Veteran Ishpeming Takes Back D7 Title

November 28, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Michigan high school football players, if they’re most fortunate and their teams uncommonly successful, can play up to 20 playoff games during their careers.

Saturday morning at Ford Field, Ishpeming seniors Ozzy Corp and Thomas Finegan joined that exclusive club. And with membership came a few lessons available to those who have experienced two MHSAA championships and a runner-up finish. 

Don’t get frazzled when trailing by two touchdowns early. Don’t be fazed when a record-setting running back is galloping at you play after play after play.

And above all else, don’t forget a game has two halves – and their team tends to own the second one. 

Despite trailing into the fourth quarter and failing to slow Pewamo-Westphalia’s Jared Smith over the first two, the Hematites stayed calm – and came back for a 22-16 win to clinch their third Division 7 championship in four seasons.

“We’re a second-half team. In the fourth quarter, we get tired, but we know how to fight through it, and I feel like that’s our advantage,” said Corp, the team’s starting quarterback the last two seasons. “We know how to face adversity. When things don’t step our way, we know how to fight back and stand right back up.” 

This Ishpeming four-season has run included championship game wins twice over Detroit Loyola and now P-W, to go with a loss to Loyola in last season’s MHSAA Final. The Hematites were a combined 13-0 this fall and 52-2 over the last four seasons, losing only to Loyola last year and rival Negaunee midway through 2012.

Those are some incredibly impressive numbers – and would have been only a little less impressive if the numbers from Saturday’s first half would’ve stood up over the entire game.

Pewamo-Westphalia junior running back Jared Smith, who finished this season with single-season records of 3,245 yards and 53 touchdowns rushing, had 112 and his lone score by halftime as the Pirates (13-1) held on to a 16-6 lead after scoring the game’s first two touchdowns and running 20 of the first 27 offensive plays. P-W’s first possession ended with a turnover on downs at Ishpeming’s 1-yard line after senior defensive end Luke Kuliu came up with a goal line stop.

“We didn’t have an answer,” Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said of Smith. “We worked hard at stopping the cut back, and he got the cut back. We worked hard on stopping him from getting the outside; he got the outside. When he gets one on one, he’s extremely difficult to tackle.”

But not impossible to stop after all, as Ishpeming showed during the second half.

The Hematites picked up momentum with a 13-play drive that took up half of the second quarter before Corp scored his team’s first points with 2:41 to go in the second quarter. They carried it through the third quarter as both teams resorted to ramming their best runner back and forth against each other – Smith at times taking direct snaps for P-W and Corp blasting ahead from the shotgun for Ishpeming.

But the results were sharply different from the first half. Ishpeming gained 135 of its 211 yards during the third and fourth quarters as Corp added touchdown runs seven minutes into the second half and with 3:52 to play – the final score coming after a drive of 14 plays over nearly 8 minutes.

P-W managed only three first downs and 43 yards over the final two quarters, as Smith was contained to 37 yards rushing on eight carries. Ishpeming held onto the ball for 15 minutes and 19 seconds total in the second half to the Pirates’ 8:41 – controlling tempo a lot like P-W during the first quarter and a half.

“Because it’s our gameplan too,” Olson said. “When you’ve got two teams, something’s gotta budge.

“In the first half they were winning the line of scrimmage. I think we threw a couple of passes to try to loosen them up a little bit, back them up. But I think we did wear them down. I could see them breathing hard in the fourth quarter, definitely that last drive.”

P-W did have one chance to tie after taking over the ball at the 50 with 3:42 to play. The Pirates drove to Ishpeming’s 32-yard line, but with less than a minute remaining had to go to the pass for only the fourth and fifth times on the day. Both were incomplete – the last knocked away like a basketball blocked shot in front of the end zone by the 6-foot-5 Corp.

He ran 32 times for 128 yards and three scores after gaining only 33 yards on the ground during the first half. He also completed 6 of 11 passes for 77 yards and led the defense with 10 tackles. Senior defensive back Nick Comment had nine tackles.

P-W sophomore quarterback Jimmy Lehman did connect on a 50-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Bryce Thelen during the first half. Senior linebacker Nate Jandernoa led the Pirates with nine tackles as they made their second appearance at Ford Field to go with a runner-up finish in Division 7 in 2011.

P-W will graduate seniors who filled only seven starting positions Saturday. A large group of expected returnees will play to get back to Detroit to take advantage of the knowledge they gained facing the most experienced tournament team in the state.

“It’s big for us to come in here, for our guys to get a look at what it’s like,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back next year, so hopefully we’re coming right back with experience. We played a pretty good game, but next year we’ll know exactly what to expect.”

Click for the full box score. 

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming quarterback Ozzy Corp reaches across the goal line for one of his three touchdowns Saturday. (Middle) Ishpeming running back Isaac Olson charges ahead through an opening in the Pewamo-Westphalia defense.

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.)