• Michigan


By: SCOTT BURNSTEIN, November 1, 2022, 11:53 am

Ithaca — The pinnacle of Ithaca’s historic winning streak in the early 2010s came with the Yellowjackets 42-21 win over Clinton in the 2013 Division 6 state championship game.

The ’13 Ithaca club won its program’s fourth state title in a row.  Senior quarterback Travis Smith took home the state’s Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year awards.

Head coach Terry Hessbrook’s Ithaca teams didn’t lose a single game between 2010 and November 2014 when Hessbrook’s Yellowjackets lost in the state finals and concluded the program’s 69-game win streak, the most in America and in the MHSAA’s playoff era at the time.

The run of greatness was so extraordinary they made a whole documentary about it (Ithaca: The Climb).

Smith was the film’s leading man and breakout star. The swashbuckling prep stat machine later played in college at Wake Forest and Eastern Michigan.

“There was a giant target on our backs every game of that streak and that keeps you focused on exactly what you have to do and how you have to do it,” Smith said. “Ithaca football is technically and fundamentally sound football. It’s disciplined football. It’s football you take pride in. That’s how you put together a streak like that.”

In the 2013 state finals, Smith went wild, passing for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns and rushing for 137 yards and a score. Behind Smith’s sizzler of a performance, Ithaca rallied from behind in the second half to coast to the victory. Smith’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hafner midway through the third quarter vaulted the Yellowjackets on top to stay 28-22. He put a dagger in Clinton’s heart with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Logan Hessbrook (Terry’s son) to end the third and a 10-yard scoring dart in the fourth.

Ithaca’s defense set up shop in the Clinton backfield practically the whole day. The Yellowjackets netted themselves 7 sacks of Clinton quarterback T.J. Baker. The unit logged a total of 5 shutouts on the season.

Middle linebacker Jace Demenov (Grand Valley State) captained the defense and tallied a team-high 8 tackles in the state finals. Outside linebacker Seth Capen and defensive back Eli Villalobos (Adrian) each sacked Baker twice in the game. Smith and Hafner added interceptions from their spots in the secondary on defense.

Hessbrook retired last year after 17 seasons heading the Ithaca program. He captured his fifth and final state championship in 2015 with Jake Smith (Travis’s little brother) at quarterback. His Yellowjackets appeared in seven state championship games in his near two-decade tenure on the sidelines.

“Coaching (that group) was a thrill of a lifetime, I hope they got just as much out of it as I did,” he said. “The time spent was a sincere privilege and it was glorious.”