1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 2 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 8, 2021

As the first leaves begin to turn colors at the start of fall, hardware starts stacking up high at the MHSAA office in East Lansing.

MI Student AidBut now that we're into November, trophies are flying out of here like birds heading south for winter.

In addition to two more sports ending over the weekend and tournaments advancing in one more of the two sports still being played, we saw 72 football trophies find homes over the weekend as 11-player District and 8-player Regional champions were crowned.

Below is a glance at just more than half of those deciding matchups as we move another step closer to awarding the biggest trophies of all.  

11-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Sterling Heights Stevenson 38, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 35 This region’s two District Finals were rematches from the Macomb Area Conference Red regular season, and Stevenson (9-2) managed to hold off a mighty challenge again after also defeating Chippewa Valley 36-32 in Week 6. Jordan Kwiatkowski became the program’s all-time leading tackler, and Kyler Castle drilled the game-winning field goal on the final play. Chippewa Valley finished 7-4, its defeats by a combined 12 points. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

District Digest Macomb Dakota 35, Romeo 20 On the other side of the bracket from Stevenson, Dakota (8-3) avenged a 14-10 Week 3 loss over the MAC Red co-champion Bulldogs (9-2), claiming its first District title since 2015. Rockford 38, Grandville 7 The Rams (11-0) won decisively this time after needing double overtime to defeat Grandville (7-4) in Week 4. West Bloomfield 35, Detroit Catholic Central 21 The Lakers (10-1) have reached 30 points in six straight games and scored the most – by 18 – that DCC (8-3) had given up since Week 1.

11-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Caledonia 49, Muskegon Mona Shores 12 After five straight sub-.500 seasons, Caledonia has reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2008 with their first District title since 2012. And in the process, the Fighting Scots (10-1) avenged last season’s eight-point District Final loss to Mona Shores (8-3), ending the two-time reigning Division 2 champion’s 18-game winning streak and dealing the Sailors their first playoff exit short of Ford Field since 2017. Click for more from FOX 17.

District Digest South Lyon 34, East Lansing 13 The Lions (11-0) are District champs for the first time since 2004 after holding East Lansing (7-4) to less than half its scoring average of 30 points per game. Livonia Franklin 27, Livonia Churchill 20 Franklin (6-5) may have been one of the teams questioned entering this playoffs at 4-5, but no longer after avenging a 42-14 Week 6 loss to Churchill (8-3) to win a second District title in four seasons. Roseville 41, Port Huron Northern 2 The Panthers (7-4) have outscored their two playoff opponents by a combined 68-2, with top-ranked Warren De La Salle Collegiate up next.

11-Player Division 3

HEADLINER Cedar Springs 21, Muskegon 14 The Red Hawks’ first District title since 2018 coincided with Muskegon’s earliest playoff exit since 2011, as the Big Reds (9-2) had eliminated Cedar Springs (9-2) the last three seasons (including in a Regional Final in 2018). The Red Hawks scored first this time, then first again to break a halftime tie and then one more time early in the fourth quarter to go ahead 14. Ryan West scored both second-half touchdowns. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

District Digest DeWitt 50, Mount Pleasant 26 The Panthers (10-1) ran their District title streak to six while dealing Mount Pleasant (10-1) its only defeat. Detroit Martin Luther King 33, River Rouge 12 The Crusaders (10-1) stopped another high-powered offense, as reigning Division 3 runner-up River Rouge (7-3) entered averaging 42 points per game. District Semifinal opponent Warren Fitzgerald was averaging 50 and also scored only 12 against King two weeks ago. Parma Western 41, Battle Creek Harper Creek 28 The Panthers (8-3) pulled off a major reversal against the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference co-champion Beavers (7-4), avenging a 50-22 Week 3 loss.

11-Player Division 4

HEADLINER Freeland 37, Lake Fenton 6 The Falcons (10-1) finishes a sweep of Flint Metro League Stars champions over the last two weeks, adding this victory to its District Semifinal win over Goodrich. The District title was Freeland’s third straight and continued a strong defensive showing, as the Falcons have given up only six points per game on average since their lone loss Week 5. Lake Fenton finished its winningest season since 2006 at 9-2. Click for more from the Midland Daily News.

District Digest Chelsea 49, Milan 12 The Bulldogs (11-0) clinched their fourth-straight District championship by locking down a Milan offense that had scored 35 points per game. Grand Rapids South Christian 38, Hastings 14 The Sailors (8-3) repeated as District champions, ending I8AC co-champion Hastings’ winningest season since 1990 at 9-2. Detroit Country Day 49, Livonia Clarenceville 8 The reigning champion Yellowjackets (7-3) are on playoff stride again, tying their most points in a game this season to up their scoring margin over the last two weeks to a combined 84-14.

11-Player Division 5

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Catholic Central 44, Grand Rapids West Catholic 6 The John Passinault to Nolan Ziegler passing connection did some major damage early with three first-half touchdowns as GRCC (11-0) ran its District championship streak to six seasons. West Catholic finished 9-2, both defeats coming to teams that remain unbeaten. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

District Digest Kalamazoo United 21, Berrien Springs 14 The Shamrocks (10-0) hadn’t given up more than 19 points in a game heading into the weekend, and United (8-3) also held Berrien Springs to 26 points below their season scoring average. Kingsley 32, Clare 6 The Stags (10-1) made it six opponents held to single-digit scoring this season as they won their third District title in four years. Corunna 20, Armada 8 The Cavaliers (7-4) clinched their first District title since 2016 by ending Armada’s first winning season since 2012 and best season since 2004 at 7-4.

