Only 36 teams and two weeks remain in this MHSAA Football Playoffs, and the third round is something of a turning point.
But as we prep for trips Saturday to Marquette for 8-player and neutral sites all over the Lower Peninsula for 11-player, and then to Ford Field in 10 short days, let’s take a few more minutes to appreciate a weekend that saw 10 games decided by eight points or fewer and five 2020 finalists defeated as this year’s contenders took another step.
8-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Suttons Bay 42, Rudyard 36 (OT) The Norseman (12-0) earned their third-straight Division 1 championship game appearance with a game-tying touchdown with 20 seconds left in regulation and the winning score (and defensive stand) in overtime. Rudyard did complete its longest playoff run since 1982 at 9-3, improving substantially on three straight sub-.500 finishes with its most wins since 2009. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
HEADLINER Adrian Lenawee Christian 36, Martin 14 The reigning champion Cougars (12-0) are headed back to the Division 1 Final as well thanks to a 22-0 second-half run led in part by quarterback Ashur Bryja. Lenawee Christian actually scored the final 30 points, capitalizing on a Martin miscue on the last play of the second quarter to get back to even at halftime. The Clippers (11-1) ended their second-straight trip to the Semifinals with their winningest season since 1987. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
8-Player Division 2
HEADLINER Powers North Central 73, Marion 8 The Jets (12-0), despite playing only 11 games on the field (one win was a forfeit), are approaching 700 points this season, and this was their season high. Coincidentally, North Central is scoring nearly the same number of points per game (only seven tenths of a point more) than during last season’s undefeated Division 2 title run. This was Marion’s second-straight trip to the Semifinals, and the Clippers (10-2) finished with their most wins since 1992. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.
HEADLINER Colon 42, Au Gres-Sims 6 The Magi (11-1) have played and defeated three previously-unbeaten teams during this playoffs, with this their most substantial win of the set. Quarterback Simon Vinson either ran or threw for a combined five touchdowns, and Colon will look to add a second championship in three seasons after winning Division 1 in 2019. The Wolverines (11-1) completed an incredible turnaround season, having gone 11-1 as well in 2018 but then 3-6 in 2019 and 1-6 a year ago. Click for more from the Sturgis Journal.
11-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Grand Blanc 28, Rockford 27 The Bobcats clinched their first trip to the Finals, and with an exciting finish. Grand Blanc (12-0) scored go-ahead touchdowns four times and Rockford answered all four, but couldn’t add a two-point conversion after pulling within a point of the lead with 55 seconds to play. Elijah Jackson-Anderson ran for two scores for Grand Blanc, and Zak Ahern ran for all four for Rockford (11-1). Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Here's the Mr. Football candidate and @EMUFB commit Elijah Jackson-Anderson (@ihson_j) with two rushing touchdowns as Grand Blanc beat Rockford for the Division 1 Regional Title this afternoon. @GrandBlancFB @_GB_Athletics_ #StateChamps X @hungryhowies pic.twitter.com/M32uNp2WAZ
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 14, 2021
Regional Roundup Rochester Adams 14, West Bloomfield 13 This was closer than Adams’ 35-17 opening-night win over the reigning Division 1 champion, and required the Highlanders (12-0) to come back from a 13-0 halftime deficit while holding the Lakers (10-2) scoreless over the final two quarters. Sterling Heights Stevenson 27, Macomb Dakota 20 This also was a rematch, with Stevenson (10-2) adding to its Week 5 win over Dakota (8-4) thanks in part to a 90-yard fumble return TD by Jordan Ramsey. Belleville 12, Dearborn Fordson 7 The Tigers (11-1) clinched their fourth-straight Regional title with a second win this season over Fordson (9-3), with freshman Bryce Underwood throwing two touchdown passes to Deshaun Lee.
