St. Mary's Repeats in St. Mary's Fashion
November 28, 2015
By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — Glamorous moments come rarely for wide receivers in Orchard Lake St. Mary's offense.
To play receiver for the Eaglets requires patience, a selfless attitude and a player who doesn't mind doing the little things that only get noticed within the inner circle of the team.
Junior K.J. Hamler would be the primary weapon in many offenses, but he knows his role with St. Mary’s — make the blocks that keep the chains moving for a pound-and-ground attack.
When his number is called, he needs to make the most of it — and he usually does.
Hamler caught four passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns, as the Eaglets repeated as MHSAA Division 3 champions with a 29-12 victory over Chelsea on Saturday at Ford Field.
He hauled in a 34-yard pass from Brendan Tabone on a go route to give St. Mary's a 15-0 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter. Hamler’s 16-yard catch-and-run of a screen pass from Tabone made it a 22-6 game with 7:31 to go in the third quarter.
"I'm always prepared for anything," Hamler said. "I know we're a running powerhouse team. I've just got to prepare to block better. As soon as coach (George) Porritt gives our team a chance to pass the ball, I try my best."
A year ago, Hamler didn't have a catch in the championship game. Tabone had a minimal role as a passer, going 3 for 11 for 31 yards in a 7-0 victory over Muskegon.
St. Mary's ran the ball on its first 15 plays of this game before Tabone got the green light to go deep to Hamler. The Eaglets ran eight more plays before the next pass was called. They finished with 293 rushing yards on 56 carries, while Tabone went 5 for 9 passing for 79 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
"I look forward to every pass play, because we don't throw a ton," Tabone said. "We have such great backs. It was really special to be able to have an impact on the game; I'll remember it forever."
Tabone said Hamler has the right mental framework to play wide receiver in St. Mary's offense.
"K.J.'s such a great guy," he said. "He's selfless. Whenever his number gets called, our eyes light up and we do our best to make a big play when we can."
The flashes of brilliance in the passing game added to a championship performance that was typical for St. Mary's — grind down the opponent with the running game and stifle it with defense.
Justin Myrick had 108 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, Troy Marks had 105 yards on 17 carries, Rashawn Allen had 55 yards on 13 carries, and Ryan Johnson had 22 yards on three carries to lead the balanced ground game.
"We have depth in our running backs, so if somebody gets hurt we can put in somebody else," said Myrick, who missed the Semifinal victory over East Grand Rapids with an injured hamstring.
Brandon Adams, who ran for the only touchdown in last year's championship victory, missed the game because of an injury sustained on his only carry in the Semifinal.
The Eaglets repeated as MHSAA champions for only the second time in 13 Finals appearances. They won back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000, missing out on their three-peat bid in a 14-7 loss to Chesaning in 2001.
"At the beginning of the season, we were ranked No. 1 and all that good stuff," said junior linebacker Josh Ross, who had six tackles and an interception. "It was a lot of pressure. We had to come through it. We suffered a bad loss (31-8 to Warren DeLaSalle), which made us bond together as brothers. We came through all that adversity and won the state championship. I couldn't be prouder of our team."
It looked like St. Mary's might run away with it early. The Eaglets were leading 15-0 when they elected to go for a 33-yard field goal on fourth-and-inches from Chelsea's 17-yard line on their third possession. John Kwiecinski missed for only the second time in 10 field goal tries this season, opening the door for the Bulldogs (12-2) to get back in the game.
It took them only four plays to get into the end zone, as Graham Kuras took a reverse and heaved a 47-yard touchdown pass to Noah vanReesema with 8:22 left in the second quarter. Ralph Holley blocked the extra point, leaving the score at 15-6.
"That's our go-to trick play," Kuras said. "I was looking over for Noah. Usually, he's halfway across the field. This time, he wasn't. I was kind of lost on the play. I saw the safety get drawn up, so I knew he'd be open. I stepped up and threw it. I thought I overthrew it. I saw him step into second gear. That was probably one of the biggest plays in the game. Getting down 15-0 right away, we were kind of low on ourselves. Getting a score like that with the crowd behind us and boosting everyone's confidence was key to this game. Without that, it could've been much worse."
St. Mary's took that 15-6 lead into halftime, then expanded it to 22-6 on the 16-yard pass to Hamler following a shanked 11-yard punt.
Chelsea was held to only 13 yards rushing on 22 carries, but was able to do some damage through the air. A 14-yard touchdown pass from Jack Bush to Cameron Cooper with 5:07 left in the third quarter got the Bulldogs within 22-12. A 2-point pass that would've made it a one-possession margin was incomplete.
The response was a vintage St. Mary's drive, a 13-play, 80-yard march made up entirely of running plays. The Eaglets took 6:13 off the clock before Myrick scored on a 3-yard run to make it 29-12 with 8:44 left in the game.
The championship was within St. Mary's grasp once the defense came up with a big goal line stand on the following Chelsea drive. The Bulldogs had first-and-goal at the 3 but ended up with a turnover on downs with 5:39 left.
Chelsea would never touch the ball again, as St. Mary's ran out the final 5:39 with a 10-play, 48-yard drive.
"That's our football," Porritt said. "That last drive was big-time for us. The last drive and the defensive stop were our M.O. for the year. The defense has come up big in some goal line situations. Our offense running clock and having long sustained drives has been our football strategy all year."
Bush was 13 for 21 for 145 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times.
While St. Mary's is a regular visitor to the championship game, it was the first time Chelsea made it this far.
"As sad as it is to be over, I wouldn't want to end it anywhere else with any other guys or any other team," Kuras said. "It was the experience of a lifetime."
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) K.J. Hamler beats the Chelsea defense for one of his two touchdowns Saturday. (Middle) The Eaglets celebrate their second straight Division 3 championship.
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.)