By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For the fourth time in five seasons of the MHSAA 8-Player Football Tournament, tonight’s championship game will match finalists from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
And there’s little argument both teams are the best from their sides of the bridge.
Battle Creek St. Philip and Powers North Central are both undefeated and have both dominated opponents all fall in earning this trip to Legacy Field in Greenville.
See below for a glance at both teams. Tickets for the 8-player Final cost $8. The game also will be broadcast live on FoxSportsDetroit.com, with live audio streaming on MHSAANetwork.com. On-demand video will be available shortly after the game’s conclusion at MHSAA.tv.
BATTLE CREEK ST. PHILIP
Coach: David Downey, fourth season (38-7)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association.
Championship history: Class D 11-player champion 1985.
Best wins: 65-32 over Morrice, 47-44 and 58-14 (Regional Final) over Lawrence, 52-24 over Deckerville in Semifinal, 55-16 over Waldron.
Players to watch: RB/LB Brayden Darr, 5-10/185, sr. (1,465 yards/27 TDs rushing, 993 yards/17 TDs receiving, 114 tackles); QB Brendan Gausselin, 6-2/190, sr. (2,333 yards/38 TDs passing, 338 yards/8 TDs rushing); WR/DB David Downey, 6-1/150, sr. (739 yards/13 TDs receiving, 83 tackles/5 interceptions); WR/LB Drew Latinga, 6-2/160, jr. (319 yards/5 TDs receiving, 138 tackles), OL/DL Trevor Searls, 6-0/190, sr. (124 tackles/13 sacks).
Outlook: After three seasons finishing a combined 26-7 but falling in the Regional Final at the end of each, St. Philip has broken through with a perfect run and entered the playoffs with the highest playoff point average of any 8-player team. Only rival Lawrence, in their first of two meetings this fall, came within four touchdowns of St. Phil. The offense runs through Darr, who scored seven touchdowns – four rushing and three receiving – in the Semifinal and also combines with Latinga and Searls to lead a defense giving up an incredible 17.2 points per game, which would be impressive even without considering the offense-driven nature of 8-player.
POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Coach: Kevin Bellefeuil, 10th season (52-52)
League finish: First in Western 8 Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 70-6 over Cedarville in Semifinal, 82-20 and 64-8 (Regional Final) over Rapid River, 68-16 over Engadine.
Players to watch: QB/DB Jason Whitens, 6-4/200, jr. (2,315 yards/43 TDs passing, 605 yards/10 TDs rushing, 24 tackles/5 interceptions); WR/LB Dawson Bilski, 6-3/170, jr. (857 yards/15 TDs receiving, 62 tackles/6 interceptions); RB/OLB Bobby Kleiman, 6-0/165, jr. (1,414 yards/21 TDs rushing, 760 yards/16 TDs receiving, 26 tackles/3 interceptions); DE Morgan Cox, 6-2/210, sr. (48 tackles/14 sacks); DB Dylan Gagne, 5-11/160, jr. (413 yards/5 TDs rushing, 243 yards/4 TDs receiving, 37 tackles).
Outlook: North Central has taken 8-player football by storm in its first season, averaging 71.4 points per game and giving up only 11.1. No opponent has come within 46 points of the Jets. Not coincidentally, Whitens and Bilski also started on last season’s Class D championship basketball team, while Kleiman was the first sub off the bench and a handful of other football players were contributors. Whitens’ 43 touchdown passes have come on 165 attempts – and with zero interceptions. But the defense is averaging two interceptions per game – junior defensive back Marcus Krachinski has grabbed eight, while senior linebacker Max Krachinski has two and also has recovered two fumbles.