From an up-close point of view, at just more than half of Michigan’s football-playing high schools, three months of football season ended last weekend.
But from a mile-high perspective, 20 teams have played just slightly more than half their games this fall – and 288 begin this weekend with the opportunity to add onto their seasons and finish among that fortunate few.
Playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for each division. More than 100 of the 144 total playoff football games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at Troy appearing on the Bally Sports Detroit primary channel tonight – click for more on how to watch.
Below are glances at games that especially pop off the page in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)
11-Player Division 1
Howell (7-2) at Hartland (7-2)
The co-champions in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West meet again, after Hartland won the regular-season matchup 29-7 on Oct. 1. Those remain the most points given up by a Highlanders defense allowing an average of 11.9 per game, while the Eagles’ defense finished the regular season giving up an average of just 9.6 (and only five per game not counting a 46-9 Week 9 loss to No. 6 Belleville). This time Howell will have running back August Johanningsmeier, a Western Michigan recruit, who didn’t play during the first meeting.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (6-3) at Troy (8-1), Ann Arbor Huron (8-1) at Belleville (8-1), Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (7-2), Lapeer (7-2) at Rochester Adams (9-0).
11-Player Division 2
Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-1)
Two-time reigning Division 2 champion Mona Shores is facing a playoff road that may not include a home game. But while that adds to the challenge, the Sailors are plenty familiar with elite opponents – their losses this fall were to Division 3 top-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King and No. 5 Muskegon High. This week’s trip is especially intriguing, however – Forest Hills Central barely fell to Shores 28-25 during the last year’s playoffs and by just six points in a 2018 playoff matchup, and won their 2017 postseason meeting. The Rangers’ only loss this fall was early by four points to Division 1 No. 4 Grand Blanc.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (5-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3), Port Huron (6-3) at Port Huron Northern (7-2), Bay City Western (7-2) at Midland Dow (6-3), East Lansing (6-3) at Milford (7-2).
11-Player Division 3
River Rouge (6-2) at Harper Woods (7-2)
These are familiar opponents with this their eighth meeting over the last 14 seasons, including as members together of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue from 2017-19. River Rouge has won the last five of those matchups and is continuing to build on a decade as a Finals contender as it looks to return to Ford Field for the third-straight season. But Harper Woods has been climbing. Two of those losses to Rouge in the MMAC Blue were league title deciders, and the Pioneers have made the playoffs four straight seasons (including all-in 2020) with their lone defeats this fall to Division 2 top-ranked Warren De La Salle Collegiate and Division 3 qualifier Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marquette (7-2) at Mount Pleasant (9-0), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-4) at Flint Kearsley (6-3), Warren Fitzgerald (8-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1), Riverview (9-0) at Allen Park (7-2).
11-Player Division 4
Whitehall (7-2) at Sparta (7-2)
The Spartans somewhat quietly put together a fourth-straight winning season with their two defeats this fall coming over the first three weeks and by a combined eight points. The first of those losses was opening night to Muskegon Oakridge, 22-21, which went on to defeat and then share the West Michigan Conference championship with Whitehall. The Vikings are coming off a 10-point loss at 8-1 Reed City, but can boast wins over Montague and Kalamazoo United to go with their league title share.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Spring Lake (6-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (6-3), Goodrich (7-2) at Freeland (8-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-2) at Croswell-Lexington (8-1). SATURDAY Detroit Country Day (5-3) at Redford Union (8-1).
11-Player Division 5
Comstock Park (9-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-1)
Houseman Field will host one of the most intriguing matchups statewide regardless of division. Both teams have four wins over others in these playoffs. Comstock Park bounced way back this fall from three straight one or two-win seasons to finish ahead of Sparta (see above) in winning the Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver title. The Panthers are plenty familiar with West Catholic after losing to the Falcons in last season’s playoffs and playing them either as part of the same league or nonconference the 12 seasons prior. West Catholic’s only loss this fall was to eventual O-K Blue champion Hudsonville Unity Christian, and the Falcons handed Division 7 contender Muskegon Catholic Central its lone loss.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clare (6-3) at Gladwin (9-0), Kingsford (6-3) at Kingsley (8-1), Olivet (7-2) at Williamston (6-3), Corunna (5-4) at Flint Powers Catholic (3-6).
