Welcome to the 72 most exhilarating hours in MHSAA playoff football.
OK, that’s a little over the top. But much of what’s determined over the next three days will set up the stories for the rest of this season.
First comes our regular-season finales, with a few high-impact matchups Thursday and many more for remaining league titles and playoff field maneuvering Friday and through Saturday evening.
With about 2,700 regular-season scores locked up for 2020, the playoff selection committee will draw all of our 11 and 8-player brackets Sunday morning – with those pairings announced at 5:30 p.m. on TV on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel and online on MHSAA.tv.
Here’s a look at a number of matchups this weekend that likely will add a few final wrinkles as we prepare to unveil this season’s playoff field.
Bay & Thumb
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-1) at Marine City (8-0)
This should give us one of our best looks at Division 5 No. 5 Marine City, which is coming off a Macomb Area Conference Silver championship. The Mariners earlier dealt Division 3 No. 15 Warren Fitzgerald its only loss and Division 4 No. 9 St. Clair its first of two defeats, and no opponent has gotten closer than 29 points in part because Marine City is giving up just 8.6 per game. The Fighting Irish’s only loss this season came to Division 3 No. 7 Harper Woods, and they could make a nice move up from No. 18 in Division 4 with a win tonight. None of Notre Dame Prep’s other opponents have gotten within single digits.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ubly (8-0) at Bad Axe (7-1), Lapeer (6-2) at Davison (5-3), Standish-Sterling (7-1) at Gladwin (8-0), Frankenmuth (8-0) at New Lothrop (6-2).
Troy (8-0) at Bloomfield Hills (8-0)
This winner claims the Oakland Activities Association Blue championship outright, and this also should have Division 1 playoff ranking implications with Troy sitting No. 7 and Bloomfield Hills at No. 14. The Black Hawks have turned things around after three-straight sub-.500 seasons and have guaranteed their best finish since the last time they were in this position when they won the Blue in 2016. Troy is having its most success since 2007 and has given up only 46 points over seven games won on the field.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Detroit Cass Tech (5-3) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (5-3). FRIDAY Hartland (7-1) at Belleville (7-1), Gibraltar Carlson (7-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (8-0). SATURDAY Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-1) vs. Madison Heights Bishop Foley (7-1) at Ford Field.
Lansing Catholic (8-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0)
A pair of league champions will meet in one of the Lansing area’s most anticipated games of the fall, as Division 6 No. 1 Lansing Catholic is seeking to complete a second perfect regular season in three years and Division 7 No. 5 P-W can finish a third perfect regular season in four years – with Lansing Catholic’s 28-13 win over the Pirates the lone regular-season defeat during that stretch. Together they’ve already defeated three league champions this fall – Lansing Catholic won early over Williamston, while P-W opened with a victory over Redford Union and defeated Olivet in Week 6.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (6-2) at Holt (6-2), Montague (6-2) at Portland (6-2), Charlotte (5-3) at Fowlerville (2-6), Ionia (4-4) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (4-4).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City St. Francis (8-0) at Kingsley (8-0)
Two Northern Michigan Football League divisions will be decided with outright champions this weekend, with this Legends finale joined by the Legacy decider between Frankfort and East Jordan. Kingsley vs. St. Francis has decided the Legends champion the last three seasons; the Gladiators won in 2018 and the Stags have won the last two meetings and titles. St. Francis is No. 3 in Division 7 and has scored 42 or more points seven of eight games this fall. Kingsley is No. 9 in Division 5 and features a defense giving up just under eight points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankfort (6-2) at East Jordan (6-2), Howard City Tri County (7-1) at Manistee (5-3), Detroit Catholic Central (6-2) at Traverse City West (6-2), Maple City Glen Lake (3-5) at Mancelona (5-2).
Southeast & Border
Jonesville (8-0) at Addison (8-0), Saturday
This Big 8/Cascades crossover of champions matches teams that not only have topped those conferences this season but over the last few. Jonesville, No. 15 in Division 6, dominated the Big 8 Conference for the second-straight season, this time winning its league games by an average margin of 43 points. Division 8 No. 3 Addison’s third-straight Cascades Conference sweep included four wins by at least 29 points and a one-pointer that remains Michigan Center’s only defeat.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Chelsea (8-0) at Dexter (5-3), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-1) at Erie Mason (5-3), Dundee (5-3) at Hudson (8-0), Reading (6-2) at Michigan Center (7-1).
Portage Central (6-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-2)
This is another meeting of champions, with Portage Central claiming the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference title and Harper Creek one of three teams celebrating a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference crown. Both sit in the middle of their potential playoff fields – Central is No. 16 in Division 2 and Harper Creek No. 16 in Division 3 – and the winner should get a valuable playoff point boost.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Berrien Springs (8-0) at Cassopolis (5-3), Plainwell (6-2) at Paw Paw (6-2), Battle Creek Lakeview (5-3) at St. Joseph (5-3), DeWitt (7-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (6-2).
Negaunee (7-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (7-1)
Both Western Peninsula Athletic Conference division championships will be decided this week. Bark-River Harris and Ishpeming meet in the Iron on Thursday, and Negaunee and Westwood will decide at least part of the Copper title Friday. (Calumet also can claim a share with a win over L’Anse.) The Miners’ 42-14 playoff win last fall broke a three-game losing streak on the field against Westwood; their first scheduled 2020 game turned into a forfeit, and tonight’s game is guaranteed to be their only meeting this fall. Negaunee is No. 10 in Division 6, and Westwood is No. 9 in Division 7.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Bark River Harris (5-3) at Ishpeming (3-4). FRIDAY L'Anse (4-4) at Calumet (6-2), Sault Ste. Marie (5-3) at Gladstone (4-4), Kingsford (5-3) at Menominee (5-3).
Whitehall (7-1) at Reed City (7-1)
The Vikings are fresh off earning a share of the West Michigan Conference title with last week’s 34-14 victory over Montague and sit among a group of seven tightly-packed teams just below the middle of the Division 4 top 32. A win over Division 6 No. 2 Reed City would provide a nice boost but won’t come easily. The Coyotes wrapped up a repeat in the Central State Activities Association Gold and haven’t had a game closer than two touchdowns since Week 3.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Northview (4-4) at Grand Rapids Christian (5-3), Cedar Springs (6-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (6-2), Muskegon Catholic Central (7-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (7-1), Lawton (8-0) at Saugatuck (5-3).
Deckerville (7-0) at Morrice (8-0)
Morrice is finishing its fifth season in the North Central Thumb League and won division titles the first four. The Orioles are looking to repeat in the Stars after defeating Deckerville 58-30 in Week 9 to clinch last year’s championship outright, while the Eagles are seeking their third division title in four seasons. This Morrice team is putting up defensive numbers very similar to its 2018 Division 1 championship team, giving up only 40 points over eight games this fall with three shutouts and only one team scoring more than eight. Deckerville should provide an incredible challenge though, entering averaging 56 points per game and having gone over 80 twice.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Britton Deerfield (8-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-0), Powers North Central (8-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-1), Rudyard (6-2) at Pickford (7-1), Indian River Inland Lakes (8-0) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-3).
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PHOTO Reed City, right, lines up against Remus Chippewa Hills during a 58-7 Week 4 win. (Photo by Tonya Holmes.)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)