Snow has blanketed the majority of the state over the last few days. But it’s nearly a guarantee that the players on the field for this weekend’s 11-player Semifinals will be the last to notice it’s gotten wetter and colder outside.
All 16 Semifinals will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription, with Friday’s Belleville/Detroit Cass Tech game in Division 1 to be broadcast live on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel. The other 15 Semifinals will be played Saturday; click for the full schedule.
Below is a look at all 16 games that will determine this season’s Finals matchups.
Detroit Cass Tech (9-3) vs. Belleville (12-0) at Novi – FRIDAY
Cass Tech has won eight straight games, with its last five victories as impressive a string as anyone has conquered statewide. Senior quarterback Leeshaun Mumphfield (1,712 yards/25 TDs passing) is a proven leader and has standouts like senior running back Sean Hodges (846 yards/12 TDs rushing) and freshman Corey Sadler Jr. (665 yards/8 TDs receiving) to take away some of the playmaking pressure. Belleville’s 23-game winning streak is on the line, and the reigning champion has plenty of big-game experience too with sophomore quarterback Bryce Underwood (2,479 yards/34 TDs passing) and junior running back Jeremiah Beasley (1,088 yards/23 TDs rushing) showing the way.
Clarkston (10-2) vs. Caledonia (11-1) at DeWitt
These teams have combined to run for 7,458 yards this season, perhaps the best fit for what weather conditions might provide this weekend. Caledonia has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers – junior running back Brock Townsend (1,130/16 TDs) and senior quarterback Mason McKenzie (1,441/19), who also has thrown for 1,356 yards and 19 touchdowns. Clarkston’s top five runners all average at least seven yards per carry, but senior running back Ethan Clark is shouldering the load with 2,542 yards – at 10.1 per carry – and 30 touchdowns on the ground. Both teams have avenged a regular-season loss during the playoffs, Caledonia to Rockford and Clarkston to Davison.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (12-0) vs. Dexter (12-0) at Portage Northern
Dexter is playing for its first championship game berth, and Forest Hills Central for its first since 1994. A Rangers defense giving up only 7.9 points per game will face its strongest challenge as senior running back Cole Cabana (1,433 yards/26 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Reeves Taylor (2,248 yards/30 TDs passing) give the Dreadnaughts a variety of options on the offensive side of the ball. Not that FHC doesn’t have the same, especially with senior quarterback Justin Osterhouse’s ability to make plays rushing (654 yards/15 TDs) and throwing (1,070 yards/13 TDs passing). Dexter’s defense has been similarly special too, giving up only 9.3 ppg.
Birmingham Groves (9-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (11-1) at Troy Athens
Groves had rebounded off 3-6 and 2-7 seasons and accelerated after a 4-3 start to return to the Semifinals, impressing especially with last week’s 32-25 win over Livonia Franklin. Senior running back Josh Woods went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in that victory, and Franklin was the first team in six weeks to score more than 12 points on the Falcons. Reigning champion De La Salle has put up more than 4,600 yards in total offense and will challenge Groves beginning with senior quarterback Brady Drogosh, who has thrown for 1,839 yards and 33 touchdowns and run for 1,088 yards and 13 scores. The Pilots have allowed more than 16 points just once, in their lone loss two months ago.
DeWitt (9-3) vs. Muskegon (10-2) at Greenville
This will be the fourth time these two have matched up over the last six seasons and third time in Semifinals over the last four years. The Big Reds’ losses this fall were to De La Salle and Zeeland West, the latter avenged last week. Their top playmakers are all juniors – quarterback M’Khi Guy leads in rushing (1,297 yards/18 TDs) and passing (614 yards/10 TDs), while Destin Piggee (318 yards/4 TDs receiving, 713/5 rushing) and Jakob Price (863 yards/14 TDs rushing) provide plenty of options. All three of DeWitt’s losses were by seven or fewer points, and the Panthers have grown up quickly this fall after several leaders graduated from the teams that reached Finals the last two seasons. Senior Bryce Kurncz does a lot of everything, leading the team in rushing (1,395 yards/17 TDs) and receiving (727 yards/11 TDs) while also throwing for four scores, returning punts and starting on defense. A variety of others contribute too, including sophomore Abram Larner who is second on the team in rushing and receiving yardage.
