Long playoff runs cap special season for Advertiser-area football scene
The 2016 football season will be remembered by high school football fans in the Thumb region.
Six of 13 Advertiser-area football teams made the playoffs this fall, highlighted by Millington and Frankenmuth, which advanced all the way to the state semifinals.
And in order to win, it takes talented players who are willing to go that extra yard — both on the field and off. So it’s no surprise that this year’s All-Advertiser team is loaded with Cardinals and Eagles.
Each squad placed seven members on the team, Unionville-Sebewaing Area and Reese each boast three members while Cass City, Owendale-Gagetown and Kingston each put two players on the team.
Millington went 8-1 in the regular season, its only loss coming in Week 5, 24-7 at Frankenmuth. The defeat was costly, denying the Cardinals a Tri-Valley Conference East title. Despite a blemish on its record, Millington went into the Division 6 playoffs with a No. 3 ranking — and showed it was well-deserved. The Cardinals beat Hemlock 50-7 in the opening round before downing Montrose 28-19 in the district finals. In the regional round, as the field of teams in Division 6 stood at eight, it looked as though the Cardinals run was over as they headed into halftime trailing Detroit Central Collegiate 20-0. But a 22-0 second half put Millington into the state semifinal for the fifth time in program history. But ultimately, it could not get past eventual state champion Jackson Lumen Christi, losing 27-7.
The Cardinals scored a school-record 500 points this year, so it’s no surprise that six players found a place on the All-Advertiser offense — quarterback Bryce Bearss, running back Brady Payne, wide receiver Cameron Henderson, lineman Nick Eickhoff, lineman Lukas Selich and do-everything back Kholton Sherman. Several Cardinals’ players are two-way standouts, like their only defensive member of the team — linebacker Jared Roehl.
Frankenmuth won the TVC-East this year, finishing the regular season at 8-1 after losing 7-3 to Freeland in the final week of the season — it’s third loss to the Falcons in the last two years. The Eagles took a No. 7 ranking into the Division 5 postseason, then beat Essexville Garber 36-8 in the first round before walloping Freeland 49-14 in the second. In the state quarterfinals, the Eagles had a win for the ages, defeating powerhouse Ithaca 28-20 and advancing to the state semifinals for the fifth time in school history. Frankenmuth led Menominee 20-16 heading into the fourth quarter of the semis, held at the Superior Dome in Marquette, but lost the lead late and missed out on competing in its first state championship game.
The Eagles could score points this year, but their strength was the defensive side of the football where they held opponents to an average of 8.7 points per game. Four of Frankenmuth’s All-Advertiser selections made the team for their efforts on defense — linemen Nathaniel Lambeth and Dan Stone, linebacker Kris Roche and defensive back Jared Davis. Davis and Roche earned second-team AP all-state honors. On offense, receiver Grant Bronner, lineman Joe Germain and kicker Jack Lee also got the nod.
Although Millington and Frankenmuth got most of the headlines this fall, they weren’t the only Advertiser-area teams making noise in the region.
Just two seasons removed from a 1-8 team, USA rolled to an 8-1 regular season, a Greater Thumb West championship and No. 7 Division 7 ranking. The Patriots beat Cass City 18-14 in the first round of the playoffs before losing to eventual semifinalist Ubly in Round 2.
Cass City finished the year at 6-4, but could just as easily been 10-0 and hosting Ubly in the second round of the Division 7 playoffs. The Red Hawks lost all four games by six points or less — to playoff qualifiers Ubly, Laker and USA — and held the lead in the final two minutes of each.
Reese also had tough luck in close games. After going 5-4 in the regular season, losing each contest by one score or less, the Rockets were still able to punch a ticket for the Division 7 playoffs — and almost pulled off a colossal first-round upset. Reese led No. 3 New Lothrop 18-14 at halftime before falling 29-18.
In 8-player football, Owendale-Gagetown was 8-2, with both loses coming to New Haven Merritt — once in the regular season, and once in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulldogs are represented on the All-Advertiser Team by a pair of honorable mention all-staters — Jake Warack and David Binder.
