Tales of the Tape from Bygone Days

September 10, 2014

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

How’s this for a new reality/espionage TV series? Participants have just hours to exchange valuable video to counter-intelligence representatives at random drop points along state highways, then return to home base, study the footage and devise an action plan that same day. 

Oh, and there are no cell phones or any other form of portable communication should plans go awry en route. 

For longtime Escanaba High School football coach Dan Flynn, it’d be like watching reruns of his days as an assistant coach for the Eskymos. As one of the largest schools in the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba’s road through the MHSAA Playoffs almost always meant facing opponents from below the bridge, which made film exchange a challenge to say the least.

“I’ve logged thousands of miles, maybe more than anyone ever, exchanging film, tapes and DVDs with our opponents during the MHSAA Playoffs,” Flynn said. 

“Being in Region 1 geographically, we knew we’d travel,” Flynn added. “And you couldn’t afford to just look at anyone and everyone that you might play. You had to do your homework to narrow down possible opponents if you wanted to go and scout.”

Today, with the MHSAA publishing Football Playoff Points on a weekly basis following Week 4, much of the guesswork as to potential first-round opponents has disappeared. 

Additionally, most schools upload game footage to the web within 24 hours following each contest. On Selection Sunday, within minutes after a school’s Pre-District foe is announced, a coaching staff and players can be watching video of their opponent. 

“We’d started calling coaches or they’d call me in Week 8 or 9, looking at possible matchups and also planning a place to meet to exchange film,” Flynn said. 
Plans had to be firm and communications had to be clear, because once hitting the road, there was no way to contact one another.

“This was before cell phones,” Flynn explained. “I had one of first cell phones, which actually was an old bag phone. I’d accumulate outrageous rates for roaming charges going tower to tower.”

Old-school video exchange might be a thing of the past, but a generation of high school football coaches will never forget gas stations, fast-food joints and 24-hour stores nestled off exit ramps across Michigan.

“On that Sunday night, I’d get in the car, and typically drive to Gaylord, or maybe Grayling. In Gaylord it would be the McDonald’s. In Grayling, it’d be Glen’s Food Market. You’d try to arrange to meet at a place that was open 24 hours,” Flynn recalled. “I always got in the car understanding the meeting would be below the (Mackinac) Bridge. Sometimes we’d get lucky and the meeting place would be the Shell gas station just below the bridge on the Mackinaw City side.”

The 200-mile drive to Gaylord routinely took four hours. The further Escanaba advanced in the playoffs, the more times Flynn wore down the tread on his tires. He specifically recalls a hectic weekend in 1979, when Escanaba traveled to Lansing Sexton and defeated Livonia Stevenson in the MHSAA Semifinals to earn a berth in the Finals the following weekend vs. Detroit Catholic Central. Part of the reward for Flynn was another trip to McDonald’s.

“We came from behind in that Semifinal, and we were thrilled that we were going to the Finals. We got back home late Saturday night, then I got in the car the next morning to meet the Catholic Central coaches at 1 p.m.,” Flynn said. 

“Coach (head coach Jerry) Cvengros had a meeting set for 5 or 6 that night. I made it back in time, but our guys were still feeling good about the win, so I suggested we hold off a day before showing them the CC film (16 mm film, by the way). Those guys were pretty good.”

Indeed they were, winning the Class A title the following weekend. The Eskymos, however, would return to the Final in 1981, winning the crown, 16-6 over Fraser, as Flynn no doubt logged more miles in preparation.

The most pressing concern today might be quality of the online video, lighting at the fields, or angle of the camera.

Back in the day, just getting a tape felt like victory.

“One year, I traveled all the way to the southeast part of the state, and the opposing coach simply wouldn’t exchange,” said Flynn, explaining that playoff film exchange at the time was only a recommendation, not a regulation. “I learned later that the coach had video of us from a friend who lived in Escanaba. I left on Saturday morning and came back Sunday night. We did eventually get some film later in the week. We lost by two points, but as coaches we didn’t make it a big vendetta and were up front with our kids.”

The MHSAA Representative Council, which included Flynn at the time, upgraded film exchange from a recommendation to a playoff policy in 1990, when schools were required to supply one another with the two most recent game films. 

Even so, and as 16 mm film evolved to VHS tapes and then DVDs, coaching delegates still had to make itineraries for October and November weekends. Sometimes twice in the same weekend.

“Even with advancements in technology as we progressed from DVDs to digital, you still need people to operate the devices,” Flynn said. “I met another coach at the Shell station at the Bridge, but he said our software wasn’t compatible with theirs. I drove back the next day, pushed a button, and it worked. I drove all that way to push a button; 16 mm film would have been better.”

Today’s coaches might be a bit more well-versed in technology than those of Flynn’s era, and it’s a good thing. They likely need MapQuest and a GPS to traverse the regions in Northern Michigan that Flynn and his cohorts knew like the back of their hands.

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.)