The football talk is turning up as we reach the midpoint of the 2021 regular season.
Much of what’s coming to the MHSAA office these days concerns the first-time fully-implemented “enhanced strength-of-schedule” format for selecting this year’s playoff qualifiers. So as we prepare to look at some of the games that will shape the field, here’s a quick review of the process that eventually will get us to 256 teams for 11-player and 32 teams in the 8-player brackets.
Let’s start with 11-player and start with the most fundamental change. Teams no longer make the playoffs by winning a certain number of games. Six-wins-and-in is out. Just like for 8-player, the field will be selected solely based on playoff-point average accrued as a combination of success and opponents’ strength of schedule.
The calculation of playoff-point average actually changed last year – but because nearly every team made the postseason due to a temporary COVID-19 restructuring, the new math mostly went unnoticed. Simply put, the newer formula is designed to reward a team for scheduling strong opponents by giving it bonuses based on opponents’ successes throughout the season – no matter if that team won or lost when it played those opponents. Those bonuses also are assigned differently, with points awarded by Division instead of the former “Class” of an opponent. Click here for a further breakdown of the differences between old and new formats.
One more important thing to note: Playoff divisions for 11 and 8-player are determined before the season instead of after Week 9. So teams know every possible opponent long before the playoffs start and can follow their progress toward making the field every week on the MHSAA Website.
MHSAA.tv will carry more than 160 games live this weekend, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's DeWitt/Grand Ledge matchup on its PLUS cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming games both Saturday (Paw Paw at South Lyon East) and Sunday (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice at Detroit Catholic Central). See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center and see below for glances at some of the games that could impact league and playoff races the rest of the regular season. (Games are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Freeland (4-0) at Frankenmuth (4-0)
The Eagles have not lost a league game since Week 4 of 2014, a stretch of 42 consecutive conference wins including the first three of this fall’s Tri-Valley Conference East slate. Freeland could provide the greatest threat yet to that run. While Frankenmuth won last year’s matchup 41-3 in the delayed regular-season opener, the Falcons went on to make the Division 5 Semifinals as the Eagles advanced to the title game at Ford Field. (Freeland and Frankenmuth lost to eventual champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central in successive weeks.) That success has carried over for both. Freeland opened this season downing reigning Jack Pine Conference champion Clare, and last week’s 43-13 victory over Essexville Garber was similarly notable. The Eagles, meanwhile, are the only team to defeat Goodrich so far.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Midland Dow (2-2) at Bay City Western (4-0), Millington (4-0) at Carrollton (3-1), Richmond (3-1) at Croswell-Lexington (3-1), Mount Pleasant (4-0) at Midland (2-2), Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse (3-1) at Port Huron (3-1).
Warren De La Salle Collegiate (3-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (4-0)
The way Detroit Catholic League Central teams have begun this season, it will be hard to not pick one of that league’s matchups as the Detroit area’s premier game over the next few weeks. This one gets the nod over Sunday’s Detroit Catholic Central/Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice showdown in part because De La Salle is coming off a 21-16 win over the Warriors and already has an important edge in the standings. But also making this intriguing is the bounce-back success of St. Mary’s, which finished 2-4 a year ago but has opened with a series of nice wins including over Hudsonville and Harper Woods.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Brownstown Woodhaven (4-0) at Allen Park (4-0), Belleville (3-1) at Dearborn Fordson (4-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-1) at Romeo (4-0), South Lyon (4-0) at White Lake Lakeland (4-0).
Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0) at Hastings (4-0)
The Saxons were among the best stories of the 2020 season, as they broke a string of seven straight sub-.500 finishes to win a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title. Hastings actually lost last year’s opener to Parma Western, but started its turnaround the next week by downing the Titans 14-13. The Saxons are up to nine straight regular-season wins, but get a Lumen Christi team this time that has an opening win over reigning Division 7 champion New Lothrop to its credit after putting everything back together to finish last fall with a Regional Finals run.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-0) at Beal City (3-1), Grand Ledge (4-0) at DeWitt (3-1), Montrose (3-1) at New Lothrop (3-1), Fowler (2-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Boyne City (4-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (4-0), Saturday
This means little in the short run as these two play in different divisions of the Northern Michigan Football Conference, but could say a lot if they continue on to win league championships and make playoff noise. They’ve long been rivals, playing together in multiple conferences including the NMFC’s Legends division through 2019, and they represent some of the best this region has to offer with Boyne City ranked No. 5 in Division 6 by playoff-point average and St. Francis No. 4 in Division 7. Boyne City is giving up only six points per contest and will try to match a Gladiators offense averaging 50 points and coming off two straight games scoring 63.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grayling (3-1) at Kingsley (4-0), Traverse City Central (3-1) at Petoskey (3-1), Maple City Glen Lake (1-3) at Charlevoix (3-1), East Jordan (3-1) at Oscoda (2-2).