All-Advertiser Football Team
Player: Bryce Bearss
2016 highlights: Honorable mention Division 5/6 all state; second team all-TVC-East; completed 136-of-271 passes for 2,312 yards (school record) and 27 touchdowns; signal-caller on squad that advanced to Division 6 semifinals.
Coach Roger Bearss: “One of the things I had to realize about Bryce (Roger’s son), and I’ve coached a lot of quarterbacks, is that he’s a lot smarter about the game than I’ve ever given him credit for. One of the things I did as the year went on was let him make the call a little bit more in the audible system and give him more freedom.”
Player: Tanner Foley
Team: Unionville-Sebewaing Area
2016 highlights: Led GTW champs with 1,127 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns; first team all-GTW; scored touchdown with no time on the clock to tie Cass City in key GTW contest, then gave Patriots the win with 2-point conversion run; also first team all-GTW DB.
Coach Tyler Langs: “Fourth-and-one, game on the line, he’s the guy. Whoever works hardest in the offseason is going to get the football, and Tanner deserved every bit of it. And obviously it worked out for us.”
Player: Brady Payne
2016 highlights: Important two-way player made all-TVC-East first team on both offense (RB) and defense (LB); leading rusher for 11-2 Cardinals with 1,243 yards and 13 touchdowns; was third on team with 61 total tackles, 15 of which resulted in a loss of yardage.
Coach Roger Bearss: “The kid’s got a heart of gold, he just aims to please. He is a competitor, he’s going to give you every ounce of energy he has and that’s why he’s so successful.”
Player: Jake Warack
2016 highlights: Led 9-2 squad with 1,731 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns; enjoyed break-out year, taking over primary rushing responsibilities from returning first team all-stater David Binder, who moved to full back; honorable mention 8-Player all-state.
Coach Jim Wencel: “He’s always had the ability to run and catch the football, because of injuries, we had to move some people around. But this wasn’t a surprise because we knew what he could do.”
Player: Grant Bronner
2016 highlights: Led Division 5 semifinalists with 21 catches, 455 yards receiving and five receiving touchdowns; made first team TVC-East, but as a defensive back where he led the Eagles with six interceptions.
Coach Phil Martin: “He came up with a lot of clutch plays for us, he always came through at big times. When we did throw it, typically everyone knew where the ball was going and he still came up with a lot of big receptions. We didn’t put the ball up much, but when we did, it usually went to him.”
Player: Cameron Henderson
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East; had 50 catches for 677 yards and four touchdowns for state semifinalists
Coach Roger Bearss: “Six-foot-four, tall kid, which always makes it nice. He made (quarterback Bryce Bearss) look good sometimes with his ability to go up in the air and go get it. He made Bryce’s window a little bit bigger. And when he wasn’t catching the ball, he was doing a great job of blocking.”
Player: Cody Finkbeiner
Team: Unionville-Sebewaing Area
2016 highlights: Prime blocker for two 1,000 yard rushers — Tanner Foley and Josh Lang; first team all-GTW; 6-foot-2, 285 pounder who is getting looks from Division 2 and Division 3 schools.
Coach Tyler Langs: “He was on the left side and Tanner (Foley) was on the right, so when Tanner got the ball, he was running behind Cody Finkbeiner. Cody was one of those kids in the weight room in January and February, this senior class put in the work in the offseason, and it worked out for us.”
Player: Joe Germain
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East; helped Eagles to 258 yards rushing per game; 6-foot-3, 265-pounder led way for two Frankenmuth 1,000 yard rusher, Jared Davis and Kris Roche.
Coach Phil Martin: “He’s big, athletic and has an attitude. All of that translates into a kid that just hates to lose a battle.”
Player: Brady Warford
Team: Cass City
2016 highlights: Led playoff-qualifying Red Hawks to over 300 yards rushing per game; first team all-GTW on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Player: Nick Eickhoff
2016 highlights: 5-foot-11, 250-pounder made first team all-TVC-East offensive and defensive teams as a lineman the past two years; top blocker for Cardinals team that racked up school record 500 points.
