River Rouge Ends 2019 with Stunning Finish
November 30, 2019
By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – River Rouge wasn’t intimidated by Muskegon’s national acclaim or 859 football victories, the most by any Michigan high school.
If anything, the chance to knock off the unbeaten and top-ranked Big Reds brought out the absolute best in the Panthers.
After spotting Muskegon a 7-0 lead, Rouge scored the final 30 points to claim a 30-7 victory in the Division 3 championship game Saturday night at Ford Field.
“We are known for basketball, but now we have a football title,” said 10th-year Rouge coach Corey Parker, who lauded his team for playing fearlessly on both sides of the ball. “Now we have a football title, and 20 years from now these guys are going to be talking about it.”
All the talk coming into the game centered on Muskegon senior quarterback Cameron Martinez, the two-time MLive Player of the Year who had rushed for more than 2,000 yards. But the talk afterward was about a different QB – River Rouge’s Mareyohn Hrabowski.
Hrabowski, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, answered an early score by Martinez with three rushing touchdowns of his own, finishing with 15 carries for 175 yards – an average of nearly 12 yards per carry. He also completed 6-of-12 passes for 45 yards.
“I just had to follow my blocks,” said Hrabowski. “I had faith in myself and my team, and we came out on top.”
It was the first Finals appearance and championship for Rouge, which has qualified for the playoffs all 10 years under Parker. Rouge lost its opener this fall to Friday’s Division 4 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central before reeling off 13 straight wins. The Panthers were ranked No. 5 in Division 3 entering the playoffs
The other storyline Saturday was the Rouge defense, which held a Muskegon team averaging 49 points per game to a season-low seven.
The Panthers did it with an ultra-aggressive strategy, sometimes with all 11 defensive players within three yards of the line of scrimmage just daring Martinez to throw the ball.
Instead, Muskegon kept trying to find a way to break Martinez through the initial wall and into the clear, but it never happened.
Martinez, a 5-11, 190-pound senior who has committed to Ohio State, finished with 108 rushing yards, but it took him 34 carries to get there – at 3.2 yards per carry. He also did not complete a single pass, going 0-for-5 through the air.
“We just didn’t play our game, really,” said Martinez, who faced relentless pressure every time he dropped back to throw. “We have played great for 13 weeks, and we picked a bad time to play bad.”
Hrabowski scored on runs of one and 40 yards in the second quarter, as the Panthers took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Rouge (13-1) kept its foot on the accelerator during the second half, with Rmontaye Caldwell returning the third-quarter kickoff 36 yards to the Muskegon 35-yard line. On the next play, Hrabowski went 35 yards on a keeper and the lead was 21-7.
The score remained the same until the fourth quarter, when Rouge rounded out the scoring on a 31-yard field goal by Avery Burch and a 33-yard run by Deandre Bulley.
Bulley, a 6-2, 245-pound senior who is being heavily recruited by schools at the Division I level, came into the game needing just 80 yards to reach 2,000 for the season. He came up five yards short, with 15 carries for 75 yards, but Hrabowski more than made up the difference.
Rouge used extremely wide splits on the offensive line to open up running lanes for Hrabowski, who stunned the stingy Big Reds’ defense with his vision and deceptive speed in the open field. On two of his scoring runs he faked a jet sweep handoff and ran straight ahead behind guard Deshawn Smith and tackle Chance Moore through the left side of the line and eventually into the end zone.
The final stats bear out Rouge’s dominance.
The Panthers held a 330-180 edge in total yards, including a 45-0 edge passing. Rouge outrushed Muskegon 285-180.
Darieon Jones, a 5-8, 190-pound senior defensive back, was everywhere for Rouge, registering a game-high 14 tackles, including 10 solos. Linebacker Deshawn Walker had eight tackles, and Tyron Jones and Chastin Cross each made six stops.
River Rouge has been known around the state as a basketball school, winning 12 Class B state titles under legendary coach Lofton Greene during the 1960s and 1970s. But now the Panthers, who are part of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference, are making a name for themselves on the gridiron.
Rouge made a statement by dominating Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49-14 in the Regional Final, then overcame a 7-0 fourth-quarter deficit in last week’s Semifinal to knock off Chelsea 14-7.
The Panthers rode that momentum into the Final.
Muskegon, led by senior linebacker Tarran Walker and senior safety Tyreese Oakes with nine tackles apiece, added another layer of frustration to its Ford Field troubles.
The Big Reds have played in a championship game at Ford Field seven of the last eight years. But the lone victory, and the lone Finals title for 10th-year head coach Shane Fairfield, came with a 28-10 victory over Farmington Hills Harrison in 2017 for the Division 3 championship.
“That’s the way it happens,” said Fairfield, who last week became the second-winningest coach in Muskegon High School history. “We won 13 games and made 13 other teams feel this way. This is the risk you take. You could lose early or not even make the playoffs and never experience this.”
Muskegon, which had won 40 of its past 41 games entering Saturday night, is the winningest program in state history with 859 victories, a total which also ranks seventh nationally.
PHOTOS: (Top) River Rouge quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski rolls out and finds a receiver as Muskegon’s Billy Johnson Jr. (42) and Dwight McKinney close in. (Middle) River Rouge defenders including Rmontaye Caldwell (17) surround Big Reds quarterback Cameron Martinez.
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.)