DETROIT – All Mendon, all the time.
That was the story of Friday morning’s Division 8 Football Final at Ford Field. It’s also the best way to describe the Hornets’ season, which ended with a 33-0 win over Fowler to claim their 11th MHSAA football championship.
After entering the postseason tied for the top spot in The Associated Press’ Division 8 state poll, Mendon took down four other ranked teams on the way to the title – including the No. 9 Eagles, who were making their first Finals appearance since 1998.
The 11 MHSAA titles is tied for third-most with East Grand Rapids, and just two off Farmington Hills Harrison’s record 13. Friday marked Mendon’s first Finals appearance – and championship – since 2007.
“At the beginning of the season, you know you want to be a state champion. But you can’t think like that because you’ve got to take one game at a time. Then you finally get here and you’re in awe,” Mendon senior linebacker Cody Bingaman said. “You don’t know how to react. And then the coaches calm you down and get your nerves settled down, and you just go and play like it’s another game.
“We just looked at it like another game we had to win.”
Mendon junior Tyler Harris opened the scoring with an 84-yard punt return touchdown – second-longest in MHSAA Finals history – just 2:44 into the game.
The game was closer than its 21-0 score seemed to indicate during the first half, but Mendon held Fowler to just 62 yards of offense over the final two quarters.
Harris ran for 92 yards and two more touchdowns, and senior Tanner Cook had 95 and a touchdown on the ground. Senior quarterback Chance Nightingale also ran for a score. Junior linebacker Rodney Arnott and Cody Bingaman each had 12 tackles.
“Someone outside asked me to rank this team with all the teams we’ve had, and I certainly can’t do that. But I can rank the schedule,” said Mendon coach John Schwartz, who has led the Hornets through 23 seasons. “Battling through that 14-game schedule that we had, against some of the teams we played … spread teams, we played teams that like to pound it. This is a well-seasoned football team. They have seen everything, and it showed.”
The Eagles (11-3) were making their first Finals appearance since 1998 and in just their second season under coach Craig Koenigsknecht – who played on Fowler’s 1993 team that won the first of the school’s four MHSAA championships. Fowler is 20-4 over the last two years, and took a number of next steps this fall after entering the playoffs 9-0 in 2010 and then losing in the Pre-District round.
“I’m not saying that these guys were just satisfied by being here. (But) they’ve got to understand the caliber of teams that get to this point, and what we have to do to get ourselves to play that standard of football when it gets this late in the season,” Koenigsknecht said. “Bottom line, if we want to do good things next season, we have to work that much harder in the offseason so we can be quicker off the ball, stay on blocks a little bit better, hit the hole a little bit harder and tackle a little bit better.”
Junior linebacker Tyler Koenigsknecht led the Eagles with 11 tackles.