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.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)