West Catholic Adds to Ford Field Fame
November 26, 2016
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – November has become a regular part of the Grand Rapids West Catholic football schedule. Trips to Detroit are turning into a Thanksgiving weekend tradition.
But what the Falcons accomplished again Saturday was not lost on them.
Grand Rapids West Catholic won its fifth MHSAA football championship and became just the sixth school to win four straight, downing familiar playoff foe Menominee 43-7 in the Division 5 Final at Ford Field.
“There’s no word to describe it. Year after year, competing like that, getting to play 14 games – we’re very, very lucky and blessed,” said senior Sam Neville, who with David Fox played on all four champions. “That’s double what most people get to play over the course of their high school careers.”
This string was as impressive as any of the other three, for a few reasons.
West Catholic finished 12-2, despite playing without junior quarterback Gaetano Vallone for six weeks after he injured an elbow on opening night.
The Falcons, with a Week 3 loss to Zeeland West and a Week 9 defeat to Allendale, were then forced to play all of their playoff games on the road. They navigated a path highlighted by previously undefeated Portland, handed second losses to Lansing Catholic and Algonac and also beat another league champion in Berrien Springs.
They did so under the leadership of a new coach. Joe Hyland was hired this spring after the resignation of Dan Rohn, who had led the team to the first three titles of this streak. Hyland had been highly successful coaching in South Carolina before coming to West Catholic as a teacher and guidance counselor in fall 2015, but as with any change, there was a transition.
And then there was that Finals familiarity. The Falcons defeated the Maroons in 2013’s Division 5 Final to start this streak, and also in a Semifinal in 2014 and Regional Final last fall. It would be hard to find two high school programs 450 drive miles apart that know each other more.
“There’s a lot of people in our community and even statewide who talked about ‘November, November,’ but our discussions were always about today,” Hyland said. “And just feeling like if you do the right thing now, the rest will work out. And if we get beat by a good team on our best day, then you shake their hand and look them in the eye and congratulate them. But we really felt like on our best day, that wasn’t going to happen.”
Saturday had to be one of them.
Junior kicker Liam Putz started the scoring just 2:41 into the game with an MHSAA Finals-record 47-yard field goal, a yard longer that Josh Wuerful’s for Traverse City High against Detroit Catholic Central in the 1988 Class A championship game.
By the end of the first quarter, Vallone had thrown two touchdown passes. By halftime, he’d connected on four. The first, a 91-yarder to senior Brett Myers, was the fourth longest pass play in Finals history.
Vallone finished 13 of 20 passing for 311 yards, the fifth most in Finals history. He spread the ball nicely with five receivers catching at least one pass; Neville had six catches for 117 yards and two scores, Meyers three for 143 yards and his long touchdown and senior Aaron Hall caught four balls for 66 yards and the other passing TD.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound quarterback also ran for a team-high 83 yards and a score on 13 carries. His 394 total yards rank sixth on the Finals all-time list.
Menominee did achieve a little history as well. In addition to playing in their fifth Final, the Maroons scored their points on a 76-yard blocked field goal return by senior Hunter Hass – the first blocked field goal return touchdown in Finals history. The kick was blocked by senior Sam Larson, and Hass picked up the loose ball and ran down the left sideline for the score.
“All week we were practicing to block their punt, and it just so happened that we blocked their field goal,” Hass said. “I saw the ball. I just picked it up and ran into the end zone, just trying to get some points to get some momentum going for our team.”
But the rest of the afternoon was a struggle. The Maroons (12-2) gained only 163 yards and tied a Finals record held by two others teams with seven turnovers – three coming on fumbles.
They also played once more without all-state tailback Keifer Rasner, who missed the end of the season with an injury.
“When you turn the ball over that many times to a good team, you don’t have much of a shot,” Menominee coach Joe Noha said. “But I’m really proud of my guys. We really hung in there. We’ve had a lot of things happen in the last couple of weeks, but I’m really pleased with our effort and our fortitude to get here. And once you get here, finishing is difficult. Today was not our day.”
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Zane Timmer tries to break away from a Menominee tackler Saturday in the Division 5 Final. (Middle) Falcons coach Joe Hyland raises the championship trophy.
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.)