'Soccer School' Cheers Best Football Run
November 16, 2016
By Dean Holzwath
Special for Second Half
HUDSONVILLE – When people mention Hudsonville Unity Christian, the first thing most think about is the unparalleled success the school has experienced in boys and girls soccer.
The two programs have combined to win 14 MHSAA Finals with the girls capturing a remarkable 10 from 2005-2016.
However, another sport at the Ottawa County school is beginning to make a name for itself and gain attention.
The football team collected its first Division 4 Regional title last Friday with a 36-16 victory over Lake Odessa Lakewood.
The Crusaders (10-2) will appear in their first MHSAA Semifinal on Saturday against Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1).
This is their Unity Christian’s eighth appearance in the postseason, and their 10 wins thus far is a school record.
“Football is getting more of a notice now,” Unity senior quarterback Mitch Dykstra said. “Soccer has always been good at Unity and always will be, but football is becoming more prominent. It’s good to see.”
Unity’s deepest run in the MHSAA tournament wasn’t necessarily expected, especially after the team dropped two of its last three games to end the regular season.
The Crusaders won a school-record six straight games to open the season, but lost to Zeeland East (12-7) in Week 7 and Ottawa-Kent Conference Green champion Byron Center (40-19) in the regular-season finale.
Unity tied for second in the conference standings.
“We played hard, and in both games we battled,” said the Crusaders’ Craig Tibbe, the only head coach the program has had since its inception in 2003.
“We did some OK things, and took a few positives from that. We played one of the better teams (Byron Center) in the area that last week, but we gave good effort and moved the ball.”
The postseason started with a 24-6 victory over Three Rivers and a trip to the District Finals, but that’s where most prognosticators thought Unity’s season would end.
The Crusaders clashed with unbeaten Benton Harbor, a team loaded with size, speed and athleticism – and a mismatch in most people’s eyes.
“We were a little nervous about the unknown,” Tibbe said. “How good are they?”
Unity pulled off perhaps one its biggest wins in school history, a 35-34 overtime thriller. The Crusaders were moving on.
“It was a great game, and they were tired when we got home, but what a fun night,” Tibbe said. “They had a lot of skilled athletes, but we hung on and walked out of there with the W. Going forward, that definitely showed them that we could play with these guys. Even though we didn’t have the speed and size, we could go in there and battle.”
Last season, Unity possessed one of its better teams. It advanced to the Regional Finals for the first time before succumbing to eventual Division 4 champion Zeeland West.
The Crusaders lost several key starters from that squad, but found capable replacements. Still, Tibbe was unsure how this season would unfold.
“This season has been very special and a lot of fun,” he said. “You just never know from year to year how it’s going to go and these kids have surprised us, but what’s not surprising is how hard they’ve played week in and week out to survive.
“We look at it as why is it this way this year and not other years? We felt like we had a couple teams in the past that were pretty solid, but we ran into eventual state champs early.”
What hasn’t been mentioned is the Crusaders’ lack of numbers and depth. Throughout the season, they’ve dressed only 22 or 23 on the varsity.
Six starters and eight in all, including Dykstra and running backs Parker Scholten, Alec Headley, Austin Shaban and Luke DeGroot, play both offense and defense.
“They’ve been thrown into the fire and forced to do that when they start in our program,” Tibbe said. “It carries over, and they learn to take a little pride in the fact that this is what we do and we try to do the best we can with it.”
Unity senior tight end/linebacker Cole DeVries said there were doubts as to whether this team could surpass last year’s win total.
“We lost our whole lines, and not a lot of people believed that we could go as far as last year,” he said. “It’s been a journey, but definitely my favorite year. It’s the farthest we’ve ever been at Unity, and we’re making history. We’re doing a lot of things that Unity hasn’t done, and it’s been a blast for me.”
Added Dykstra: “I can’t describe how amazing this season is. No one believed in us, and it has pushed us to strive for greatness and that’s what we’ve done. We’re always undersized, and other teams have more players and athletes, but we work well together and we want to work hard for each other.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hudsonville Unity Christian players celebrate during a game this season. (Middle) The Crusaders' Alec Headley (5) finds an opening during the playoff win over Benton Harbor. (Photos by Larry Treece Jr./LTpics.com.)
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.)