Coach Roger Bearss: “Three-year starter, 4.0 student has a full-ride scholarship to University of Michigan for engineering. He’s going to have a bright future, that’s for sure.”
Player: Lukas Selich
2016 highlights: Two-way lineman earned first-team all-TVC-East despite being undersized at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds
Coach Roger Bearss: “He plays what I call our quick guard, and man did he do a great job when we pulled. He didn’t have a great game against Frankenmuth (the Cardinals only regular season loss, 24-7), but in every other game he played really, really, really well.”
Player: Kohlton Sherman
2016 highlights: Versatile performer led Cardinals with 740 receiving yards — on 24.7 yard per catch — and 11 receiving touchdowns; scored 20 total touchdowns (11 through the air, six rushing, one punt return, one kick off return, one interception return); second on squad with four interceptions as a DB; 4.0 GPA.
Coach Roger Bearss: “He’s a worker, he’s competitive, he’s got speed, he’s very shifty. He plays three sports and he’s a really smart kid.”
Player: Jack Lee
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East kicker; was perfect on extra point attempts, booting in all 54 he attempted; converted 3-of-6 field goals, including a season-long 36 yarded.
Coach Phil Martin: “He set a school record with 54 (EPs) in a row and was just Mr. Consistent. I think he kicked 10 that resulted in touchbacks and you can’t underestimate the ability to flip the field and pin teams deep.”
Caro: Kyle Fetting, TE; Bodie Breitbach, OL
Cass City: Brad Hacker, RB; T.J. Moore, RB
Mayville: Jared Hoag, QB; Jackson Schenk, OL; Zach Lefler, RB
Millington: Shane Horton, K,Mario Gabriel, DL
Vassar: Sam Rivard, QB, Ricardo Macon WR; Josh Waldie OL
Reese: Ryan Macklin, WR; Brady Bremer OL; Bo Schember OL
USA: Josh Lang, RB; Cooper Kauffold, OL; Mackenzie Trishler, K
Kingston: Grant Koehler, TE; Kyle Ruggles, OL; Hunter James QB
Marlette: Chorben Chisholm, RB
North Branch: Kaden Maybard, QB; Hayden Mabery, WR; Trevor Brandt OL
Frankenmuth: Jack Gilmour, OL; Ben Schuler, OL; Zach Jacobs RB
Akron-Fairgrove: Hunter Ruppel, QB
First team defense
Player: Dan Stone
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East; all-state thrower is signed to participate in track and field for Michigan State University; third on team with 67 total tackles and six sacks; led Eagles with 16 tackles for a loss.
Coach Phil Martin: “He had the ability to handle one side of the field. He put pressure on the quarterback, made windows really small and actually led the team in (pass deflections) from the defensive end position with seven.”
Player: Bo Mickelson
2016 highlights: Unanimous selection to all-NCTL first team; also made honorable mention on offense as a running back; led Cardinals with 91 tackles; on offense, rushed for 854 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Coach Scot Boyle: “He’s very big, strong and fast and likes to play aggressive. On offense, I wanted to use him more as a receiver, but we needed a runner and he’s big and fast.”
Player: Nathaniel Lambeth
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East; tied for team lead with seven sacks and tied for third with 11 tackles for a loss; led 11-2 Eagles with 12 quarterback hurries.
Coach Phil Martin: “Technique-wise, I don’t know if there was anybody better in the league or the area. He was able to get in underneath the offensive lineman and control the line of scrimmage.”
Player: Max Slater
Team: Unionville-Sebewaing Area
2016 highlights: First team all-GTW; played with a motor and was constantly finding his way into opponents backfield; anchored defense for Patriots’ squad that went 9-2 and won the GTW.
Coach Tyler Langs: “He’s a quiet kid, but he has a little bit of that attitude, and man, when he was getting blocked, he would use his hands well and get off it. And he was not afraid to hit people.”
Player: Mitchell Bender
2016 highlights: First team all-GTW; honorable mention all-state; led Division 7 playoff qualifier with 80 tackles; had three sacks and three fumble recoveries, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Coach Bob Bouvy: “He’s a captain this year, you could tell that Mitchell loves to be on the field. He’s high-energy on everything he does, he doesn’t have a slow speed, and one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever been around.”