Detroit Martin Luther King (8-3) vs. Mason (12-0) at Westland John Glenn
The reigning Division 3 champion King is seeking to reach the Finals for the fourth time in five seasons, which included 2019 in Division 2. Senior quarterback Dante Moore is the name everyone knows, and rightly so as he’s thrown for 1,787 yards and 24 touchdowns in his fourth season directing the offense. But senior running back Sterling Anderson Jr. is another of many to note, as he’s run for 918 yards and 12 scores and caught 36 passes including four for touchdowns. Mason is certainly less familiar statewide at this point; this will be the Bulldogs’ second Semifinal in two seasons as they seek their first Finals appearance. But they’re starting to gain plenty of attention, especially sophomore quarterback Cason Carswell (2,141 yards/33 TDs passing) and junior running back AJ Martell (1,221 yards/20 TDs rushing).
Edwardsburg (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (12-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek
A season that started differently than usual for Edwardsburg with a loss is shaping up the same as the rest lately as the Eddies will play in their third straight and sixth Semifinal over the last seven seasons – and with that opening-night opponent, Grand Rapids West Catholic, still playing as well. Edwardsburg again relies on the run game – it’s thrown 21 passes, but rushed for 4,343 yards led by senior backs Brett Allen and Andrew Colvin, who have combined for 1,957 yards and 27 scores on the ground. South Christian has followed the lead of senior quarterback Jacob DeHaan to its first Semifinal since 2014. He’s run for 949 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 2,308 yards and 28 scores.
Goodrich (11-1) vs. Riverview (12-0) at Rochester
Goodrich is another team that didn’t get down after a season-opening loss, as the Martians won their next 11 games to reach the Semifinals for the first time. They have been balanced almost to the yard with just north of 1,600 rushing and 1,600 passing. Senior running back Jace Simerson has shouldered much of the load running for 1,130 yads and 15 touchdowns, with senior quarterback Gavin Hart balancing that out with 1,612 yards and 19 scores through the air. They’ll go against a Riverview team that’s won two straight games where the Pirates and their opponents have combined for 80 or more points. Jacob Shank (1,603 yards/28 TDs rushing), Anthony Bowman (1,026/11) and Max Lockhart (892/10) lead a ground game averaging 8.8 yards per carry.
Gladwin (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) at Ithaca
Grand Rapids Catholic Central has won the last two Division 5 championships and the 2019 Division 4 title before that – and while most of the star power has turned over since last year, the new playmakers have provided similar results. Junior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon is averaging nine yards per carry for 1,406 total and 17 touchdowns on the ground, while junior quarterback Connor Wolf has thrown for 2,622 yards and 30 scores. No opponent has gotten closer than 19 points since the Cougars’ 36-34 loss to South Christian in Week 6. Gladwin can turn to a defense that’s given up only 8.4 points per game and 4.1 yards per play. The Flying G’s will also employ several options offensively, with senior Earl Esiline at 1,048 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing, senior running back Logan Kokotovich at 833 and 11, respectively, and senior quarterback Nick Wheeler having thrown 11 touchdown passes and run for 19 scores.
Detroit Country Day (8-3) vs. Frankenmuth (12-0) at Lapeer
After falling in the Regional Final to eventual Division 4 champion Chelsea last season, Country Day will play in its third Semifinal in four seasons and coming off both its highest-scoring game of this fall and lowest-scoring defensive effort last week in a 44-7 win over Flat Rock. Junior fullback Gabe Winowich (833 yards/11 TDs) has run for nearly half the team’s rush yards, and senior Gabe Zeldes is another intriguing playmaker – he’s caught nine touchdowns passes, returning three of his five interceptions for scores and also found the end zone on a kickoff return. They’ll try to get past a Frankenmuth defense giving up just 5.3 points per game – and not more than seven since Week 3. The Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns this season. They also spread things around on offense, as junior Griffin Barker, senior Sam Barger and senior quarterback Aidan Hoard all have run for at least 10 touchdowns. Hoard also has thrown for 16 scores.
