The first round of football trophy time has arrived in Michigan.
But two weeks later, league championship are set to be decided all over, with six of our nine featured matchups below potentially finishing with a league champion and many more games this weekend setting a similar stage for the next week or two.
MHSAA.tv will carry more than 150 games live this weekend, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's Lowell/East Grand Rapids rivalry game on its PLUS cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming Saturday's Warren Fitzgerald/Madison Heights Madison matchup. See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Reese (5-0) at Bad Axe (5-0)
Three teams remain undefeated in Greater Thumb Conference West play – these two plus Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker – with tonight and the next two weeks potentially necessary to completely wrap up this conference race, although the winner tonight will be much closer to being there at the end. The Hatchets shared the title last year and have won four straight against the Rockets including 17-7 a year ago. After downing GTC East contender Harbor Beach 42-33 on opening night, Bad Axe has given up only 20 points over the last four games – but that defensive unit is sure to be challenged by a Reese offense averaging 41 points per contest.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Croswell-Lexington (4-1) at Almont (3-2), Flint Hamady (3-2) at Burton Bendle (4-1), Ortonville Brandon (5-0) at Goodrich (4-1), Midland (2-3) at Bay City Western (4-1).
Clarkston (5-0) at West Bloomfield (4-1)
A share of the Oakland Activities Association Red title is on the line, with Clarkston the reigning league champion. These two have traded regular-season wins since 2014, with the only break from that pattern Clarkston’s still semi-unimaginable 3-2 Division 1 championship game victory in 2017. The Lakers took last season’s meeting 24-21, and quickly got back on track this fall after being doubled up by Rochester Adams in the season opener to move into the No. 16 spot in Division 1 playoff points this week. Clarkston sits at No. 5 coming off a second three-point victory this season and with this matchup looking like the Wolves’ toughest before the playoffs begin.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sterling Heights Stevenson (4-1) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (4-1), Detroit Central (5-0) at Detroit Osborn (4-1), Detroit Catholic Central (4-1) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (4-0), Milan (4-1) at Riverview (5-0).
Portland (5-0) at Lansing Catholic (5-0)
The winner will earn a share of the Capital Area Activities Conference White title, and these two have decided it the last six seasons. Lansing Catholic’s best moment this fall came Week 2 over Williamston, which plays this week in a game that could decide the CAAC Red title, while Portland opened this fall with wins over two teams that could end up league champions in Ovid-Elsie and DeWitt. Portland is riding a 33-game league winning streak stretching back to 2014 – but that doesn’t include a 2-2 playoff record against the Cougars during that time. They are guaranteed to not see each other again this time unless in passing at Ford Field – Portland is in Division 5 and ranked No. 2, while Lansing Catholic has the most playoff points in Division 6.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Comstock Park (5-0) at Belding (4-1), Williamston (3-2) at Haslett (4-1), Pewamo-Westphalia (5-0) at Olivet (4-1), New Lothrop (3-2) at Ovid-Elsie (4-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Cadillac (4-1) at Traverse City Central (4-1)
This could begin wrapping up the final Big North Conference championship as we currently know the league, with Central in position to earn a share of the title with a win before leaving with Traverse City West for the Saginaw Valley League next season. Cadillac’s lone loss this fall was to West in Week 3, but a Vikings win tonight would create a three-way tie atop the standings with one conference game to play. Even with that loss to West, Cadillac is giving up only 10.6 points per game, riding the strength that helped the Vikings to last season’s Division 4 Final. But similarly, Central despite an opening loss to DeWitt is averaging 48.2 points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Charlevoix (4-1) at East Jordan (4-1), Sault Ste. Marie (4-1) at Grayling (3-2), Traverse City West (4-1) at Petoskey (3-2), Cheboygan (2-3) at Kingsley (5-0).
