Reading is Believing for 1st-Time Champ

November 23, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Alex Price’s 11 words – or rather, 56 characters – last Nov. 25 spoke volumes.

And he and his teammates made them count during Friday morning’s Division 8 Final at Ford Field.

Two days shy of a year ago, the Reading now-senior quarterback tweeted that his team would be making the trip to Detroit this weekend. It was quite a prediction. The Rangers had just finished 8-3 – but hadn’t reached a Semifinal since 2008 and had never played in an MHSAA football championship game.

Well, Reading is believing. Breckenridge scored first Friday, but the Rangers popped back up and broke away for a 39-20 win and their first Finals championship in this sport.

The win actually capped a three-year run that saw three freshmen and seven sophomores join the varsity in 2016, boosting that team from 11 to 21 players even as the overall level of experience fell dramatically. Reading finished only 3-6 that season, but set the stage for the team to play on the state’s biggest.

“What’s special is the kids,” Reading coach Rick Bailey said. “Basically we played that (2016) year with a junior varsity team at the varsity level. We went 3-6, but we competed in every game. They decided back then they were going to make it happen.”

Friday morning was going to be filled with firsts, regardless of the winner. Breckenridge also was making its first MHSAA Finals appearance in football, and both teams were undefeated heading into the day.

Reading (13-0) rarely had been stopped this season – even the local police escorted the Rangers through a few red lights early Friday as part of an escort kicking off the morning march.

But they knew they were in for some challenges right away. First, Breckenridge stopped Reading on a fourth down play at the Rangers’ 32-yard-line just four minutes into the game. The Huskies followed up by scoring the game’s first touchdown, converting two fourth downs on the way to the end zone.

Reading had been giving up only 7.2 points per game, and Breckenridge suddenly led 6-0. Game on. But the Rangers’ defense – one of the most impressive in any division this fall – brought things back to even with a Finals first.

With just over a minute left in the first quarter, senior Caleb Miller’s 42-yard punt pinned the Huskies on their 1-yard-line. On the next play, Miller got a sack and the ball came loose, and junior Elijah Strine ended up with it in the end zone – the first fumble recovery for a touchdown in MHSAA championship game history. Senior

Ethan LoPresto’s 2-point conversion run put the Rangers ahead, to stay, just 14 seconds after one of the few times they trailed this fall.

“We were down when they scored first – we’re not use to that. We’re not used to teams scoring much on us at all,” Miller said. “That got the momentum up and really helped us out.”

Bailey said Breckenridge (12-1) had the toughest defense his team had seen this season. And the Huskies didn’t let up despite the disappointing and historic turn of events. But Reading began to grind, adding a touchdown on a drive of 5 minutes, 10 seconds, midway through the second quarter and extending the lead to 24-6 on a Price score to cap a 5:39 drive to start the third period.

Breckenridge still didn’t go away, and that was saying a lot against a Reading defense that also had given up just a little more than 500 rushing yards total and only rushing touchdown over the first 13 weeks.

The Rangers held the Huskies to just 21 yards rushing for this game – but Breckenridge did get a touchdown on the ground and two through the air from senior quarterback Carter Staley to senior running back Hunter Collins, who also had the rushing score.

“I was just extremely proud of everyone on our team, pushing ourselves and pushing each other and not giving up on one another,” Staley said. “That’s just what got us here.”

LoPresto led the Reading offensive effort with 123 yards on 16 carries. Junior Hunter Midtgard had the most memorable play, breaking free in the fourth quarter off a block from junior Ben Affholter for a 57-yard score. Strine also ran for a touchdown.

No player had more than five tackles for the Rangers – but as a unit they had 10 for losses and three sacks.

Staley finished 14 of 19 passing for 177 yards and the two scores, and Collins caught six passes for 55 yards while junior back Lukas Ebright caught four for 55.

Breckenridge had a similar back story to Reading – the Huskies went 0-9 in 2015 when a handful of this team’s leaders were learning on the fly as freshmen. Four years later, 11 seniors are done but next season’s returnees have played up to another full season with extra games during the last three playoff runs.

“We’ve got a plan, and we stick to it,” Breckenridge coach Kris Robinson said. “It’s good athletes coming through, but we’ve also got a process. We’ve learned as a coaching staff, and I’m hoping we can move forward from here.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Reading celebrates its first MHSAA football championship Friday. (Middle) The Rangers’ Caleb Miller, right, chases Breckenridge quarterback Carter Staley.

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.)