The beginning of playoffs in any sport often is looked at as starting over or a second chance – especially by teams that maybe didn’t accomplish everything they’d wanted during the regular season.
A number of teams took advantage of those opportunities during the first weekend of these 2021 MHSAA Football Playoffs.
Of 144 games total, 38 were rematches from the regular season – and 18 were won by the other team this time, with a number of those highlighted in this week’s “review” below.
(And in case you’re wondering, the upcoming 11-Player District Finals and 8-Player Regional Finals feature 25 more rematches.)
11-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Dearborn Fordson 21, Detroit Cass Tech 14 (OT) Antonio Gates Jr. caught two touchdown passes including the eventual game winner in overtime as Fordson (8-2) moved on against a familiar playoff foe. Fordson had fallen to Cass Tech (6-4) in the playoffs the last two seasons and has faced the Technicians in the postseason eight straight years. Click for more from the Dearborn Press & Guide.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 30, 2021
District Digest Howell 35, Hartland 28 (3 OT) The Highlanders (8-2) trailed Hartland 14-0 at halftime before coming back to avenge a Week 6 loss to the Eagles (7-3). Oxford 38, Clarkston 28 After losing to Clarkston 20-17 in Week 5 to cap a 1-4 start, the Wildcats (6-4) haven’t fallen again – with this win breaking a four-game losing streak against the Wolves (8-2). Belleville 14, Ann Arbor Huron 10 The Tigers (9-1) got their biggest scare since late September but held on to end Huron’s most successful season since 2001 at 8-2.
11-Player Division 2
HEADLINER Port Huron Northern 13, Port Huron 0 After falling to Port Huron High 14-7 just three weeks earlier, Northern (8-2) avenged with its third shutout of the season – highlighted by five tackles for loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt. The Huskies also broke a three-game losing streak against the Big Reds (6-4). Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
District Digest Bay City Western 25, Midland Dow 23 The Warriors’ best season in a decade added another highlight, as Western (8-2) avenged its one-point Week 5 loss to the Chargers (6-4). Battle Creek Lakeview 49, Dexter 48 (OT) The Spartans (7-3) made it three straight seasons with a playoff win with a rain-soaked overtime extra point against the Dreadnaughts (5-5). Muskegon Mona Shores 31, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 7 The reigning champion’s potential all-road game march back to Ford Field began in a big way as Mona Shores (8-2) handed host Forest Hills Central (8-2) a playoff loss for the third time in four seasons.
11-Player Division 3
HEADLINER River Rouge 14, Harper Woods 6 (OT) The reigning Division 3 runners-up rallied after halftime with all of their points and a defensive stand, holding Harper Woods (7-3) to its fewest points this season. River Rouge (7-2) has won a playoff game eight of the last 10 years.
Jalen Holly would get the touchdown and 2-point conversion in OT as River Rouge held on to beat Harper Woods 14-6 in the Division 3 District Semifinal. @RougeFootball @CoachCParker @Jholly131#StateChamps X #MIArmyGuard pic.twitter.com/ujKInHcLE4
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 30, 2021
District Digest Allen Park 28, Riverview 20 The Jaguars (8-2) ended Riverview’s season for the third time in four years, this time with the Pirates (9-1) suffering their only defeat in the playoffs for the second straight. St. Joseph 29, Zeeland West 26 The Bears (6-4) bounced back from four straight losses – including three by six points or fewer – to end up on the positive side of a close one against the Dux (6-3). Mount Pleasant 37, Marquette 6 The Oilers (10-0) won this matchup of league champions to reach double-digit wins for the second time in four seasons, ending Marquette’s at 7-3.
11-Player Division 4
HEADLINER Cadillac 42, Fruitport 35 Cadillac’s outstanding defense received one of its toughest challenges as Fruitport rallied late to pull within a score before the reigning Division 4 runner-up held on for the win. Cadillac (8-2) scored its most points in a game this season, but Fruitport (4-6) also scored the most the Vikings have allowed – with both offenses perhaps benefitting from a second look as Cadillac had won their Week 2 meeting 28-12. Click for more from the Cadillac News.
