, 5-8/170 sr. (596 yards/13 TDs rushing); QB/DB Brandon Pattullo, 6-0/180 sr. (379 yards/9 TDs rushing, 496 yards/8 TDs passing); LB/OG Reese Bays-Kramer, 5-11/180 sr.; DT/SE Austin Spaetzel, 6-0/210 sr.
Outlook: Deckerville’s defense has gotten a lot of attention this week, and rightfully so – the Eagles have given up a mere 50 points this season and only 18 combined the last two weeks against previously-undefeated playoff teams. Bays-Kramer and Spaetzel lead on that side of the ball, playing massive roles in helping the team to five shutouts while never giving up more than 12 points in a game. But we shouldn’t forget the offense, which was especially dominant last week running for more than 400 yards without attempting a pass. Fritch added 263 yards and four touchdowns to his totals above, giving him 1,568 yards and 27 scores rushing this season, and the team as a whole has run for 3,417 yards while needing to throw for only 517. All 11 wins have been by at least 22 points.
POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Kevin Bellefeuil, 11th season (64-52)
League finish: First in Western 8 Conference.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2015.
Best wins: 60-50 (Regional Final) and 60-42 over No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 68-32 over No. 12 Stephenson, 62-22 over No. 9 Pickford in the Semifinal, 76-18 and 64-0 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 16 Rapid River.
Players to watch: QB/DB Jason Whitens, 6-4/210, sr. (2,170 yards/40 TDs passing, 536 yards/15 TDs rushing, 2 punt return TDs); RB/DB Bobby Kleiman, 5-9/175, sr. (594 yards/9 TDs rushing, 452 yards/10 TDs receiving, 3 interception return TDs, 3 punt return TDs); WR/DT Dylan Gagne, 5-8/175, sr. (439 yards/10 TDs receiving, 290 yards/4 TDs rushing); WR/DB Marcus Krachinski, 6-0/170 sr. (549 yards/10 TDs receiving); RB/LB Tyler Bentley, 5-7/175 sr. (541 yards/9 TDs rushing, 351 yards/3 TDs receiving).
Outlook: North Central remains undefeated in two seasons of 8-player football, bolstered by a Whitens-led offense averaging 67.4 points per game – only a few off last season’s average of 70.4. In fact, a loss would be the first for these seniors in either football or basketball since 2014 – Whitens, Kleiman, Krachinski, junior linebacker Lucas Dombrowski and senior center Ryan Plunger all also saw time in last winter’s Class D hoops Final as the Jets finished a second straight undefeated run in that sport. For the second straight football season, no opponent has come within single digits of North Central; only Forest Park got the deficit down to 10. Whitens added another 226 yards and three scores passing last week, giving him 2,396 and 43 total this fall.
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
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:
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.)