By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A first-time MHSAA 8-player football champion will be crowned Friday at Greenville's Legacy Field, and for the first time that champion won’t hail from Michigan’s thumb region.
This season’s title will be decided by the Upper Peninsula’s Cedarville and Lawrence, from the southwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, after thumb teams Carsonville-Port Sanilac, Deckerville and Peck claimed the first three MHSAA titles for the 8-player format.
Tickets for the 8-player Final cost $8. Can’t make the trip? Watch the game live on FoxSportsDetroit.com, with live audio streaming on MHSAANetwork.com. The game will be broadcast on delay on Fox Sports Detroit at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and again on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. The on-demand video will be available shortly after the game’s conclusion at MHSAA.TV.
Here’s a look at the finalists:
Coach: Scott Barr, seventh season (62-14)
League finish: Second in Bridge Football Alliance
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 57-14 and 39-0 (Regional Semifinal) over Bellaire, 28-0 over Rapid River in Regional Final, 36-20 over Deckerville in Semifinal.
Players to watch: QB/CB Joey Duncan, 6-1/170, sr., (57-100, 1,002 yards, 19 TDs passing; 959 yards, 15 TDs rushing); FB/LB/K Mike Bailey, 5-11/190, sr. (1,281 yards, 11 TDs rushing); SE/CB Brad Causley, 6-3/180, sr. (677 yards, 11 TDs receiving, 2 kickoff return TDs, 4 punt return TDs); SE/LB Mike Haske, 6-1/180, jr.; C/DE Brett Masuga, 6-5/240, sr.; OG/DE Blake Melvin, 6-0/230, sr.
Outlook: Including 11-player football, Cedarville made the playoffs 10 straight seasons before breaking through to the Semifinals during this 11th consecutive run. But Duncan and Causley in particular have plenty of crunch time experience; they were the leading scores for Cedarville in its Class D Basketball Semifinal in March. The defense has been especially impressive, considering also in context of the high-scoring 8-player game; the Trojans didn’t give up a point until the fourth game of the regular season and then not in the playoffs until last week’s Semifinal. Causley is dangerous whenever he touches the ball – in addition to his 17 combined receiving and special teams touchdowns, he’s also brought back two interceptions for scores. Melvin, a two-way all-league selection in 2013, had 19 tackles in the Semifinal. Cedarville’s lone loss came Week 6 to rival Rapid River, 20-19, and the Trojans avenged with a 28-0 win in the Regional Final.
Coach: Cody Caswell, fifth season (24-27)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.
Championship history: Class D 11-player champion 1997, Class D runner-up 1990.
Best wins: 52-20 over Deckerville, 40-19 and 50-14 (Regional Final) over Battle Creek St. Philip, 50-6 over Portland St. Patrick in Regional Semifinal, 66-40 over Peck in Semifinal.
Players to watch: QB/FS/K/P Derek Gribler, 5-9/170, sr. (114-180, 2,343 yards, 41 TDs passing; 1,601 yards, 21 TDs rushing); WR/CB Mike Cammire, 6-0/185, sr. (1,179 yards, 25 TDs receiving); RB/CB Hunter Coombs, 5-10/165, jr. (663 yards, 12 TDs rushing, 7 TDs receiving); WR/CB Jacob Alburtus, 5-8/145, jr. (442 yards, 6 TDs receiving); OL/LB Jimmy Phelps, 6-0/200, sr.; C/DL Jared Frank, 5-11/225, sr.
Outlook: Lawrence’s ascension to 8-player elite has been speedy; the Tigers were 0-9 and 1-8 in 11-player in 2011 and 2012, respectively, made the switch and advanced to the Semifinals in 8-player in 2013. Only St. Philip in their first meeting and reigning champion Peck in the Semifinal came within 32 of beating Lawrence this season. Gribler’s Semifinal performance was simply incredible – six passing touchdowns and three rushing – and Cammire has been the team’s top target during both seasons of 8-player. St. Philip in that first meeting also was the only team to keep Lawrence under 50 points. And don’t forget about the defense; the Tigers have five shutouts, and only Peck scored more than 20 points against them this fall.