1st & Goal: 2021 11-Player Semifinals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 22, 2021

The 11-Player Football Finals field is set. Ford Field, here we come.

MI Student AidAfter crisscrossing the Lower Peninsula on Saturday for Semifinals, all vehicles will be pointed toward downtown Detroit this weekend – including parades from a few communities we’ll be seeing for the first time.

Belleville, Warren Michigan Collegiate and Lawton, welcome to a Thanksgiving week like no other. The other 13 teams that will be making the trip Friday and Saturday have been to this point before – including three just 10 months ago – and surely they’d agree this trip to Detroit will be unforgettable.

Below is a glance at how all 16 took the final step to earn the opportunity.

(We’ll review Saturday’s 8-Player Finals – won by Adrian Lenawee Christian and Powers North Central – during a look back at all 10 football championship games next week.)

Division 1

Belleville 40, Sterling Heights Stevenson 26

In their fourth-straight Semifinal, the Tigers (12-1) earned their first Finals trip. Freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood threw three touchdown passes and ran for one more as Belleville scored the most points Stevenson (10-3) had allowed in a game since a Week 1 loss to Rockford. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Rochester Adams 40, Grand Blanc 20

Adams (13-0) won a matchup of undefeated teams to reach the Finals for the first time since 2003, showing its defensive might again in shutting down a Bobcats offense that averaged 42 points per game entering the day. Grand Blanc finished its longest tournament run and winningest season at 12-1. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 2

Traverse City Central 56, South Lyon 20

The Trojans (12-1) earned their first Finals trip since 1988. Central took a 42-7 lead into halftime as Josh Burnham scored three touchdowns, and blocked a field goal attempt too. South Lyon (12-1) was making its first Semifinal appearance since 2004. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Warren De La Salle Collegiate 49, Livonia Franklin 14

The Pilots (12-0) will play in their fourth Division 2 Final in five seasons, with an opportunity to finish undefeated for the first time during the playoff era. Junior quarterback Brady Drogosh threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, including a 73-yarder. Franklin finished 7-6 after entering the playoffs 4-5. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

Detroit Martin Luther King 46, Mason 7

The Crusaders (12-1) advanced to their fourth Final in six seasons and first since 2019. While topping 40 points for the seventh time in 11 games played on the field, King also lowered its playoff points-allowed average to 9.5 with a second-straight game giving up a single score. Mason completed its winningest season, and longest playoff run, at 10-3. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

DeWitt 43, St. Joseph 7

The Panthers (12-1) will return to Ford Field with an opportunity to repeat as Division 3 champions. DeWitt built a 29-0 halftime lead, as quarterback Ty Holtz threw three first-half touchdown passes, including 69 and 40-yarders to Tommy McIntosh. St. Joseph (8-5) was playing in its first Semifinal since 2007 after entering the postseason 5-4. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 4

Chelsea 30, Freeland 27

For the second straight week, Chelsea came up with a big play at the end to advance. This time it was a near-goal line stand to stop a Freeland offense that had gotten two rushing and two passing touchdowns from quarterback Bryson Huckaby. The Falcons finished a second-straight Semifinal run 11-2. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.

Hudsonville Unity Christian 58, Edwardsburg 8

The Crusaders (13-0) moved into second all-time for scoring in one season at 751 points with their 11th game putting up more than 50, and with a defensive showing to match – Edwardsburg (12-1) entered the game averaging 53 points per. Unity’s Abraham Rappuhn scored three first-half touchdowns, including an 81-yarder. Click for more from FOX 17.

Division 5

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 35, Frankenmuth 0

The rematch of last season’s Division 5 championship game saw Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-0) go up 21-0 midway through the first quarter. Cougars quarterback John Passinault ran for three touchdowns and threw for the other two. Frankenmuth finished 12-1, its only losses the last two seasons to GRCC. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Marine City 27, Portland 7

The Mariners (13-0) are headed back to Ford Field for the first time since 2013 after another dominating defensive performance – they haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game, and lowered their per game defensive average to 9.1 allowed per contest. The Raiders finished 10-3. Click for more from the Port Huron Times-Herald.

Division 6

Lansing Catholic 18, Standish-Sterling 7

The Cougars will be returning to Ford Field seeking a second championship in three seasons to go with a 2019 title in Division 5. The Cougars (12-1) matched defense with defense, scoring their second-fewest points this fall but holding Standish-Sterling to a tie for the latter’s lowest output. The Panthers finished 10-3, making an incredible jump from last season’s 1-6 record. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Warren Michigan Collegiate 36, Michigan Center 29

Michigan Collegiate (11-2) earned its first trip to the Finals, thanks in part to a series of big plays by Deion Black on both sides of the ball. The teams were tied after three quarters, and traded scores in the fourth with the Cougars reaching the end zone last. Michigan Center finished 11-2, setting a program record for wins. Click for more from MLive-Detroit.

Division 7

Lawton 21, Jackson Lumen Christi 20

The Blue Devils are headed to the Finals for the first time after following up a memorable Regional Final win with perhaps an even more unforgettable Semifinal finish. Landon Motter’s two-point conversion with 46 seconds to play put Lawton (13-0) up for good. The Blue Devils had jumped out to a 13-0 first-half lead but found themselves trailing Lumen Christi (11-2) by a point heading into the fourth quarter. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Pewamo-Westphalia 28, Traverse City St. Francis 21

The Pirates (13-0) will have a chance to win a second Division 7 title in three years after holding off last season’s runner-up St. Francis (12-1). The teams were tied 14-14 heading into the final quarter, and P-W’s defense was able to slow St. Francis’ offense for most of it, for the game holding the Gladiators to their fewest points this season and well below their average of 50 per game. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 8

Beal City 12, Ubly 7

The Aggies (12-1) will return to the Finals for the second time in three seasons thanks to the latest of a string of strong defensive showings. Beal City lowered its points-allowed average to 8.3 per game by stopping an Ubly offense that had averaged 45 per game entering Saturday. The Bearcats (12-1) were last season’s Division 8 runners-up up. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Hudson 28, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 22

The Tigers (13-0) advanced to their first championship game since 2010 relying again on an excellent defense to slow down a Whiteford offense averaging 51 points per game, but also on the legs of Bronson Marry – who ran for four second-half touchdowns as Hudson came all the way back from a 22-0 halftime deficit. It was the only loss to an in-state opponent this fall for the Bobcats (11-2). Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

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PHOTO Traverse City Central's Carson Bourdo (11) tries to break away from a South Lyon defender during Saturday's Division 2 Semifinal win. (Photo by Jamie McNinch.)

Football Title Reflects Kingsley's Current Success, Recalls Loved Ones Passed

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

December 1, 2023

Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThey may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.

The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.

Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.

There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.

Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.

Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.  

Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.

Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back.“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.

“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”

Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game. 

The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.

Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.

Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.

“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”

Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.  

“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said.  “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.

“It was very emotional,” Conner continued.  “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”

Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.

In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.

He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire. 

Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right.On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.

Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.

Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.  

“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.

“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued.  “But nothing like a family does.”

Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.

Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.

“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.

“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”

Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.

Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.

“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’

Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. “You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”

In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.

This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.

The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.

“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain. 

“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)