1st & Goal: 2021 Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 9, 2021

Every week of the football regular season we learn something more about who we might be watching when playoffs roll around in November.

And we should know quite a bit once we’ve reached the end of Week 3 this weekend.

League play will have begun in almost every conference across the state, and with some particularly intriguing matchups of possible state contenders today and Saturday – a few of which we detail below.

Once again, more than 150 games will be viewable live on MHSAA.tv, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's Detroit Cass Tech/Detroit Martin Luther King matchup on its PLUS cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming live Saturday's Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood/Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes matchup. See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center.

Bay & Thumb

Grand Blanc (2-0) at Midland Dow (2-0)

Add next week’s Davison game as well, and only a few statewide can match the strength of Grand Blanc’s opening schedule, which has included wins over East Lansing and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central so far. Last season’s game against Dow wasn’t played because of the late start to the regular season, but the two previous matchups were both Grand Blanc wins – but decided by a combined five points. Dow followed an impressive opening win over Fenton with a shutout of Flint Carman-Ainsworth last week, and moving to 3-0 against the Division 1 Bobcats would be put the Chargers firmly on the Division 2 radar.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Harrison (2-0) at Gladwin (2-0), Millington (2-0) at Hemlock (1-1), Ortonville Brandon (2-0) at Lake Fenton (2-0), Fraser (2-0) at Port Huron Northern (2-0).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (2-0) at Detroit Martin Luther King (1-1)

Simply put, this could end up as the premier game statewide this regular season. Both went to Muskegon County last weekend and came back with big wins over annual title contenders, King 40-19 over two-time reigning Division 2 champion Muskegon Mona Shores and Cass Tech 49-14 over a Muskegon program coming off its fifth straight Semifinals appearance with four consecutive Finals also during that run. High-profile talent will be everywhere, but of course many eyes will be on the quarterbacks – King’s Dante Moore and Cass Tech’s Leeshaun Mumpfield have been making plenty of headlines already. The Technicians won both meetings last season as the teams have taken turns defeating (or on those few occasions with multiple matchups sweeping) their top rival over the last seven seasons.      

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Belleville (2-0) at Livonia Churchill (2-0), Romeo (2-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-1), Harper Woods (2-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (2-0), Detroit Loyola (2-0) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (2-0).

Mid-Michigan

East Lansing (1-1) at DeWitt (1-1)

This has been viewed as the premier matchup in the Lansing area going back a few seasons – although they didn’t play each other last year because of the late start – and East Lansing in Division 2 and DeWitt as reigning champion in Division 3 both have major postseason aspirations again. But first things first, and the winner tonight will take a notable step forward in what’s shaping up to be the strongest Capital Area Activities Conference Blue in a while. The Trojans lost by six in their high-scoring opener to Grand Blanc (see above) and followed with a 33-7 win last week over a Fenton team that lost only once in 2020. The Panthers are coming off a 20-17 last-minute loss at Portland – but DeWitt’s offense is capable of supercharging again like when it scored 47 against Traverse City Central in Week 1.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hartland (2-0) at Brighton (1-1), Northville (1-1) at Howell (2-0), Williamston (1-1) at Mason (1-1), Battle Creek Central (1-1) at Lansing Everett (2-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City West (2-0) at Cadillac (2-0)

West vs. Traverse City Central has long been viewed as “The Game” in the Big North Conference, but Cadillac reaching last season’s Division 4 Final has certainly added an argument or two – and it will only get stronger if the Vikings can defeat the Titans tonight for the first time since 2014. Both opened with notable victories – Cadillac over Reed City and West over Midland – and followed up with good wins in Week 2. West surely won’t be looking past this week even with its annual rivalry matchup with Central coming up next, while Cadillac’s meeting with Central isn’t until Week 6. But the winner tonight will have some serious work already accomplished in the league title race when it meets the reigning champ Trojans.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (1-1) at Boyne City (2-0), Mancelona (2-0) at Elk Rapids (1-1), Lake City (2-0) at Manton (2-0), Oscoda (2-0) at Frankfort (1-1).