Southeast & Border
Jonesville (5-0) at Reading (4-1)
Somewhat quietly amid Reading’s attention-grabbing Division 8 state dominance of the last few seasons, Jonesville also has become a force in the Big 8 Conference with 14 wins over its last 15 league games including a 4-0 title run in 2020. A victory tonight would clinch a share of a repeat championship, and the Comets have outscored their first five opponents this fall by an average score of 47-7 while tying for No. 8 in Division 6. The Rangers finished second in the Big 8 a year ago, falling to Jonesville 44-18 in the title decider, and they’re facing a must-win to hope for a share this time after a 26-20 defeat against Union City two weeks ago.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (4-1) at Ann Arbor Huron (4-1), Temperance Bedford (4-1) at Monroe (3-2), Petersburg Summerfield (4-1) at Sand Creek (3-2), Blissfield (2-3) at Clinton (3-2).
Centreville (4-1) at Cassopolis (4-1)
A share of the Southwest 10 Conference title goes to the winner, and Centreville is attempting to repeat after ending Cassopolis’ two-year title reign in 2020. The Bulldogs showed with last week’s win over previously-undefeated White Pigeon that any assumptions of their demise after an opening night loss to Niles Brandywine were premature. Cassopolis’ lone loss also was to Brandywine, in Week 2, and minus those defeats both teams are giving up less than eight points per game. It’s very possible as well this will be just chapter one this season – Centreville is tied for No. 16 and Cassopolis is No. 13 in Division 8 (and White Pigeon is tied for No. 8).
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Watervliet (4-1) at Constantine (5-0), Paw Paw (4-1) at Edwardsburg (5-0), St. Joseph (5-0) at Portage Central (3-2), River Rouge (3-2) at Portage Northern (2-3).
Clare (4-1) at Marquette (4-1)
There are some important league matchups in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference especially that will take precedence for most this week, and for logical reasons. But from a statewide point of view, Marquette’s tough downstate matchups are always intriguing – and this one starts a four-game run that will include a possible league-title decider next week against Menominee and then two Big North meetings against Traverse City West and Petoskey. Clare is tied for first in the Jack Pine Conference, and similarly will welcome Gladwin next in what could be a matchup of that league’s leaders. This should be a fine tune-up and more as both prepare for those high-stakes Week 7 games.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Iron Mountain (3-2) at Calumet (3-2), Ishpeming Westwood (4-1) at Hancock (3-2), Negaunee (4-1) at L'Anse (3-2), Escanaba (1-4) at Menominee (3-2).
Hudsonville Unity Christian (5-0) at Spring Lake (5-0)
Four teams in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue are 3-0 in league play, and the other four 0-3, but this week will at least help sort out the leaders a bit with Grand Rapids West Catholic and Coopersville meeting as well. What makes this matchup just a slice more intriguing is Unity Christian is the reigning league champion and plays all three of these teams over the next three weeks – plus is ranked No. 4 in Division 4 with Spring Lake at No. 5. The Lakers also need just one more win to guarantee their best record since 2014.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids West Catholic (5-0) at Coopersville (5-0), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-2), Muskegon Catholic Central (4-1) at Muskegon Heights Academy (4-1), Central Montcalm (4-1) at Reed City (4-1).
Portland St. Patrick (5-0) at Vestaburg (5-0), Saturday
With its first 5-0 start since 2006, Vestaburg has put itself in position for its best finish in more than a decade regardless of what happens against the Shamrocks. But the potential is there for much more. Those two are tied atop the first-year Central Michigan 8-Man Football Conference, with the winner of this matchup guaranteed a share of the league title. Vestaburg has reached 60 points three times in four games played (one win was a forfeit). Reigning Division 2 runner-up St. Patrick will match with a defense giving up 19 points per game, especially impressive in the high-flying 8-player format.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord St. Mary (4-1) at Pellston (5-0), Climax-Scotts (4-1) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0), Rudyard (4-1) at Munising (3-2), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (3-2) at Peck (5-0).
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central, here Week 1 against North Muskegon, takes on Muskegon Heights Academy this weekend with a chance to clinch a share of the Lakes 8 Activities Conference title. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
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.)