'Sailor Salute' Honors Those Who Serve

September 5, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

It’s hard to believe a game with the magnitude of Zeeland West at Muskegon Mona Shores could be anti-climactic.

But that was certainly the case on a special night Thursday at Sailor Stadium in Muskegon, where the real story unfolded before the opening kickoff.

The “Sailor Salute” was a massive tribute to all of those who serve their country and their community, combining the magic of a high school football game with military responder vehicles, a U.S. Army Lakota Helicopter, 300 motorcycles, 1,500 students and community members decked out in red, white and blue singing “God Bless America” and the national anthem on the field and then two flyovers by the Hooligan Formation Flying Flight Team.

And that was all before the game began.

“We have done a military appreciation night for quite a few years now, but this year we decided to try and step it up a little bit,” said Mona Shores athletic director Ryan Portenga, explaining a pre-game event which drew national television exposure. “These people that serve our country and our communities deserve it. So we just kept bringing in more groups and ended up with huge, patriotic community event.”

The pre-game festivities went off pretty much without a hitch, helped by sunny skies and ideal temperatures in the low 70s.

The football game capped off a day where Mona Shores also hosted volleyball, soccer and tennis competitions. School officials opened the gates to the stadium at 5 p.m. to allow time for fans to walk around the north side of the track and explore and get pictures with 10 different military and emergency responder vehicles.

Around 6:30 p.m., an estimated 300 riders from different motorcycle groups who support military veterans roared into the stadium and filled the south side of the track. At 6:50 p.m., the community choir joined the marching band on the field for two emotional songs, timing things perfectly as the four military planes flew by in their precise formation, white smoke trailing them, just as the giant choir sang “home of the brave” with a booming crescendo.

Having to compete against a pre-game show to end all pre-game shows, the game itself certainly held up its end of the bargain – continuing the excitement for more than 4,000 fans in a classic matchup of the wing-T system and precision execution of Zeeland West against the speed and athletic ability of Mona Shores.

Zeeland West put on a power blocking and running clinic and jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead. Mona Shores fought back valiantly in the second half, sparked by a 95-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tristan Robbins to junior wideout Keyshawn Summerville late in the third quarter, then taking its first lead, 28-24, on a 14-yard run by bruising running back Marcus Collins on its next possession.

But that’s when the Dux did what they do best, churning out a 16-play, 73-yard drive – using up more than 7 minutes off the clock – before senior Drake Fincannon scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 1:50 remaining.

Perhaps inspired by the pre-game festivities, the Sailors did not quit. Shores marched down to the 10-yard line, and Summerville made an amazing one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on fourth down, but was unable to get a foot down in-bounds.

“Tonight was a terrific game from both teams,” said veteran Zeeland West coach John Shillito. “We’re happy to be part of something so good. I compliment Mona Shores for doing it in such a classy way where it didn’t interfere with the football game at all.”

In terms of an early-season, nonconference matchup, high school games don’t get much bigger.

Zeeland West is the defending Division 4 champion, with that latest title its third in the past five years and fourth overall since its first year of football in 2005 – all under Shillito, who previously took Muskegon Orchard View (1995 and 1999) and East Kentwood (2002) to MHSAA championship games.

Mona Shores, meanwhile, is emerging as a new football force after years of struggle. The Sailors made the playoffs for the first time in school history in 2013, then followed that up with a run to Ford Field and a Division 2 runner-up finish in 2014. Shores registered its first 9-0 regular season last year, before falling to rival Muskegon, the winningest program in state history, in the District Finals.

Shores graduated 21 of 22 starters off its 2015 team, but has proven in a big opening win over Holland West Ottawa and its hard-fought loss to Zeeland West that it’s a program that isn’t going anywhere. The tough schedule continues this week with a trip to Rockford before Ottawa-Kent Conference Black play begins.

The victory moves Zeeland West to 2-0, after winning a grueling defensive battle, 14-9, over visiting Cedar Springs in Week 1. The Dux, who compete in the O-K Green, play another blockbuster nonconference game this week at defending Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic in not only a battle of unbeatens, but also defending title winners.

But no matter what happens the rest of the way, it’s unlikely that either team or its fans will be part of another event quite like the Sailor Salute.

“It was an awesome community atmosphere, and on top of that, a great football game,” Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak said afterward. “If you love high school football and the United States of America, this was the place to be.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Mona Shores logo on the field was painted red, white and blue as part of the Sailor Salute tribute to those who serve the country and the community Sept. 1 at Mona Shores High School. (Middle above) More than 300 motorcycle riders who support veterans roared into Sailor Stadium shortly before kickoff as part of the Sailor Salute. (Middle below) A giant choir of 1,500 students and community members from both Mona Shores and Zeeland West sing “God Bless America” and the national anthem as part of the tribute. (Below) The Hooligan Formation Flying Flight Team flies high over Sailor Stadium at the conclusion of the national anthem. (Photos courtesy of Mona Shores High School.)

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:

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.)