Reading Reaches Next Level with Repeat

November 29, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – An arduous playoff road over the last five weeks pushed Reading up against some of the most established football programs in Michigan high school history.

Pre-District opponent Mendon is tied for 10th with 12 MHSAA Finals football titles. Semifinal foe Fowler has won seven championships. Those two, Cassopolis and Adrian Lenawee Christian all were state-ranked during the regular season. Friday’s championship game opponent Beal City was not, but is tied for the most playoff appearances in MHSAA history with 35 over the 45-year history of the tournament.

Reading made its 25th playoff appearance this fall, an impressive feat on its own. But by winning a second straight Division 8 championship – after last year’s first in school history – the Rangers launched their program into that group of the most revered. 

They concluded this chapter with a 33-6 win over the Aggies on Friday at Ford Field, extending an incredible run while allowing a star-studded senior class to leave its personal imprint on what Reading has accomplished. 

“I really think we left a mark in the playoff book,” Rangers senior Hunter Midtgard said. “Just because we came through last year, we had a really good team, and then we came through this year and we wanted to prove a point that this was our team and we wanted to leave a legacy. We just wanted to finish the job.” 

Reading finished this fall 13-1, winning 13 straight after a 14-0 opening loss to Pewamo-Westphalia, which will play Saturday for a third Division 7 title in four years. The Rangers are 27-1 over the last two seasons.

Not that the senior class needed motivation after making a major contribution to last season’s title run. But coach Rick Bailey emphasized that those seniors shouldn’t feel like reigning champions, and instead pursue making their own impact – and the P-W loss threw kindling on that message.

“We worked hard over the summer, but that first loss … kinda lit a fire in us and told us what it took to make it back here, so we really wanted it,” Reading senior lineman Nick Affholter said.

“Also, I thought it was great, because it was our team this year,” said senior linebacker/tight end – and Nick’s twin – Ben Affholter. “We got to be seniors and we got to be leaders, and that drove us to win it as our team.”

Friday’s matchup with the Aggies (12-2) was set up to be strength on strength – especially considering the two starting quarterbacks together combined for only about 1,500 yards passing this fall.

The game stayed within a score until midway through the third quarter, when Reading began to show it was stronger in the long run.

The Rangers scored the final 19 points, all on runs, and outgained Beal City on the ground 260-42. Reading also had 10.5 tackles for loss, with Ben Affholter leading with 4.5.

Beal City senior quarterback Jack Schafer was able to counter with 115 yards and a touchdown passing, completing five of nine attempts. But Rangers junior Porter Mauk also made the most of his six attempts, connecting on scoring passes for his team’s first two touchdowns.

“I think their up front gave us fits,” Beal City coach Brad Gross said. “Number 44 in the middle (Ben Affholter) obviously was stunting, and we didn’t do a very good job of picking him up. But I’m sure that kid is an all-state football player. … They’re big, bigger than we are, and also a lot faster than you think they are.”

Reading finished the season having given up 103 points, or 7.4 per game. Lenawee Christian (21) was the only team to score more than 18. Ben Affholter finished with 10 tackles total Friday, and brother Nick had eight. The Rangers recovered two fumbles and snagged an interception.

Senior Elijah Strine ran for 73 yards and a touchdown and Midtgard added 68 yards and a score on the ground and a 40-yard touchdown reception. Senior Jayson Scoville caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring with 3:21 left in the first quarter. Sophomore Matthew Stewart added a 12-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds to play.

Schafer connected with junior T.J. Maxon on a 56-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the second quarter for Beal City’s lone points. Senior linebacker Seth Schafer had 14 tackles and junior linebacker Ethan Locke had 10. 

The Aggies made their eighth appearance in an MHSAA Final, and first since 2013. They had finished below .500 the last two seasons, including 2-7 a year ago, before mounting arguably the strongest comeback in the state this fall. 

“I think they fit right in there with the best (in school history),” said Gross, who quarterbacked the 1994 team to the Class D title. “I can’t ask for anything more from these guys, starting from last year at the end of the year. It didn’t start in June; it started last year, in November. These kids made a commitment to be there and get things done, and that’s what they did.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Reading’s Roger Hill rushes into Beal City’s defense Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Rangers’ Elijah Strine (30) stretches into the end zone just ahead of Beal City’s Logan Chilman.

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.)