Player: Jared Roehl
2016 highlights: Returning all-stater missed first four games of season, but still led Cardinals with 73 total tackles; signed to wrestle for Central Michigan University; reigning TSA Thumb Defensive Player of the Year.
Coach Roger Bearss: “One of the most humble kids I have ever seen. He’s self-motivated, he doesn’t wait, he’ll call me and ask ‘hey coach, can you get me in the weight room, or can you get me in the wrestling room?’ Just a super, super good kid. He’s very self-driven to accomplish his personal goals and is a great team player.”
Player: Nick Perry
Team: Cass City
2016 highlights: First team all-GTW linebacker, and honorable mention running back; hard-hitter led Red Hawks with 85 tackles; also rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Player: Kris Roche
2016 highlights: Second team Division 5 all-state; stalwart on both sides of the ball, placing second on the team with 68 total tackles and 14 tackles for a loss, and leading the offense with 1,132 yards rushing and 19 total touchdowns; first team all-TVC-East at both LB and RB.
Coach Phil Martin: “Just a workhorse, the kid doesn’t come off the field. You just never had to worry with him, you just penciled him in and there he went.”
Player: Jake Galsterer
2016 highlights: Two-year captain was honorable mention Division 7 all-state; versatile player earned first team all-GTW as QB, DB and punter; led Rockets with four interceptions; rushed for 923 yards and 18 touchdowns as dual-threat quarterback; punted, kicked off, kicked extra points, returned kicks and punts.
Coach Bob Bouvy: “He was our field general, or go-to guy, he did everything for us. It will be hard to replace him.”
Player: Jared Davis
2016 highlights: DB/QB led Eagles with 70 total tackles and was tied for second on squad with four interceptions; second team Division 5 all-stater; first team all-TVC-East quarterback and defensive back; Rushed for 966 yards and 16 touchdowns; passed for 1,225 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Coach Phil Martin: “He probably could have played right guard, or nose tackle for us, he’s just a football player. He loves the sport, it was fun to watch him over the last couple of years.”
Player: Jacob Hartman
2016 highlights: Honorable mention Division 7 all-state; first team all-GTW; also played running back, finishing the season with 651 yards rushing.
Coach Bob Bouvy: “He’s a great athlete, hard worker. Second-year captain. He’s a hard-hitter, a true leader, he’s a like a coach on the field.”
Player: Michael Graves
2016 highlights: First team all-TVC-East; three-year, two-way starter; led Tigers with 87 total tackles; paced Caro with 595 yards rushing; rushed for seven touchdowns, caught two TD passes and returned a punt for a score.
Coach Todd Topham: “Michael is a very hard-nosed football player, he plays with passion and a never-give-up attitude.”
Player: David Binder
2016 highlights: Honorable mention 8-Player all-state; second on squad with 103 total tackles; rushed for 1,069 yards and 20 touchdowns as team’s fullback.
Coach Jim Wencel: “David can play anywhere and that’s what gave us the luxury off having (both Binder and Jake Warack in the same backfield). And even though he wasn’t the primary runner, he still got over a 1,000 yards for us.”
Player: Grant Koehler
2016 highlights: First team all-NTCL punter and wide receiver, second team linebacker; Led Kingston with six touchdown receptions.
Coach Scot Boyle: “He can play anywhere on the football field. He could have been a quarterback, he’s very smart and athletic.”
Caro: Jacob Topham, LB; Ryan Giddings, DL
Cass City: Brendan Hamilton, DB; Shaede Perzanowski, DL
Mayville: Ben Hulley, LB
Millington: Briar Bearss, DL; Jose Ramirez, DL
Reese: Elijah Gorde, DL; Tyler Kosik, LB
USA: Blake Rierson, DL; Travis Cryderman, DL
Marlette: Ethan McKenney, LB
North Branch: Mitch Bonner, LB; Logan Rutledge, DB
Frankenmuth: Aaron Haubenstricker, DL
Owendale-Gagetown: Derek Vincent, DB
Akron-Fairgrove: John Killian, LB