Whiteford Completes Championship Climb

December 15, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Ottawa Lake Whiteford football had been building toward this.

Coach Jason Mensing took over a program in 2012 that had gone 4-5 the previous fall, and immediately the Bobcats doubled their wins to finish 8-2. Next came seasons of 9-3, 7-4, 10-3 and program’s first MHSAA Semifinal in 2015, and 13-1 with its only loss in the Division 8 championship game a year ago. 

And yet, for the bulk of this season Whiteford still had to look up at a few others, relatively speaking. Reigning champion Muskegon Catholic Central was most people’s favorite to win the division again – until the Crusaders lost their District Final to Mendon, which became the new favorite.

Meanwhile, Whiteford – the MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for November – bided its time until receiving its opportunity to make history. The Bobcats made the loudest statement with a 50-21 win over Mendon in their Semifinal on Nov. 17, and then assumed the top spot in Division 8 for the first time with a 42-21 championship game win over Saginaw Nouvel on Nov. 24 at Ford Field.

The Bobcats moving forward will still be looking up – but now at a championship banner to be hung and at a goal that certainly will seem more attainable now that they’ve achieved it for the first time.

“My hope is all the boys within our community and school see it and want to accomplish that for themselves,” said Mensing, also the school’s athletic director. “Obviously, it’s not realistic that it’s going to happen every year. But that aspiration for greatness and success … the idea that I can accomplish this, the idea I want this and I’m going to strive for it. Wherever you end up matters less (than) the pursuit of excellence.”

Whiteford pursued and attained excellence and dominance this fall on the way to a 14-0 record, starting with an offense that scored 737 points – tied for second most in MHSAA history, and an average of 52.6 per game.

Tri-County Conference rival Petersburg-Summerfield came within 16 points of catching the Bobcats in the District Final, Whiteford’s closest game of the entire fall as they won on average by nearly 40 points. During the playoffs alone, Whiteford outscored five opponents by an average of 50-18.

The Bobcats had fallen in the 2016 title game 35-6 to Muskegon Catholic Central, but certainly benefited from that first-time experience. Mensing sensed his team’s calm this time around, but also praised his players and coaches for staying focused week in and week out on improving and paying attention to details – no small tasks when everyone knew early on that Whiteford should be in the championship mix.

To win it all, teams generally must have size and speed, and Whiteford certainly had both, even as a school with roughly 240 students – but with nearly 50 on the roster for the championship game.

Let’s start with size. Senior Lucas Tesznar (6-foot-5, 285 pounds) set the tone up front offensively and senior Jarret Atherton (6-1, 255) was an all-stater on both sides for the ball. Junior DeShaun Williams (6-5, 280) was an all-leaguer on defense.

Speed and skill? Senior quarterback Thomas Eitniear and junior running back Logan Murphy keyed a dynamic backfield – Eitniear throwing for 1,403 yards and 17 touchdowns and running for 919 yards more, while Murphy ran for 1,873 yards. Together they combined to set eight school records including Murphy’s for yards gained on the ground. Junior Braden Clark-Gilmore added another school record with 10 receiving touchdowns.

On a defense that gave up only 206 yards of offense and 13 points per game, junior Ty Eitniear set a school record with seven interceptions. Senior lineman Matthew Taylor, senior linebacker Eli Shelton and junior defensive backs Hunter Lake and Zack Bertz joined Atherton as all-state picks on that side of the ball.

Total, eight players secured some level of all-state recognition and 13 Bobcats earned first-team honors in the Tri-County Conference.

The Bobcats are turning their attention to other sports this school year and a future in football without 14 hard-working seniors who will graduate in the spring. But the memories of this fall surely will be lasting, even as the program is poised to continue making runs at top finishes.

“There have been a lot of well wishes, to our kids and our staff, and the school as a whole,” Mensing said. “There are so many people who invest in a football program at all schools, let alone one getting that deep into the playoffs. All of those people who have invested and worked at it have some pride and sense of accomplishment.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2017-18
October: Beaverton volleyball - Report
Shepherd girls golf - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford raises its Division 8 championship trophy at Ford Field last month. (Middle) Senior Eli Shelton leads the Bobcats onto the field.

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.)