By: Nate Schneider
Putting Ithaca's historic regular season football streak into perspective
The last time the powerhouse Ithaca High School football team lost a regular season game on Oct. 16 of 2009, Alex Niznak was the junior quarterback for the Yellowjackets.
Niznak has since become well-traveled, first going to Central Michigan University before transferring to Southeast Missouri State. After graduating from college, he has embarked on a world tour playing football in Sweden and Brazil last year before finding a new football home in Japan this season.
The fact that it was Niznak, not even in his senior year of high school yet, who was behind center when St. Charles defeated the Yellowjackets 42-28 in week eight of the regular season in 2009 shows just how long and impressive this entire thing truly is.
Since then, the program has rolled out several more standout quarterbacks including brothers Travis Smith and Jake Smith followed by current signal-caller Joey Bentley.
Ithaca won its 69th straight regular season game Friday night when it trounced Saginaw Valley Lutheran. The number 69 is also significant because it is the number of overall wins the Yellowjackets recorded in a row before losing the 2014 Division 6 state title game to Monroe St. Mary Catholic, making it the state’s second-longest win streak in history.
As for the regular season win streak, it does not necessarily include all the marquee wins that the overall streak did but it is an unbelievable accomplishment nonetheless.
“When you sit back and look hard at it, it’s a little bit overwhelming,” Ithaca head coach Terry Hessbrook said. “That happens when you take the time to look back at it, but to be honest we don’t spend a lot of time looking back at it. You’re focused on your next opponent. When Friday night ends, the next week begins.”
The 69-game regular season winning streak is the third-longest in MHSAA history, trailing only Hudson (81 games, 1968-77) and Montrose (80, 1988-97)
The Yellowjackets entered the season loaded with talent, returning a bevy of players who as juniors made the jump up to Division 5. Last year ended with a 28-20 loss to Frankenmuth in the regional finals, a disappointing finish but also a good bit of experience with so many pieces returning and a likely drop back into D6.
“Right now, all our so-called experts are predicting we’ll fall into Division 6,” Hessbrook remarked. “But I don’t know that anyone truly knows until that last weekend in October.”
Through the first four games this fall, the senior Bentley is 49-for-79 for 844 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has 49 carries for 470 yards and six TDs, rushing for at least 100 yards in three games.
After enjoying a huge junior season culminated by a couple massive playoff performances, Bentley has taken his game to another level this season.
“We knew going into last year we were going to be really young at key spots and Joey was going to be very important for us,” Hessbrook said. “He played huge in some big games and gained some great experience from that. Since this time last year, he’s added a lot of muscle. He’s probably 20 pounds heavier than a year ago. He worked very hard in the offseason to improve arm strength and his mechanics. And with that frame, he is more equipped to take a lot of hits. Our quarterbacks take a beating and the added muscle can only help with that.”
Senior wideouts Devin Barnes (10 catches, 294 yards, 2 TDs) and Seth Davis (14 receptions, 266 yards 2 TDs) have contributed heavily, while fellow senior wide receiver Colton Campbell has three touchdown catches.
If Ithaca is to win out during the regular season the win streak would be extended to 73 games. Among the toughest remaining tests will be Ovid-Elsie in week seven and Carrollton in week nine, both of which began the season 3-1.
“Players and coaches have done a good job of keeping their focus,” Hessbrook added. “Each team you play presents a certain challenge and you have to prepare for that challenge.”