District Digest Three Rivers 9, Vicksburg 7 In avenging a 46-27 Week 6 loss to Vicksburg (8-2), Three Rivers (6-4) also won a playoff game for the first time since 2017. Croswell-Lexington 6, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 0 The Pioneers (9-1) scored the game’s lone points in the first quarter and held on for a second-straight shutout and fourth this season, against a Notre Dame Prep team (7-3) that averaged 37 points per game entering the weekend. Livonia Clarenceville 36, Madison Heights Lamphere 28 The Trojans (9-1), playing as independents this fall, are enjoying their best season since 2013 with just a three-point Week 7 loss to Berkley from being undefeated and Lamphere (7-3) the second league champ they’ve defeated.
11-Player Division 5
HEADLINER Clare 32, Gladwin 12 It’s a rare season when Clare is left out of the Jack Pine Conference title, but the second-place Pioneers made some major amends by handing the champion Flying G’s (9-1) their lone loss to end their season. Gladwin had won the first meeting 48-42 in Week 7. Al Warner scored all five of Clare’s touchdowns, including with runs of 50 and 79 yards. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
District Digest Olivet 3, Williamston 0 (OT) Tyler Latunski’s 22-yard field goal was the difference in this matchup of league champions, after Olivet (8-2) had also edged Williamston (6-4) 20-19 in Week 8. Grand Rapids West Catholic 42, Comstock Park 0 The Falcons reached 40 points for the seventh time this season in moving to 9-1 overall, while shutting down a Comstock Park offense that had averaged nearly 51 points per game during that team’s 9-0 regular season. Dundee 6, Macomb Lutheran North 0 The Vikings (6-4) earned their first District Final berth since 2011, against a Mustangs team (6-4) that shared a league title.
11-Player Division 6
HEADLINER Michigan Center 8, Jonesville 6 A scoreless game through three quarters played out dramatically in the fourth as Michigan Center (9-1) put the first points on the board and kept Jonesville from tying after its lone touchdown. The Cardinals then made a near-goal line stand to close out a second playoff win over the Comets (9-1) in as many seasons. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
District Digest Calumet 35, Menominee 20 The Copper Kings (8-2) also won a matchup of league champions, defeating Menominee (5-5) in the playoffs for the third straight season. Boyne City 19, Grayling 18 The Ramblers (9-1) stopped a two-point conversion try late, avenging last season’s District Final loss to the Vikings (7-3). Detroit Southeastern 16, Detroit Pershing 0 The Jungaleers (7-3) have won seven straight, with this shutout of Pershing (5-5) their second on the field this season and part of a defensive effort that’s given up only 9.5 points per game over its last six played (with two wins coming by forfeit).
11-Player Division 7
HEADLINER New Lothrop 34, Montrose 7 The reigning Division 7 champion Hornets (7-3) opened with a decisive win over one of the other two co-champions in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference, avenging a 35-14 Week 5 loss to the Rams (7-3). New Lothrop and Montrose also had entered the playoffs tied for the No. 10 spot in Division 7. Click for more from the Owosso Argus-Press.
New Lothrop sophomore QB Jack Kulhanek was doing it all for the Hornets. Here, he scores 2 TDs and drops a dime inside the 5 to Garett Mangino, setting up another score in NLs 34-7 win over Montrose @GarettMangino @JackKulhanek @NLAPS @CoachGalvas #StateChamps x @MHSAA pic.twitter.com/qg5h4eopv9
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 30, 2021
District Digest Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 49, Reese 6 After falling to Reese 27-18 in Week 7, Laker (8-2) found what worked in the rematch and remains the only one of three Greater Thumb Conference West co-champions still standing. The Rockets (8-2) had averaged nearly 32 points per game entering the weekend. Ishpeming Westwood 44, East Jordan 6 The Patriots (9-1) held an eighth opponent this season to single digits in winning a matchup of league champions over the Red Devils (6-3). Hemlock 20, Bad Axe 12 The Huskies (6-4) have emerged from a 2-3 start to win three of their last four, including this one over that third GTC West co-champion. Bad Axe still has plenty to celebrate; in addition to the league title, the Hatchets (7-3) posted their highest win total since 2001.
