1st & Goal: 2021 Week 7 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 8, 2021

Rivalries play out every week of the nine-game football regular season – but a few we watch for every fall top the Week 7 schedule.

MI Student Aid

Neighbors Port Huron and Port Huron Northern will face off with a league title on the line, as will Marquette and Menominee, and the Muskegon High/Mona Shores matchup will decide first place in their conference as well. Saline/Temperance Bedford and St. Joseph/Stevensville Lakeshore will have similar impacts.

MHSAA.tv will carry more than 175 games live this weekend, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's Rockford/Caledonia game on its primary cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming Saturday's Warren Michigan Collegiate/Harper Woods Chandler Park matchup. See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center.

Also, circle Oct. 24 on your calendars and tune your TVs to Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel for the MHSAA’s annual football playoff selection show, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. The fields and full brackets for 11 and 8-player will be announced.

(Games below are Friday unless noted.)

Bay & Thumb

Port Huron (5-1) at Port Huron Northern (6-0)

This rivalry this season will be a championship decider with the winner tonight claiming the Macomb Area Conference Blue title outright. Port Huron is the reigning champion and won last year’s meeting 20-7, and actually has claimed the last two matchups as these teams split regular season and playoff games in 2019. It’s very possible this will be just the first chapter again this fall; Northern is ranked No. 5 in Division 2 and the Big Reds are No. 14. They’re succeeding with different strengths; Port Huron has scored 28 or more points in five straight games since an opening-night loss to Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, while the Huskies are scoring less but giving up only eight points per game.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Reese (5-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (5-1), Goodrich (5-1) at Lake Fenton (5-1), Midland Dow (4-2) at Lapeer (5-1), Swartz Creek (3-3) at Flushing (3-3).

Greater Detroit

Romeo (5-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (5-1)

After a few tough seasons playing in one of the state’s strongest leagues, Stevenson got rolling last fall and hasn’t stopped. The Titans shared the 2020 MAC Red title but can finish an outright championship tonight – while a Romeo win would mean a shared title between the two as the Bulldogs fell by three points to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley two weeks ago. Stevenson has scored at least 30 points every game, including a Week 1 loss to still-unbeaten Rockford, while Romeo excels defensively and has given up 13 or fewer points in all of their five wins (but 37 in the loss to the Big Reds). Stevenson won last season’s meeting with Romeo 14-7.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Livonia Churchill (6-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-1), Allen Park (5-1) at Harper Woods (5-1), Detroit Osborn (4-2) at Detroit Pershing (4-2). SATURDAY Harper Woods Chandler Park (4-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-2).


Gladwin (6-0) at Clare (4-2)

The Flying G’s also took a big jump in 2020 and have guaranteed their most successful finish since 2014. They can add tonight a share of their first Jack Pine Conference championship since 2002, their first season in the league. Gladwin is scoring nearly 63 points per game and has five shutouts in six games – the only points given up were 18 three weeks ago in a 40-point win. But the JPC road always goes through reigning champ Clare, and the Pioneers have defeated the Flying G’s all 19 seasons they’ve been in the league together, including 41-30 a year ago. Clare’s defeats this season are to Freeland and Marquette teams that are a combined 10-2.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (6-0) at Breckenridge (4-2), Lansing Catholic (6-0) at Charlotte (4-2), New Lothrop (4-2) at Durand (5-1), Olivet (4-2) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (4-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City (5-1) at Mancelona (5-0)

Mancelona’s best start since back-to-back 10-1 finishes in 2011 and 2012 fast forwards this week into what could be an unforgettable regular-season conclusion with Boyne City this week also undefeated in Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders play and Week 8 opponent Charlevoix only a game back. The Ironmen are coming off an open date and have had a little more time to prepare for a Ramblers team that lost only to Traverse City St. Francis two weeks ago but bounced back big last week against Kalkaska. Boyne City has played one more league game than Mancelona and can clinch a share of the league title if victorious tonight; the Ramblers already own a 27-8 Week 2 win over Charlevoix as well. Boyne City won last season’s meeting 48-6.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petoskey (3-3) at Cadillac (4-2), Harbor Springs (1-5) at Frankfort (5-1), Traverse City Central (5-1) at Alpena (1-5), Charlevoix (5-1) at Kalkaska (1-5).

