1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 2 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 4, 2021

It’s too early to say how much numbers are telling the story of this MHSAA Football Playoffs. But as we preview this weekend’s second rounds, we have a few interesting ones to share.

MI Student AidJust more than 20 percent of the 144 teams still playing – 29 total – have not tasted defeat this fall. Another 35 teams – or 24 percent – have suffered just a single loss.

What’s more, only 12 of this weekend’s 72 games – a mere 17 percent – feature matchups of those teams. And all 12 are among games noted below as we take a glance at 11-Player District Finals and 8-Player Regional Finals.

Click here for the full schedule for each division. More than 50 of the 72 playoff football games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with the 11-player Division 3 matchup of River Rouge at Detroit Martin Luther King appearing on the Bally Sports Detroit PLUS channel tonight – click for more on how to watch. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central (8-2) at West Bloomfield (9-1)

Both experienced an early fade from the statewide buzz after Week 1 losses – West Bloomfield to Rochester Adams and DCC to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley – but they’re right back where most expected after rising to Nos. 7 and 9, respectively, in Division 1 by the end of the regular season. Adams remains undefeated, and West Bloomfield went on to earn wins over Clarkston and Oxford, while DCC finished second in a Detroit Catholic League Central that has all four teams still alive in the playoffs. The Shamrocks have given up 9.4 points per game since that opening loss, and seven of West Bloomfield’s wins are by double digits.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-3) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (8-2), Brownstown Woodhaven (9-1) at Dearborn Fordson (8-2), Grandville (7-3) at Rockford (10-0).

11-Player Division 2

Bay City Western (8-2) at Traverse City Central (9-1)

The Warriors are scoring nearly 46 points per game, with their 459 total approaching how many they put on the scoreboard over the last three seasons combined. They fell just shy of claiming a share of a league championship, but a District title would be a program first since 2005. It would be even more well-deserved considering the opponent. Traverse City Central has been all but unstoppable since falling to DeWitt in Week 1, giving up 8.4 points per game over its nine wins with victories over playoff teams from all over the state – Marquette (60-28), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (56-13) and Saginaw Heritage (49-7) – to go with another championship run through the Big North Conference.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2) at Caledonia (9-1), Roseville (6-4) at Port Huron Northern (8-2), East Lansing (7-3) at South Lyon (10-0).  

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (7-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1)

With a combined five MHSAA Finals appearances between them over the last five seasons, Rouge vs. King is a matchup that’s been highly-anticipated since the bracket came out two weeks ago. The Panthers won last season’s meeting 33-30 to clinch a Regional championship on the way to the finishing Division 3 runners-up at Ford Field. Rouge should be ready for the tests of another close game after concluding the regular season with a one-point victory over Southfield Arts & Technology and then coming back to defeat Harper Woods in overtime last week. King similarly has lessons from two one-score wins over Detroit Cass Tech to recall if this one stays tight, and opened the playoffs by handing Warren Fitzgerald just its second loss, 55-12.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allen Park (8-2) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1), Mount Pleasant (10-0) at DeWitt (9-1). SATURDAY Cedar Springs (8-2) at Muskegon (9-1).

11-Player Division 4

Grand Rapids Christian (7-3) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-0)

Seemingly with a little less fanfare, Hudsonville Unity Christian has been just as impressive as any of the Grand Rapids-area powers this fall, outscoring opponents by an average score of 56-11 despite a regular-season schedule that included six playoff teams. Grand Rapids Christian was one of them, and the Crusaders won their Week 2 matchup 58-21. But the Eagles are 7-1 since while navigating a similarly treacherous group of opponents, and they’ve given up only 18 points per game during that run.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Country Day (6-3) at Livonia Clarenceville (9-1), Freeland (9-1) at Lake Fenton (9-1). SATURDAY Croswell-Lexington (9-1) at St. Clair (8-2).

11-Player Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-0)

West Catholic’s only loss came against Unity Christian (see above), and the Falcons are looking to make what would be the biggest splash so far in a playoffs already filling up with them. GRCC’s average margin of victory is 34 points – by an average score of 45-11 – with Division 3 hopeful Cedar Springs knocking that down a bit with its one-point loss in Week 8. But save for that 40-14 Unity loss, West Catholic has defeated its opponents on average 42-14. The Falcons’ wins over Muskegon Catholic Central in Week 2 and Comstock Park last week are the only losses those teams have suffered.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Oakridge (8-2) at Howard City Tri County (9-1), Clare (7-3) at Kingsley (9-1), Kalamazoo United (7-3) at Berrien Springs (10-0).