11-Player Division 8
HEADLINER Addison 24, Centreville 16 Given these teams’ defensive prowess, this score makes sense – and this win may soon be recalled among the Panthers’ best at least since the turn of the century. Not only was Centreville the reigning Division 8 champion, but Addison (9-1) reached its highest win total since 2006 in tying the most points the Bulldogs (7-3) had given up over the last three seasons. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
District Digest Muskegon Heights Academy 66, Holton 42 The Tigers (6-4), who didn’t play last season and won just one game over the previous two, earned their first playoff victory since 2010. Fowler 28, Flint Beecher 0 The Eagles (7-3) went on the road and came back with their third shutout in five games. Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest 13, Marine City Cardinal Mooney 12 The last month has seen an incredible turnaround for Lutheran Northwest, which went 0-7 a year ago and opened this season 1-4 before winning five straight including this one with a touchdown on the last play of the game. Mooney had won their Week 2 matchup 31-7.
8-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Britton Deerfield 36, Deckerville 14 Despite losing its starting quarterback to injury at the end of the regular season, Deerfield (9-1) rallied for the most impressive win so far of its 8-player debut. A defense that has shined all fall continued to do so as well – Deckerville (8-2) hadn’t been held to 14 or fewer points in a game since 2018. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
Regional Roundup Rudyard 38, Munising 14 After finishing as one of three runners-up in the Great Lakes Eight Conference East, Rudyard (8-2) topped the champion, avenging a 30-12 Week 4 loss to the Mustangs (7-3). Indian River Inland Lakes 38, Rogers City 24 The Bulldogs (10-0) faced one of their toughest matchups of the season, but emerged to earn a showdown this week with also 10-0 Suttons Bay. Martin 41, Tekonsha 0 This win over another league champion was Martin’s third-straight shutout and pushed the Clippers to 10-0.
8-Player Division 2
HEADLINER Colon 35, Portland St. Patrick 13 The Magi (9-1) will move on this time after falling to Portland St. Patrick in last year’s Regional Final and watching the Shamrocks finish Division 2 runners-up for the second-straight season. Colon held St. Patrick (9-1) to its fewest points in a game since 2018, sticking almost exactly to the 11.2 it’s giving up this fall. Click for more from the Sturgis Journal.
Regional Roundup Crystal Falls Forest Park 8, Lake Linden-Hubbell 0 The Trojans (8-2) won for the first time in three weeks by avenging their first loss of the season, to the Lakes (7-3), and to earn a rematch with the team that dealt Forest Park its other defeat (Powers North Central). Hillman 32, Mio 26 The Tigers’ 1-3 start is becoming a distant memory as they’ve won six straight with this one avenging a Week 2 12-0 defeat to the Thunderbolts (6-4). Kinde North Huron 48, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 21 Just as we saw a number of teams avenge in rematches over the weekend, North Huron (10-0) instead was able to hold off the Irish for the second time. Sacred Heart (7-3) had finished second to the Warriors in the North Central Thumb League Stars.
Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS (1) Westwood's Zach Carlson  gets around East Jordan's Granger Kitson  and down to the 1-yard-line before getting tackled. (2) Harper Woods and River Rouge players prepare for contact Friday. (3) A Mount Pleasant defender attempts to wrap up a Marquette ball carrier. (4) A Grand Rapids South Christian ball carrier eludes a pair of Plainwell defenders. (5) Gladstone quarterback Nate Young  holds onto the ball before getting tackled by Negaunee's Eli VanBuren , Jed Anderson  and another defender. (6) Beal City defenders pull down a Bark River-Harris ball carrier in their Division 8 matchup. (Photos by Cara Kamps (1 and 5), Quintin Love Jr. (2), High School Sports Scene (3 and 6) and Gary Shook (4).
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)