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Streak ends for Ithaca; program remains strong

By: Tom Markowski, November 28, 2014, 9:15 pm

Detroit – Certainly Terry Hessbrook was aware of the streak, the 69-game winning streak his Ithaca football team carried with them from the mid-Michigan farming community to the high-rise buildings that guard Ford Field.

But that was never Hessbrook’s focus. Programs don’t amass winning streaks that span years not months by looking at what they’ve accomplished. Their achievements are attained by taking care of the little things in practice and concentrating on their next opponent.

 Ithaca did something on Friday it hasn’t done since Nov. 21, 2009. It lost a football game. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, the school that Ithaca defeated in 2010 to begin its run of four consecutive titles, shutout Ithaca in the second half and won the Division 6 title, 22-12.

Those in Hudson are celebrating a little more during this holiday weekend. The school’s 72-game winning streak remains the state’s longest. And one can’t but think that Hudson’s streak will remain on the books for a spell.

Hudson’s streak began on Sept. 20, 1968, seven years before the start of the state playoffs. Hudson recorded 34 shutouts during this streak before losing to Ishpeming 38-22 in the ’75 Class C final.

If the playoffs didn’t begin that year it’s quite possible Hudson’s streak would have been longer.

Point being, with the advent of the playoffs long winning streaks are harder to come by. Many teams can be dominant within their own backyard for a time, perhaps years, but, well, let Hessbrook explain.

 “We’re 24-1 in our last 25 playoff games,” he said. “I bet every team would want that. It’s been a difficult playoff run. You don’t get to choose which teams you play in the playoffs.”

Some would choose to downplay Ithaca’s streak, saying its schedule, notably its Tri-Valley Conference schedule, is weak. Again, teams affiliated with leagues or conferences have little choice in which teams they play. For its non-conference games Ithaca scheduled Clare in the opener and Shepherd in the season finale. Clare lost in a Division 5 district final. Shepherd, geographically, is Ithaca’s nearest rival.

 But one could argue the opposite. Ithaca is a town of fewer than 3,000 people. Hessbrook and his staff recruit players by talking to students in the school, not outside of it. They work with the students at the lower levels encouraging them to continue to work hard and be a part of what has become a special program.

This is Hessbrook’s 11th season as head coach and he couldn’t be any more proud of one of his teams than he was this year. The teams that won state titles were more talented. Last year’s quarterback, Travis Smith, signed with Wake Forest. Hessbrook’s nephew, Logan Hessbrook, was one of the top receivers in Division 6.

None of his teams played with more heart than this one. There were five seniors on this team, two started and a third was the kicker.

There was disappointment after the loss. There were tears. But no one hung their head. They lost and they lost to a good team. St. Mary C.C. lost in the Division 6 final in ’05, ’09 and ’10. Coach Jack Giarmo knows heartbreak and has a grasp of what Hessbrook and his teams have accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” Giarmo said. “Terry and I were talking about on the field before the game. How do those guys do that? Part of it is the kids coming up through the lower levels, through their system.”

Hessbrook has a plan and made it work. Ithaca has had one losing season with Hessbrook and just twice have the Yellowjackets missed the playoffs.

“It’s been an unreal ride,” he said. “Four titles, 69 games. It’s a source of pride for the community. As players and coaches, we were just trying to win one more game. I thanked the players for their efforts. You have to put into perspective. It’s a high school football game. There’s no sadness. There’s no shame in losing to a good football team.”

That’s just the thought 69 other teams had before Friday.



**EDITORS NOTE: Highlights from this game can be seen on the State Champs! High School Sports Show Sunday at 9 am and 10 pm on Fox Sports Detroit**