Rapid River Rumbles to History-Making Finish
November 17, 2018
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
MARQUETTE – Since the opening kickoff of 8-Player Football Playoffs in 2011, Rapid River has been on the verge of winning its first MHSAA Finals championship in this sport.
In that first year’s title game, also at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome, the Rockets fell to Carsonville-Port Sanilac. The next year saw a Semifinal run. And then in 2013 at Greenville’s Legacy Field, another title game defeat, to Peck.
Four seasons of earlier-round playoff losses followed. But all of those are more distant memories after Saturday.
Rapid River hoisted its first championship trophy in football after a 30-18 win over Onekama back at the Superior Dome in the 8-Player Division 2 Final.
“It’s my senior year. Our coach has been here twice, but never won it. To get him one before he would retire … (we) did it for all the people on my team,” Rockets senior Gunner Larson said. “Just an amazing experience. Gotta go for the ride.”
Just a quick note: Rapid River coach Steven Ostrenga didn’t announce his retirement after his 20th season running the program came to a close. But Larson and his teammates know it will happen someday – but now without the “what if” of just missing out on a championship.
Rapid River and Onekama both earned their first trophies of 2018 during the playoffs after both finished third in their respective leagues, Onekama behind two contenders for the Division 1 title and Rapid River behind Division 1 runner-up Pickford and Engadine, which the Rockets then beat in the first round by two points after falling to the Eagles by 18 only two weeks prior.
And Rapid River certainly played like a champion Saturday, relying on its strengths especially up front to outgain Onekama 341-212 in yardage – but more importantly, hold onto the ball for 33½ minutes to the Portagers’ 14:30.
The Rockets ran 66 times for 305 yards as a team, with junior Tyler Sundling gaining 123 and scoring two touchdowns and Larson running for 107 and a score. Senior quarterback Brent Lundquist tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Nate Olson during a change of pace.
Rapid River carried a 22-8 lead into the fourth quarter and held on despite two Onekama scores over the final 12 minutes.
“We’ve never given up that many yards rushing and that many points,” said Onekama coach John Neph, whose defense was allowing only 8.1 points per game entering the day. “So I think that speaks to the quality of the Rapid River offensive line and their backs. They’re flying around and doing some good things defensively, and that was a huge difference.
“We never thought we were out of the game till maybe the last touchdown there that the Rockets had. We hung in and hung in, and the offense kinda left the defense out there way too long. (And) the conversions they could get on third and fourth down were just critical to keep the drives going.”
Rapid River didn’t have a turnover and only six penalties. Onekama had five penalties but also lost two fumbles. And those Rockets conversions clearly were difference makers; Rapid River was 10 of 17 on third down and 4 of 6 on fourth, while Onekama was 4 of 10 on third downs and didn’t have a fourth down try.
“Every team that we have is unique. We had a lot of good football teams; other teams were just a little bit better than us in those games,” Ostrenga said of past playoff trips. “We made some mistakes today, but we were almost mistake-free. And that’s the key.”
He threw plenty of credit to his assistants for getting the team ready, to his linemen for their work up front, and to a host of other coaches – including one in basketball – who had influenced and taught him some things over the years. Ostrenga also has led his share of champions, including eight Upper Peninsula Finals winners in boys track & field.
And at the same time Saturday, it felt like Onekama could be following a similar path and only a few steps behind.
This championship game was the first in football for the Portagers, who are 19-5 over two seasons in 8-player after making the playoffs their last three seasons with 11 on the field.
Onekama will graduate some key contributors including running back/linebacker Ben Acton, who ran for 78 yards and a touchdown and also had a team-high 16 tackles including three for losses.
But the Portagers should also bring back 14 of 19 players next fall, including junior quarterback Luke Mauntler (188 yards, two touchdown passes Saturday) and junior tight end Wade Sedlar, who with senior tight end Rylan Clarke caught those scoring tosses.
Juniors Matthew Mallison and Taylor Bennett followed Acton with 15 and 13 tackles, respectively.
“We have five seniors, but we do have 11 juniors coming back,” Neph said. “So we’re hoping we can replicate this. It’s absolutely tasking on a team to repeat and get this far. There’s some outstanding teams we were able to overcome to get this far. We’d love to come here again, but it’s going to be a ton of hard work and effort moving forward.
“But again, this is an historic season for our program. The guys going to the state finals was just a dream come true for all of us.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rapid River's Tyler Sundling (2) breaks several tackles and scores a touchdown Saturday. (Middle) Rapid River's Gunner Larson (33) is taken down by Onekama's Luke Mauntler (7) and Ben Johnson (12). (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
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.)