Negaunee (12-0) vs. Reed City (11-1) at Gaylord
Negaunee enters its first Semifinal since 2003 following just its second single-digit game this season, and Gladstone last week also was the first opponent in five weeks to score on a Miners defense giving up only 6.3 points per game. A pair of 1,000-yard rushers set the pace offensively – senior Nico Lukkarinen (1,124 yards/18 TDs) and junior Kai Lacar (1,082/16 TDs). Reed City most recently played a Semifinal in 2017 and is seeking its first championship game berth. A high-producing offense churns with three rushers with at least 900 yards led by senior running back Bryson Hughes (1,215 yards/15 TDs rushing.)
Clinton (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-1) at Coldwater
Clinton is playing in its second Semifinal in three seasons after last week’s 31-30 win over 2021 runner-up Warren Michigan Collegiate. The Redwolves have capitalized on 29 turnovers by opponents this fall, and also feature a strong running attack with senior back Bradyn Lehman leading with 1,005 yards and 16 TDs rushing plus five receiving scores. West Catholic is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2017 after winning the first three games of these playoffs by an average of 33 points per. Senior running back Timmy Kloska has piled up 1,852 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground.
New Lothrop (10-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Clare
This is a rematch of the 2020 Final, won by New Lothrop 42-35. The Gladiators have won their games this fall by an average of 33 points per after suffering their lone 2021 loss in the Semifinals by seven points to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia. Senior quarterback Wyatt Nausadis is just one of several talented playmakers; he’s run for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns and thrown for 1,192 and 17. New Lothrop’s losses were by a combined three points to a pair of Division 6 league opponents. Junior quarterback Jack Kulhanek provides similar run-pass options, having thrown for 1,682 yards and 25 touchdowns and run for 1,342 yards and 17 scores.
Napoleon (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (9-3) at Chelsea
Both have great stories. Napoleon was 1-8 two years ago, missed the playoffs last season after improving to 6-3, and followed up with this perfect run that has included four wins by eight points or fewer including last week’s over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. Lumen Christi is a frequent visitor to the Semifinals but started this fall 0-3 and hasn’t lost since, edging Lawton 7-6 last week to advance. Senior running back Bart Laretz is the key cog for the Pirates’ offense with 1,973 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. Senior quarterback Joe Lathers (678 yards/15 TDs rushing) and senior running back Derrick Walker (968/15) key another powerful Titans running attack.
Ubly (12-0) vs. Iron Mountain (11-1) at Petoskey
This will be Ubly’s fourth Semifinal in four years as the Bearcats seek their first championship, and last year’s five-point Semifinal loss was their only defeat over the last two seasons. They’ve defeated their opponents this season 49-6 on average, stacking up 4,400 rushing yards led by senior Mark Heilig (1,151 yards/26 TDs rushing) and junior Evan Peruski (1,158/20). Iron Mountain last played in a Semifinal in 2018, and got past Evart 34-33 last week in its first close game since a Week 1 five-point loss to Negaunee. Senior quarterback Joe Colavecchi directs a balanced attack and has thrown for 1,590 yards and 20 scores, and junior Luke Wolfe is the leading rusher and also has five interceptions.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-3) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Brownstown Woodhaven
Everest Collegiate is back at a Semifinal for the second time in three seasons after winning eight of its last nine games – and avenging the lone defeat of that string. An offense that’s run for more than 2,100 yards and thrown for more than 1,500 has posted three of its four highest-scoring games over the last month. Whiteford got through its closest matchup of the season last week, 38-26 against White Pigeon, and has won its games by an average score of 50-13. Whiteford boasts two 1,000-yard rushers plus has enjoyed school record-setting performances from senior quarterback Shea Ruddy (19 TD passes) and junior linebacker Jake Iott.
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PHOTO Ottawa Lake Whiteford's Hunter DeBarr gets up the sideline against Petersburg Summerfield. (Photo by Natalie McCormack.)
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.)