By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It’s easy to promote tonight’s MHSAA 8-Player Football Final at Legacy Field in Greenville as the meeting of the two best teams in the state this season.
Powers North Central and Deckerville entered the playoffs both undefeated and with the highest and second-highest playoff-point averages, respectively, in the division. And both have surged through the playoffs despite impressive opponents attempting to get in the way.
The Jets are known for a high-flying offense, while the Eagles are powered by a stifling defense – and yet, both are pretty strong on the other sides of the ball as well. See below for a glance at both teams, and if you can’t make it to Greenville 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.
(Statistics below are through Regional Finals unless noted. Rankings are based on playoff-point averages at the end of the regular season.)
Record: 11-0, No. 2
Coach: Bill Brown, 24th season (190-69)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2012.
Best wins: 36-6 over No. 4 Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Semifinal, 58-12 over No. 6 New Haven Merritt in the Regional Final, 40-0 over No. 11 Webberville in the Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: RB/DB Austin Fritch, 6-0/175 sr. (1,305 yards/23 TDs rushing); FB/LB Wade Saldana, 5-8/170 sr. (596 yards/13 TDs rushing); QB/DB Brandon Pattullo, 6-0/180 sr. (379 yards/9 TDs rushing, 496 yards/8 TDs passing); LB/OG Reese Bays-Kramer, 5-11/180 sr.; DT/SE Austin Spaetzel, 6-0/210 sr.
Outlook: Deckerville’s defense has gotten a lot of attention this week, and rightfully so – the Eagles have given up a mere 50 points this season and only 18 combined the last two weeks against previously-undefeated playoff teams. Bays-Kramer and Spaetzel lead on that side of the ball, playing massive roles in helping the team to five shutouts while never giving up more than 12 points in a game. But we shouldn’t forget the offense, which was especially dominant last week running for more than 400 yards without attempting a pass. Fritch added 263 yards and four touchdowns to his totals above, giving him 1,568 yards and 27 scores rushing this season, and the team as a whole has run for 3,417 yards while needing to throw for only 517. All 11 wins have been by at least 22 points.
POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Kevin Bellefeuil, 11th season (64-52)
League finish: First in Western 8 Conference.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2015.
Best wins: 60-50 (Regional Final) and 60-42 over No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 68-32 over No. 12 Stephenson, 62-22 over No. 9 Pickford in the Semifinal, 76-18 and 64-0 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 16 Rapid River.
Players to watch: QB/DB Jason Whitens, 6-4/210, sr. (2,170 yards/40 TDs passing, 536 yards/15 TDs rushing, 2 punt return TDs); RB/DB Bobby Kleiman, 5-9/175, sr. (594 yards/9 TDs rushing, 452 yards/10 TDs receiving, 3 interception return TDs, 3 punt return TDs); WR/DT Dylan Gagne, 5-8/175, sr. (439 yards/10 TDs receiving, 290 yards/4 TDs rushing); WR/DB Marcus Krachinski, 6-0/170 sr. (549 yards/10 TDs receiving); RB/LB Tyler Bentley, 5-7/175 sr. (541 yards/9 TDs rushing, 351 yards/3 TDs receiving).
Outlook: North Central remains undefeated in two seasons of 8-player football, bolstered by a Whitens-led offense averaging 67.4 points per game – only a few off last season’s average of 70.4. In fact, a loss would be the first for these seniors in either football or basketball since 2014 – Whitens, Kleiman, Krachinski, junior linebacker Lucas Dombrowski and senior center Ryan Plunger all also saw time in last winter’s Class D hoops Final as the Jets finished a second straight undefeated run in that sport. For the second straight football season, no opponent has come within single digits of North Central; only Forest Park got the deficit down to 10. Whitens added another 226 yards and three scores passing last week, giving him 2,396 and 43 total this fall.
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.