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L'Anse Creuse North quarterback and receiver set state records for completions and receptions in two-point loss

Football   | Scott Burnstein

State Champs! Sports Network

Macomb Township – The scoreboard operator and statistician work overtime when Anthony Kiner’s Macomb L’Anse Creuse North football team take the field.

Kiner, in his fourth season at North, is an offensive guru and his clubs are becoming well known around Macomb County for playing a fast-paced, high-octane style. Last Friday the Crusaders attacked the Michigan High School Athletic Association record book. 

In North’s 34-32 loss to Utica Eisenhower last Friday, senior quarterback Branden Taylor and his favorite target, senior receiver, Jake Mitrak, both set state records with their stat lines. Taylor’s 44 completions took down a previous record that had stood for more than 30 years (Detroit Central’s Robert Hunt completed 41 in 1984. Two other players also had 41 completions in a game since) and Mitrak’s 18 receptions eclipsed the prior mark of 17 (Grosse Pointe South’s Brendan Howe in 2005). Taylor was 44-of-68 for 446 yards and three touchdowns and he scored two rushing. Mitrak had 176 receiving yards. The 68 attempts slots Taylor third all-time in a single game.

“Playing in this offense is a quarterbacks’ dream come true,” Taylor said. “Breaking those records wasn’t part of any plan, it just happened. Jake and I were surprised ourselves when the coaches told us after the game.”

Kiner is a specialist with quarterbacks. He’s already sent three to the college level in his short tenure at North. Sean Koski (Siena Heights) threw for over 500 yards twice in 2013 (511, 501) and in each contest he had seven touchdown passes. His 511 passing yards is the most in county history.

The system Kiner runs is a hodgepodge of principles and formations culled from college programs and coaches he and his staff admire.

“We took our passing attack from Bill Cubit (Illinois), who I played for while he was the head coach at Western Michigan,” Kiner said. “Our rushing approach from Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and we sprinkle in a little what Baylor does. My top offensive assistants, Tyler DeBord and Pete Niglio, convinced me to try a no-huddle and we can get things moving pretty quickly if everyone’s on the same page out there. We give our quarterback a lot of options. For instance, back on Friday, 70 percent of our play calls were runs, but we end up passing quite a bit off rushing plays if that’s what the defense is giving us.” 

The Crusaders are averaging 30 points a game under Kiner. He credits DeBord and Niglio with helping him craft his prolific system.

“We had all taught with each other before and we’d talk about what an offense could be, what the possibilities were if we created our own system with our own set of rules,” Kiner said. “We put our minds together, searched the country for what we thought were the best offenses being run at the college level and this is what we came up with.”

The passing numbers can sometimes upset opponents, not only by running defensive backfields ragged, but also by running up the score and padding statistics when the outcome of the game has long been decided.

“A few people don’t like it and that’s their rite, but you do what you do best,” Kiner said. “If people want to criticize, I just smile, take in a stride and move on.”

Kiner coached his first two Crusaders squads to the playoffs (2012-13). The program dipped a bit in 2014, finishing 4-5. Following its loss to Eisenhower last Friday, North fell to 1-2. The Crusaders face Roseville this Friday.

As the field general and at the controls of the offense, Taylor, for one, isn’t deterred by the uphill battle ahead for him and his teammates.

“I believe in our system,” he said. “If we take care of the ball, limit our mistakes and play smart, we’re going to be alright.”