Southeast & Border

Saline (6-0) at Temperance Bedford (5-1)

The last time Saline lost a Southeastern Conference Red game was Week 5 of 2013 – to Temperance Bedford. This matchup has determined the league champion three times since the Kicking Mules claimed the title that season, and Saline has a one-game edge heading into this weekend thanks to Bedford’s one-point loss to Ann Arbor Huron in Week 4. Three of the last five games between these two have been decided by one score – although Saline won last season 56-14. The Hornets are ranked No. 3 in Division 1, while Bedford is No. 6 in Division 2 from a league that also has Huron at No. 10 in Division 1, Dexter slated to make the playoffs and Monroe only one spot away from doing the same with three games to play.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sand Creek (4-2) at Erie Mason (4-2), Napoleon (5-1) at Michigan Center (5-1), Dundee (4-2) at Clinton (4-2), Chelsea (6-0) at Tecumseh (3-3).

Southwest Corridor

Stevensville Lakeshore (5-1) at St. Joseph (5-1)

The Bears lost an overtime heartbreaker last week to Portage Central but have had to rebound quickly with this game now pitting two of the three teams sitting in first place in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. Lakeshore has defeated St. Joseph in nine of their last 10 meetings, including 26-0 and then 14-9 in the playoffs a year ago – when the Lancers were the only team to defeat the Bears. Lakeshore’s loss this fall came against Portage Northern in Week 4, and it won by four against Portage Central in the season opener. St. Joseph downed Northern 21-3 in Week 3.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY South Haven (5-1) at Berrien Springs (6-0), Vicksburg (5-1) at Plainwell (5-1), Cassopolis (4-2) at White Pigeon (5-1), Watervliet (4-2) at Kalamazoo United (4-2).

Upper Peninsula

Menominee (4-2) at Marquette (5-1)

This matchup once again will decide the Great Northern Conference title, as Marquette can clinch the championship outright with a win and Menominee can clinch a share with a Week 9 meeting with Kingsford left on the GNC schedule. Marquette has won the last two league titles outright after sharing with Escanaba in 2018, and its only loss this season came Week 2 against Traverse City Central, which can clinch the Big North Conference title outright this week. Menominee’s losses both qualify as good ones – both came to Wisconsin teams that are 6-1, and because of that the Maroons are No. 13 in Division 6. Marquette is No. 16 in Division 3 coming off a one-point win last week over Clare (mentioned above).  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hancock (3-3) at Iron Mountain (3-3), L'Anse (3-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (5-1), Traverse City St. Francis (6-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (4-2). SATURDAY Calumet (4-2) at Houghton (4-2).

West Michigan

Muskegon (5-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (5-1)

Undefeated Caledonia and Rockford meet with first place on the line in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red, but it’s tough these days to not call Muskegon High/Mona Shores this region’s top game of any week. They are tied atop the O-K Green, both having lost to Detroit Public School League powers (Muskegon to Cass Tech and Mona Shores to Martin Luther King). The Big Reds haven’t given up a point since Week 3 and before that allowed just 20 to a Zeeland West team averaging nearly 40 per game. Mona Shores will counter with an offense averaging 47 points per game. The Sailors won last season’s meeting 21-14 on the way to eventually claiming their second-straight Division 2 championship.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Caledonia (6-0) at Rockford (6-0), Manistee (4-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (5-1), Grand Rapids Christian (3-3) at Byron Center (6-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-0) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-0).


Mendon (5-1) at Martin (6-0)

The winner receives a share of the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1 title, and this will be their first meeting since 1997. Martin is in the midst of its third season as a force in 8-player football, and Mendon made the format switch this fall and has only a nonleague loss to Bridgman keeping it from a matching perfect start. Subtract that defeat, when the Hornets were shut out, and they’re averaging 58 points per game in their wins. Martin no doubt will incorporate a little bit of what worked for the Bees to augment a defense that has given up only a combined 18 points in five games played (the sixth win was a forfeit).

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Suttons Bay (6-0) at Marion (6-0), Waldron (5-1) at Tekonsha (4-2), Pickford (5-1) at Newberry (5-1), Genesee (4-1) at Morrice (6-0).

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 Muskegon's defense readies for the snap this season against Detroit Cass Tech. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)