11-Player Division 6
Michigan Center (8-1) at Jonesville (9-0)
This is a rematch of last season’s District Final won by Michigan Center 28-22, and they just missed seeing each other in the Big 8/Cascades crossovers of this year’s Week 9. Jonesville won the Big 8 Conference this fall, and then edged Cascades champion Addison 20-14 last Saturday in the Comets’ only game this season closer than 16 points. Michigan Center was second in the Cascades after a one-point Week 4 loss to Addison, but since the Cardinals have shined in close games winning three by eight points of fewer.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Calumet (7-2) at Menominee (5-4), Boyne City (8-1) at Grayling (7-2), Erie Mason (5-4) at Ida (7-2), Detroit Pershing (5-4) at Detroit Southeastern (6-3).
11-Player Division 7
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-2) at Reese (8-1)
All three co-champions of the Greater Thumb Conference West play in the same District, and these two are meeting again after Reese won the Week 7 matchup 27-18. The Rockets are enjoying their first winning season since 2013, losing only to Bad Axe – the third co-champion in the GTC West. Laker has enjoyed more recent success, with this its sixth-straight playoff appearance. The Lakers edged Bad Axe by a point Week 8 to create the shared league title. Bad Axe travels to Hemlock on the other side of the District bracket.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY New Lothrop (6-3) at Montrose (7-2), Lutheran Westland (8-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1), Bad Axe (7-2) at Hemlock (5-4). SATURDAY East Jordan (7-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (8-1).
11-Player Division 8
Centreville (7-2) at Addison (8-1)
Four of the top 14 teams in Division 8 playoff points are in the same District (Reading and Hudson are on the other side). Addison entered as the No. 3 team and Centreville is No. 10 and also the reigning Division 8 champion. As noted above, Addison’s lone loss came last week to Division 6 No. 11 Jonesville, and Centreville’s defeats came to a pair of Division 7 teams including No. 6 Muskegon Catholic Central. Both are league champions and have put up similar numbers overall this fall – but the difference may be found when Addison is on offense (averaging 43.8 points per game, but 48 not counting the Jonesville loss) and Centreville is on D (12 points allowed per game, but only 8.6 after opening night.)
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowler (6-3) at Flint Beecher (4-5), Reading (6-3) at Hudson (9-0). SATURDAY Bark River-Harris (6-3) at Beal City (8-1), Frankfort (6-3) at Iron Mountain (6-3).
8-Player Division 1
Rogers City (8-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (9-0)
Inland Lakes dove into 8-player last season with great success, and Rogers City is following the same path in its first season this fall while the Bulldogs have been even better in their encore. Inland Lakes reached the Division 1 Semifinals in 2020 and is coming off its closest game of this season, a 14-point win over Gaylord St. Mary. Rogers City is coming off its defeat – 44-36 to Newberry – but didn’t give up a point in September and won its first three games of October against teams sitting now at .500 or better.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Rudyard (7-2) at Munising (7-2), Tekonsha (7-2) at Martin (9-0). SATURDAY Britton Deerfield (8-1) at Deckerville (7-1).
8-Player Division 2
Colon (8-1) at Portland St. Patrick (9-0), Saturday
These have been two of the most dominating 8-player programs in the state over the last four years, with Portland St. Patrick defeating the Magi 44-34 last season in a Regional Final on the way to the Shamrocks finishing Division 2 runners-up for the third time in four seasons. Colon was the Division 1 champion in 2019, and its only other losses over the last two seasons were to reigning Division 1 champion and current favorite Adrian Lenawee Christian. Portland St. Patrick long has thrived offensively, scoring 43.6 points per game this fall, while Colon has established itself as a defensive juggernaut over the last three seasons and has given up 11 points per game with five shutouts.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mio (6-3) at Hillman (6-3), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-2) at Kinde North Huron (9-0). SATURDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-2).
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PHOTO Edwardsburg, here on offense against Otsego, brings a 9-0 record into the Division 4 playoffs. (Photo by Gary Shook.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They 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.
“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.
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.’
“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 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.)