Southeast & Border
Riverview (4-0) at Monroe St. Mary's Catholic Central (4-0)
Monroe St. Mary and Milan often are the talk of the Huron League, but Riverview is looking again like possibly the team to beat after winning last season’s league title and opening this fall’s conference schedule by outscoring three opponents by a combined 116-17. The Pirates have won 11 straight league games going back to mid-2019, including 35-7 over St. Mary in last year’s opener. But the Falcons are surging as well and already have overcome a major league obstacle, defeating Milan last week 21-15.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petersburg Summerfield (3-1) at Adrian Madison (2-2), Napoleon (3-1) at Hanover-Horton (2-2), Hudson (4-0) at Ida (3-1), Sand Creek (3-1) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (3-1).
Edwardsburg (4-0) at Plainwell (4-0)
It’s impossible to not marvel a bit at Edwardsburg’s work again this season. The Eddies have outscored their four opponents by a combined 203-7, and those four opponents are a combined 11-1 not counting their Edwardsburg defeats. Enter Plainwell, potentially headed toward an 11th-straight .500 or better season, riding its best start since 2013 and boasting a defense giving up just under nine points per game. The challenge is mighty, of course, but the Trojans can’t be overlooked.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Watervliet (4-0) at Berrien Springs (4-0), Constantine (4-0) at Parchment (3-1), Niles (3-1) at Vicksburg (3-1), Centreville (3-1) at White Pigeon (4-0).
Hancock (2-2) at Houghton (3-1)
Go back probably to 2013 – when Houghton need to defeat Hancock in Week 9 to make the playoffs – for the last time this rivalry carried so many additional implications. Houghton is off to its best start since 2016 and would be part of the Division 6 playoff field if the season ended today, while Hancock can eclipse last season’s win total with another one tonight and could make up some ground in the Division 5 playoff race.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Iron Mountain (2-2) at Bark River-Harris (3-1), Marquette (3-1) at Gladstone (2-2), Manistique (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-1), Kingsford (3-1) at Escanaba (1-3).
Hudsonville (2-2) at Rockford (4-0)
The Eagles’ record requires the context of their losses being to Saline and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – which are a combined 8-0 – and by just a combined six points. Hudsonville edged Jenison by just a point last week and make any feelings of early disappointment all but disappear with a similar result against the Rams. The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powers missed their regular-season game against each other last season, but Rockford won their playoff matchup to run their streak in the rivalry to six.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Reed City (3-1) at Big Rapids (3-1), Grand Haven (3-1) at Caledonia (4-0), Byron Center (4-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (3-1), Muskegon Mona Shores (3-1) at Zeeland East (3-1).
Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-0) at Colon (4-0)
This is another strong candidate for 8-player regular-season game of the year, combining storylines and successes. Colon will attempt to hand Lenawee Christian its first defeat in two seasons of 8-player football and was the only team to come close to slowing the Division 1 champion Cougars last season – Lenawee Christian won their matchup 24-6, but scored 47 or more points against their other 10 opponents and are up over 61 points per game this fall. The Magi – Division 1 champs two seasons ago – enter this meeting having posted two straight shutouts and averaging nearly 53 points per contest. But the Cougars aren’t just tough to stop; they also are giving up just under seven points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-0) at Norway (3-1), Newberry (301) at Rudyard (4-0), Genesee (3-1) at Burton Atherton (3-1). SATURDAY Suttons Bay (4-0) at Munising (3-1).
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: Alma defenders begin to collapse the pocked during Freeland’s Week 2 win over the Panthers. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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 X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)