St. Mary Erases Doubts, Ends Ithaca Run

November 28, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — The players and their coach insisted they were playing for their own glory, not to deprive Ithaca of further greatness.

Monroe St. Mary would've savored an MHSAA Division 6 football championship regardless of the opponent, regardless of the historical backdrop.

But when the clock expired on the Falcons' 22-12 victory over Ithaca on Friday at Ford Field, once they'd secured their first title since 1991, there was a little extra pride among the St. Mary players.

Yeah, it was pretty special to beat a team with a nation-leading 69-game winning streak and four consecutive Division 6 championships.

"At the beginning of the week, we didn't really think about that," St. Mary senior linebacker David Howey said. "The coach just kept preaching there's 48 minutes left in high school football. That's a pretty cool win, though, beating the nation's longest winning streak in high school football. It's pretty cool. When we told people that's who we were going to play, they'd doubt us, and that just fueled me even more."

There was also a bit of a revenge motive for St. Mary (13-1), which lost 45-35 in the Division 6 final when the Yellowjackets' string of MHSAA titles began in 2010.

"It makes it a little more sweet, but it's just awesome," said senior John Lako, who ran for two touchdowns and made seven tackles with a sack at linebacker. "I was actually at the game when we lost to them in 2010. Just to see they were that close, it feels like we finally wrote the end of the book."

Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook hasn't had to deliver a postgame speech to his players following a loss since a 47-16 setback to Montague in a 2009 Division 6 Semifinal. From the start of 2010, the Yellowjackets assembled a winning streak that ranks 13th all-time in national high school football history. The streak included 24 consecutive playoff victories. Ithaca was trying to tie the record of five straight MHSAA titles shared by Farmington Hills Harrison (1997-2001) and East Grand Rapids (2006-10).

Ithaca had to come from behind in its previous two games just to keep the streak alive and return to Ford Field. The Yellowjackets trailed Madison Heights Madison 27-19 heading into the fourth quarter of the Regional Final before winning 41-27.

They made a stop on fourth down from the 4-yard line with 13 seconds left to preserve a 20-16 Semifinal victory over Boyne City, which took an early 14-0 lead.

"We've had maybe more talented teams, I'm going to be honest, and that's no knock on this football team," Hessbrook said. "But I've never coached a football team that has more heart and more resiliency, and that's going back to the teams we've had in the last four or five years. I don't care what team you put out there, this team will fight you every step of the way. I couldn't be more proud. We came up short. We missed a few opportunities. We came up a few plays short. One play in the kicking game, one play here or there on offense, we win that game, and we win it going away."

Ithaca (13-1) had only three victories with a margin of fewer than 10 points during the winning streak. Missed extra points by opponents played a major role in two of those games, a 22-19 overtime victory over Montague in the 2011 Regional Final and a 21-20 victory over Montrose in a 2013 Semifinal.

Ironically, points after touchdown were critical in the outcome of Friday's championship game.

Monroe St. Mary's edge in conversions began following the first touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run by Lako that capped an opening drive that milked the first 8:15 off the clock. An off-sides penalty by Ithaca on the extra point attempt moved the ball close enough to the goal line to make a two-point attempt more feasible. Justin Carrabino ran untouched around the right side to give St. Mary's an 8-0 lead.

Ithaca tried to make up the difference following its first touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Jake Smith to Spence DeMull with 9:20 left in the second quarter, but the two-point pass fell incomplete to leave St. Mary's up 8-6.

Special teams loomed even larger with 7:11 left in the second quarter when Troy Hilkens forced a fumbled punt return. The ball popped up to Travis Vuich, who returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. Phillip Lehmann's extra point made it 15-6.

"It was a great feeling," Vuich said. "The guys did their job on the punt filling the lanes. The ball just popped right up."

Ithaca found the end zone for a second time on a 2-yard run by Smith with 33 seconds left in the first half. The extra-point attempt hit the upright, leaving the Yellowjackets down by a 15-12 margin despite matching St. Mary's two touchdowns.

"I hope that all those young people who were standing on our sideline understand what a small margin for error there is when you play for a state championship and understand how much work goes into it," Hessbrook said.

An Ithaca offense that averaged 43 points a game wouldn't score again, as St. Mary came up with huge defensive stops in the second half.

On fourth-and-one from the St. Mary 21, Ithaca was stopped in the backfield by Justin LaPlante and finished off by Darius Marks for a 1-yard loss with 2:29 left in the third quarter.

Ithaca marched to St. Mary's 19 on its next possession, but Bryce Windham (also the Falcons' quarterback) intercepted a pass after a reverse.

St. Mary's took over at its own 2-yard line with 10:19 remaining and was able to milk the clock down to 2:46 before punting. Ithaca got the ball at its own 20 for one final attempt to keep its winning and championship streaks alive. On second and 10, Lako sacked Smith for a 12-yard loss with 2:19 to go. On fourth-and-22, Marks intercepted a pass with 1:51 remaining and returned it to the 5.

Two plays later, Lako wrapped up the victory with a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left.

Ithaca threw four incompletions on its final possession, and St. Mary kneeled out the clock.

"We won today because of our defense," St. Mary coach Jack Giarmo said. "Offensively, we struggled a little bit, but defensively the kids just did a fantastic job battling."

Ithaca outgained St. Mary, 262-182, but had three costly turnovers. Smith ran 18 times for 90 yards and a touchdown while completing 14 of 29 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception. DeMull caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Vuich made two clutch catches for first downs when St. Mary took 7:33 off the clock following Windham's interception. Vuich caught three passes for 38 yards, accounting for more than half of Windham's 71 yards on 7 for 12 passing.

LaPlante had nine tackles, including two for losses, to lead St. Mary's defense. Reeser had a game-high 12 tackles for Ithaca.

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central players raise their first MHSAA football championship trophy since 1991 on Friday. (Middle) St. Mary defensive back Darius Marks (2) snags an interception in front of an Ithaca receiver. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


SMITH TO DEMULL FOR THE SCORE - Ithaca scores its first touchdown in the second quarter, with Jake Smith finding Spence DeMull in the end zone for the score.
FALCON FINDS GOOD FORTUNE - On its drive following the first Ithaca TD, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central punts and a loose ball on the return finds its way into the hands of Travis Vuich, who took it 19 yards for what proved to be the winning points.

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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.)