11-Player Division 2
HEADLINER Traverse City Central 42, Caledonia 14 Not much has slowed the Trojans (11-1) over the last three months, and they claimed their second-straight Regional title amid a blizzard with Josh Burnham leading the way with four rushing touchdowns. The Fighting Scots had been giving up only 13 points per game, but Central put up at least 42 for the sixth straight week. Caledonia finished 10-2, their winningest season since 2008. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Our Anvil Award candidate and @NDFootball commit Josh Burnham (@JoshuaBurnham20) was dashing through the snow with 4 rushing touchdowns as Traverse City Central went onto beat Caledonia in the Division 2 Regional Final tonight.#AnvilAward X @hungryhowies pic.twitter.com/ljeV5SOpC4
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 13, 2021
Regional Roundup South Lyon 29, Portage Central 23 (OT) The Lions (12-0) scored and converted a two-point pass with 18 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, then went on to clinch their first Regional title since 2004. Portage Central (9-3) finished its winningest run since 2016. Livonia Franklin 43, Waterford Mott 26 The Patriots’ story just keeps getting better as they improved to 7-5 with their fourth-straight win. Mott finished a nice turnaround season at 7-5 after going 2-4 a year ago. Warren De La Salle Collegiate 45, Roseville 14 The Pilots (11-0) have won all but one of their games this season by double digits, and this one ranks high as Roseville (7-5) had given up more than 15 points once this fall and had scored fewer than 35 points only three times.
11-Player Division 3
HEADLINER Mason 20, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 17 Freshman Cason Carswell’s touchdown pass to Derek Badgley with 10 seconds to play lifted the Bulldogs (10-2) to their first Regional championship and first 10-win season. Carswell threw for two scores total, and Mason’s defense slowed a Brother Rice offense that had averaged 30 points per game entering the evening. The Warriors (8-4) were coming off their first District title since 2014 and finished with their winningest campaign since that fall. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Here's Cason Carswell throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Derek Badgley with 10 seconds left as Mason beats Brother Rice 20-17 in the Division 3 Regional Final tonight. @masonbulldogsad @MasonFootball2 #StateChamps X @MHSAA pic.twitter.com/ue4eHAMBpD
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 13, 2021
Regional Roundup DeWitt 42, Cedar Springs 14 The reigning champion Panthers (11-1) scored the first 28 points in earning their fourth-straight Regional title. Cedar Springs finished 9-3, its only losses to teams that also won District championships. St. Joseph 49, Parma Western 13 The Bears are becoming one of the playoffs’ most intriguing bounce-back stories, having now won their first Regional title since 2007 after entering the tournament with four straight defeats. Western (8-4) also entered the postseason off a loss before winning its second District title in four years. Detroit Martin Luther King 28, Allen Park 7 Dante Moore threw three first-half touchdown passes, and the Crusaders (11-1) held Allen Park scoreless until the fourth quarter. The Jaguars finished 9-3 for the third time in four seasons.
11-Player Division 4
HEADLINER Chelsea 27, Detroit Country Day 20 Arguably the most jaw-dropping play of the weekend decided this Regional Final, as Chelsea blocked a late Country Day field goal attempt and Jason Skoczylas brought it back for the game-winning touchdown. Chelsea (12-0) advanced to the Semifinals for the fourth consecutive season, with this their first single-digit win of the fall. The reigning champion Yellowjackets (7-4) had played in the last two Division 4 Finals. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.
Chelsea blocks the go-ahead FG as Junior Jason Skoczylas scoops up the ball for the game winning touchdown over Detroit Country Day, 27-20!@ChelseaBulldogs @ChelseaFB_SEC @JasonSkoczylas#StateChamps x @MIArmyGuard pic.twitter.com/ibimZcenbA
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 13, 2021
Regional Roundup Hudsonville Unity Christian 53, Cadillac 22 The Crusaders (12-0) reached 50 points for the fifth-straight week while ending the season for last year’s Division 4 runner-up – although the Vikings (9-3) did finish with their most wins since 2014. Edwardsburg 28, Grand Rapids South Christian 14 The Sailors (8-4) were able to hold the Eddies to their fewest points scored this season, but Edwardsburg (12-0) continued its streak of all double-digit wins this fall. Freeland 42, Croswell-Lexington 22 The Falcons (11-1) repeated as Regional champions, pulling away with 20 unanswered points in the second quarter. The Pioneers (10-2) hadn’t fallen since Week 1 and finished with double-digit wins for the first time since 2012.
11-Player Division 5
HEADLINER Frankenmuth 33, Kingsley 18 The Eagles (12-0) repeated as Regional champs by scoring the game’s final 19 points over the last 20 minutes. The teams combined for only 378 yards and Kingsley (10-2) had given up more than 20 points only one other time this fall. But Frankenmuth’s Cole Lindow scored both of his touchdowns during that closing run and managed 127 yards on the ground. Click for more from the Saginaw News.