11-Player Division 6

HEADLINER Lansing Catholic 28, Millington 8 The Cougars (10-1) scored 21 unanswered points over the final three quarters to hand Millington (10-1) its lone loss and clinch a third-straight District championship. The Cardinals entered the game scoring 38 points per, but Lansing Catholic has won its two playoff games by a combined 65-14. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

District Digest Michigan Center 28, Constantine 18 The Cardinals (10-1) eliminated their second undefeated league champion in two weeks, adding Constantine (10-1) to Jonesville on the way to repeating as District champs. Montague 35, Reed City 22 The reigning Division 7 champion Wildcats (8-3) may have closed the regular season with two losses, but will have a big say in this playoff bracket after also knocking off a league champion in the Coyotes (9-2). Calumet 24, Negaunee 19 The Copper Kings (9-2) avenged their 35-21 Week 2 loss that eventually led to a shared Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper championship between these two and Ishpeming Westwood, and after also falling to Negaunee by a point in last year’s District Final.

Ishpeming Westwood football

11-Player Division 7

HEADLINER Pewamo-Westphalia 53, New Lothrop 21 The Pirates won their 10th District title over the last 11 years in one of their most impressive fashions, putting out their best offensive performance since mid-September while holding the reigning Division 7 champion to nearly half of its average of 39 points scored per game. P-W (11-0) improved to 3-1 in their last four meetings with the Hornets (7-4). Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

District Digest Ishpeming Westwood 30, Charlevoix 28 The Patriots (10-1) claimed their first District championship, after putting together a double-digit lead and needing every point to hold off the Rayders (8-2) as they too were pursuing a first District title. Detroit Loyola 18, Detroit Central 14 The Bulldogs (6-4) defeated a second league champion in as many weeks, this time also handing Central (10-1) its only loss. Jackson Lumen Christi 21, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 12 In this repeat of last season’s District Final, Lumen Christi (10-1) was victorious again to advance to Regionals for the eighth-straight season.

11-Player Division 8

HEADLINER Hudson 28, Addison 8 Everyone knew this District featuring these two, Centreville and Reading would be one of the most competitive in any division with all four teams ranked among the top 14. Hudson (11-0) emerged as the champion, outscoring its two opponents by a combined 50-8. A defense giving up only seven points per game was nearly unbeatable again facing an Addison offense scoring 42 points per game entering the day. The Panthers finished 9-2. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

District Digest Breckenridge 41, Fowler 32 The Huskies (9-2) scored 20 unanswered points over the final 10 minutes to get past the Eagles (7-4). Carson City-Crystal 35, Muskegon Heights Academy 26 This was much closer than the Eagles’ 41-14 Week 8 win over the Tigers (6-5), but Carson City-Crystal (10-1) held on to repeat as a District champion. Ottawa Lake Whiteford 54, Sand Creek 14 This playoffs that has seen its share of rematches go the other way, but Tri-County Conference champ Whiteford (10-1) finished a season sweep of league runner-up Sand Creek (7-4).

Breckenridge football

8-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Suttons Bay 53, Indian River Inland Lakes 18 Among a season of dominating performances, this one is shining brightest for Suttons Bay as both entered this Regional Final undefeated. The Norseman (11-0) tied the score 12-12 midway through the second quarter and by the end of the first half were up double digits. Inland Lakes (10-1) was averaging 58 points per game entering the day. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Regional Roundup Rudyard 28, Newberry 0 The top four from the Great Lakes Eight Conference East were part of the same Regional, and Rudyard avenged a Week 5 loss to Newberry (8-3) to emerge as champion after both had been among three league runners-up. Martin 41, Mendon 22 The top two finishers in the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1 met again, with Martin (11-0) adding to its 28-20 Week 7 victory over the Hornets (8-3). Adrian Lenawee Christian 41, Britton Deerfield 0 The Cougars (11-0) have opened the playoffs with two shutouts, their third and fourth over their last five games. Deerfield finished 9-2, its only losses to Lenawee Christian twice over the last three weeks.

8-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Colon 29, Morrice 22 The Magi (10-1) are rumbling through undefeated opponents this playoffs, this time handing Morrice (10-1) its lone loss after doing the same to Portland St. Patrick in the Regional Semifinal. The Orioles led most of the game and 22-8 with a quarter to play before Colon surged to lock up its third Regional title in four seasons. Click for more from JoeInsider.com.

Regional Roundup Powers North Central 65, Crystal Falls Forest Park 8 Reigning Division 2 champion North Central (11-0) downed the rival Trojans (8-3) for the second time in three weeks to return to the Semifinals. Marion 54, Hillman 0 The Eagles (10-1) also will be returning to the Semifinals for a rematch with the Jets after defeating Hillman (7-4) for the second-straight playoffs. Au Gres-Sims 48, Kinde North Huron 42 The Wolverines (11-0) will return to the Semifinals for the second time in four seasons after holding off North Huron (10-1) right to the end of a matchup of undefeated league champions.

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PHOTOS [1] Detroit Country Day’s Parker Yearego (3) reaches for the end zone during his team’s win over Livonia Clarenceville. [2] Ishpeming Westwood's Zach Carlson (2) gains several yards before being tackled by Charlevoix's Landon Swanson (21). [3] Breckenridge’s Luke Saunders (12) breaks into the open against Fowler.(Photos by Doug Bargerstock [1], Cara Kamps [2] and High School Sports Scene [3].)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)