In Play with Tom Markowski

Ithaca's streak hits 69, players prepare for fifth straight title

Football   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

haca – To put Ithaca’s 69-game winning streak in perspective, coach Terry Hessbrook’s 12-year-old son Brady doesn’t remember the last time the Yellowjackets lost.

Ithaca reached No. 69 on Saturday as it came back from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Boyne City (12-1) 20-16 in a Division 6 semifinal at Midland High.

Currently Ithaca’s streak is the longest in the country and it is three games shy of Hudson’s 72-game winning streak, the state’s all-time record that ended in the 1975 Class C semifinals, 38-22, to Ishpeming.  

Ithaca (13-0) will go for its fifth consecutive title on Friday when it faces Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (12-1) in the Division 6 final at Ford Field at 4:30 p.m.

East Grand Rapids (2006-10) and Farmington Hills Harrison (1997-01) are the only schools to win five consecutive football titles.

Ithaca almost didn’t get past 68. Boyne City drove 90 yards for one touchdown then Ithaca fumbled setting Boyne City up with fine field position and quickly it was 14-0.

 Ithaca came back with a touchdown just before halftime and trailed 14-6.

“On our first possession we got trapped for a safety,” Hessbrook said. “We kept throwing dirt on ourselves.”

Boyne City then made a mistake as a punt snap went through the punter’s legs and Ithaca took over of the Boyne City 20. Ithaca punched it in and trailed 16-14 after the conversion. Jake Smith’s 1-yard sneak gave Ithaca a 20-16 lead but Boyne City wasn’t through.

“We held them to minus 17 yards in the second half,” Hessbrook said. “Until their last drive. They had a first-and-goal at the 7 with about a minute to play.”

On fourth-and-3 linebacker Myles Waldron, one of five seniors on the team, tackled Maceo Vroman short of the goal line with 13 seconds left.

Say what you will. Say Ithaca’s schedule is too easy, that the Yellowjackets’ streak is tainted because Ithaca is a Class C school and doesn’t play the state’s heavyweights.

Bunk. Other than two non-conference games Hessbrook and his staff doesn’t have a choice which teams they play. Sure the Tri-Valley Conference West Division is loaded with top football teams. Hessbrook did schedule Clare in its opener. Clare, a Division 5 state finalist in 2009, lost in a district final this season. The other non-conference game is against Shepherd, a traditional rivalry game that’s woven in the fabric of high school football.

“We take a lot of heat because of our schedule,” Hessbrook said. “It’s in the playoffs where we find out how good we really are. Last year we trailed in four of our playoff games. This season we’ve trailed in our last two. Our kids are so resilient.  We’re up against it again St. Mary Catholic Central. We might get beat. But our kids won’t give up. That’s all a coach can ask.”

Hessbrook carried 25-26 players on varsity this season. He doesn't have a locker room full of college prospects. They're just good high school players playing for a small-town school. Hessbrook brought up eight more from the junior varsity for the playoffs. Ten freshmen started on the junior varsity and they finished 7-2.

“We anticipated a small senior class this year,” he said. “We moved up nine sophomores because of that. Not all of them started but they practiced every day. These extra practice days are invaluable. It’s like a college team with the extra practices preparing for a bowl. For six straight years we’ve had at least 13 weeks of practice. The kids learn so much more.

“And me, I like having practice on Thanksgiving morning.”

It beats the alternative every time.