After a slow start, @ColeLindow got loose in the 2nd half, becoming the 2nd leading rusher in Frankenmuth history! The senior finished with 127 yards and 2 TDs (35, 18) in the regional title win over Kingsley@FMuthAthletics @FrankenmuthF #StateChamps x @MHSAA pic.twitter.com/6CB8oK7rHj
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 13, 2021
Regional Roundup Grand Rapids Catholic Central 25, Muskegon Oakridge 6 The Cougars (12-0) navigated a blizzard as well to win a sixth-straight Regional title as both teams scored season lows. Oakridge finished 9-3, all three defeats to District champs. Portland 21, Kalamazoo United 0 The Raiders are headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2018 after shutting down a Titans offense that averaged 39 points per game heading into the day. United finished 8-4. Marine City 21, Corunna 14 The Mariners (12-0) still haven’t given up more than 14 points this season, holding off a late rally this time to win their second Regional title in four years. Corunna (7-5) concluded its best season since 2016.
11-Player Division 6
HEADLINER Lansing Catholic 31, Montague 13 The reigning champion Wildcats scored first, but Lansing Catholic (11-1) then ran off 31 unanswered points on the way to earning a third-straight Regional title. Montague finished 8-4, having rebounded to win a fifth-straight District title after losing its final two games of the regular season. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Regional Roundup Standish-Sterling 34, Calumet 7 The Panthers continued another of the incredible turnarounds this fall, improving to 10-2 with their first Regional title since 2008 after going 1-6 last season. Calumet’s nine-game winning streak was halted, but the Copper Kings rebounded impressively after an 0-2 start. Michigan Center 27, Clinton 14 After falling in a Regional Final last season, the Cardinals (11-1) took the next step earning their first Semifinal berth and did so against last season’s Division 6 runner-up. Clinton finished 9-3. Warren Michigan Collegiate 38, Ecorse 16 The Cougars also followed up a Regional loss last season by advancing this time, scoring the most points given up by an Ecorse defense that had allowed only 11 per game on average. The Raiders finished 8-4, improving on their 2-5 finish from a season ago.
11-Player Division 7
HEADLINER Lawton 41, Muskegon Catholic Central 22 The Blue Devils are enjoying their best season, and this might have been the highlight so far. Lawton won its first Regional title, handing the perennial power Crusaders (10-2) just the second defeat of their best season since 2016. Lawton (12-0) already had set a program record for wins with the District Final victory the week before. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Regional Roundup Traverse City St. Francis 48, Ishpeming Westwood 20 The reigning Division 7 runner-up Gladiators (12-0) broke away in the second half, outscoring the Patriots 27-6 during the final two quarters. Westwood finished 10-2, its first season with double-digit wins, and also earned its first District title. Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 0 The Pirates (12-0) posted their fifth shutout of the season, lowering their points allowed average to 5.6 per game. Laker finished 9-3, five wins better than a season ago. Jackson Lumen Christi 35, Detroit Loyola 18 The Titans (11-1) won their fifth Regional title in six seasons, outscoring the Bulldogs 14-0 during the second half. Loyola finished 6-5, having reached the Regional Finals for the third-straight season despite opening 2-3.
11-Player Division 8
HEADLINER Hudson 8, White Pigeon 0 The Tigers’ defense came through again when it counted most, posting its seventh shutout as they won their first Regional title since 2011. Hudson (12-0) lowered its points allowed average to 5.8 per game, stopping an offense that averaged 38 points per entering the day. White Pigeon finished 10-2, reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 1980. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
Regional Roundup Beal City 34, Carson City-Crystal 14 The Aggies (11-1) have won 11 straight and now their second Regional title in three seasons. The Eagles (10-2) reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2013. Ubly 65, Breckenridge 6 The reigning Division 8 runner-up Bearcats (12-0) are a win away from returning to Ford Field after going over 50 points for the fifth time in 11 games played on the field (one win was by forfeit). Breckenridge finished 9-3 with league and District titles. Ottawa Lake Whiteford 38, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 12 The Bobcats (11-1) are headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2017. Everest finished 9-3, reaching nine wins for the fifth time in six seasons.
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PHOTOS  DeWitt's Bryce Debri (21) works to pull away from a defender's grasp during his team's Division 3 win over Cedar Springs.  Beal City's Cayden Smith (19) attempts to elude a Carson City-Crystal defender in a Division 8 Regional Final victory. (Photos by Jamie McNinch  and High School Sports Scene .)
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.)