Southeast & Border

Hudson (2-0) at Clinton (2-0)

With wins over annual state power Ithaca and reigning Tri-County Conference champ Erie Mason, Hudson has been one of the early stories of the 2021 season. The story has a chance to get even better this week as the Tigers take on reigning Division 6 runner-up Clinton in the Lenawee County Athletic Association opener. With a combined 111 points over its first two games, Clinton’s offense quickly has found its usual high-powered stride but will have an interesting test against a Hudson defense that’s given up just 14 points, shut out Mason and was similarly tough much of last year minus its season-ending playoff defeat.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Adrian Madison (2-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-0), Saline (2-0) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (1-1), Carleton Airport (1-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (2-0), Union City (1-1) at Jonesville (2-0).

Southwest Corridor

River Rouge (1-1) at Battle Creek Lakeview (2-0)

This is another great test for two teams that have had plenty of success the last two seasons. River Rouge goes back on the road after falling 38-29 in a late-added matchup with reigning Division 2 runner-up Warren De La Salle Collegiate. Lakeview looks early like a player in the competitive Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference, and facing the reigning Division 3 runner-up will only prepare the Spartans more. The Panthers, playing as independents, have trips to Ohio and back west to Portage Northern lined up later this regular season as they look to build for a possible third-straight trip to the Finals.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Edwardsburg (2-0) at Niles (2-0), Portage Northern (0-2) at St. Joseph (2-0), Saugatuck (1-1) at Niles Brandywine (2-2), Comstock (2-0) at Cassopolis (1-1).

Upper Peninsula

Kingsley (2-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (2-0)

Sault Ste. Marie found a new home last season in the Northern Michigan Football League, playing in the Legends division and going 3-1 in league play with that lone defeat 40-6 to Kingsley. They welcome the Stags for the rematch having yet to surrender a point with shutouts of St. Ignace and Tawas so far. Kingsley similarly has given up just eight points, in its opener to McBain, before shutting out Glen Lake last week. But the key stat might be that the Stags haven’t been held under 36 points in a game since a 2019 Semifinal loss to eventual Division 5 champion Lansing Catholic.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marquette (1-1) at Escanaba (1-1), Menominee (2-0) at Gladstone (1-1), Calumet (0-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (2-0). SATURDAY Iron Mountain (1-1) at Houghton (1-1).

West Michigan

Muskegon (1-1) at Zeeland West (1-0)

The Ottawa-Kent Conference reshuffled prior to the 2020 season, and the result was as predicted – the Green is now one of the strongest leagues in the state. The success last season of Muskegon High and Mona Shores is noted above, with Zeeland West winning a Finals title as recently as 2015, Zeeland East reaching the Semifinals in 2018, and among others Reeths-Puffer seemingly on the verge of taking a step the last few seasons and Grand Rapids Union off to a 2-0 start this fall. If last season was an indication though, this will always be a game that plays into the league title hunt – Muskegon won the 2020 meeting 15-14 on the way to finishing second.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0) at Allendale (2-0), Grandville (1-1) at Caledonia (2-0), Hudsonville Unity Christian (2-0) at Hamilton (2-0), Ravenna (2-0) at Whitehall (1-1).

8-Player

Genesee (2-0) at Deckerville (1-0)

The Eagles long ago established themselves as among the elite in 8-player statewide, and last week’s 50-26 win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart seems a sign that’s continuing this fall. Deckerville has won all three of its matchups with Genesee since the latter moved to 8-player in 2018, but last season’s game was a competitive 56-36 – and the Wolves are piling up points this fall with a combined 102 over a 56-52 win over Mayville and 46-40 victory over Kingston to start the season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mio (2-0) at Au Gres-Sims (2-0), Suttons Bay (2-0) at Merrill (1-1). SATURDAY Kinde North Huron (2-0) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (1-1), Norway (1-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-0).

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech’s Julius Faulkner (18) breaks a tackle and prepares to take on another defender during his team’s Week 1 win against Southfield Arts & Technology. (Photo by Quintin Love Jr.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)