11-Player Division 6

Millington (10-0) at Lansing Catholic (9-1), Saturday

The Cardinals lost a close District Final a year ago and are seeking their first title at this level of the playoffs since winning back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. They boast a defense that hasn’t given up a point in two weeks and allows only 8.6 per game on average. Millington should get a test from a Cougars offense scoring 35 points per game, including the just seven scored during a Week 9 loss to Division 7 contender Pewamo-Westphalia. Lansing Catholic bounced back last week to defeat Durand 37-6, and the Cougars have some high-pressure experience having reached the Semifinals last season and won Division 5 in 2019. Alex Watters as a sophomore was among stars on the championship team and is approaching 1,000 yards receiving as well as leading the team in rushing touchdowns.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Montague (7-3) at Reed City (9-1), Calumet (8-2) at Negaunee (8-2). SATURDAY Michigan Center (9-1) at Constantine (10-0).

11-Player Division 7

New Lothrop (7-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)

Just to get it out of the way, New Lothrop has its most losses in a season since 2009 – and that fact means very little in this matchup. The Hornets came back off last season’s Division 7 championship with a loaded nonleague schedule to go with an improved conference, and those three defeats came against teams – Jackson Lumen Christi, Montrose and Frankenmuth – which are a combined 26-4 after New Lothrop handed the Rams a loss in their rematch last week. Pewamo-Westphalia’s run has looked similar with four league champions filling its nonleague slate including last week’s playoff opener opponent Ithaca. Fun fact to remember: When P-W defeated New Lothrop in the 2017 and 2019 playoffs, it went on to win the Division 7 title, and New Lothrop did the same after defeating P-W in 2018.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-1), Detroit Loyola (5-4) at Detroit Central (10-0). SATURDAY Charlevoix (8-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (9-1).

11-Player Division 8

Addison (9-1) at Hudson (10-0)

Addison entered the postseason No. 3 in Division 8 playoff points, with Hudson holding down the top spot – and all four teams in the District ranking among the top 14. Hudson has shut out four of its last five opponents and is giving up just 6.2 points per game, with wins over larger foes Ida, Clinton and Ithaca highlighting a resume that includes the Tigers’ first perfect regular season since 2011. Addison has its winningest season since 2006, with an offense averaging nearly 42 points per game leading a charge that’s included victories over larger Michigan Center and reigning champion Centreville in last week’s District Semifinal.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sand Creek (7-3) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-1), Fowler (7-3) at Breckenridge (8-2), Iron Mountain (7-3) at Beal City (9-1).

8-Player Division 1

Indian River Inland Lakes (10-0) at Suttons Bay (10-0)

Suttons Bay’s only two losses over the last three seasons have come in Division 1 championship games, but this may be as titanic a matchup as the Norsemen have faced short of the Finals during that run. These two were supposed to meet in a Semifinal last season that was unable to be played, and that just adds another wrinkle to the anticipation. Inland Lakes averages 58 points per game, and Suttons Bay gives up 8.8. Somewhere in the middle, the winner will not only earn a Regional title but is assured to host next week’s Semifinal as well.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Rudyard (8-2) at Newberry (8-2), Mendon (8-2) at Martin (10-0), Britton Deerfield (9-1) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (10-0).

8-Player Division 2

Kinde North Huron (10-0) at Au Gres-Sims (10-0)

Just when it looks like Inland Lakes’ offense can’t be matched this season (see above), here come the Wolverines averaging 61 points per game with a season-low of 48 against a Hillman team still alive on the other side of the bracket. It’s been a great comeback story after Au Gres-Sims won just a game a year ago and three in 2019, and it can add another highlight by avenging last season’s 66-12 playoff loss to North Huron. That’s of course easier written than done, as the Warriors haven’t slowed since reaching last season’s Semifinals and even avenged one of their two 2020 defeats.  

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Colon (9-1) at Morrice (10-0), Crystal Falls Forest Park (8-2) at Powers North Central (10-0), Hillman (7-3) at Marion (9-1).

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.

PHOTO Muskegon Heights Academy, here against Muskegon Catholic Central, will face Carson City-Crystal on Friday for a Division 8 District championship. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Connections: Novara Success Stretches Across State, Official Offers Encouragement

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

December 8, 2023

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.

South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game.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.)