1st & Goal: 2022 11-Player Semifinals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 21, 2022

This season's 11-Player Football Finals field is set. And it's fair to expect phenomenal after how this weekend's Semifinals played out. 

MI Student AidBoth Division 1 games went to overtime. The Division 5 and Division 8 Semifinals produced Ford Field matchups of undefeated contenders. Three reigning champions advanced, as did two teams that won Semifinals for the first time and two more that won their first during the lifetimes of the players on their rosters this fall. 

And that's just a sample of what's to come, as we'll preview all eight matchups Wednesday. For today, we're taking a glance back at all 16 games from a snowy, stormy and mostly frigid but forever memorable Friday and Saturday. 

Division 1

SEMIFINAL Belleville 29, Detroit Cass Tech 28 (OT) Arguably the game of the weekend was played Friday night as Belleville took an early 14-0 lead, got behind 21-14, scored with 1:04 left in regulation to force overtime, then answered Cass Tech’s overtime touchdown with a score and game-winning 2-point conversion. The reigning Division 1 champion Tigers improved to 13-0, while the Technicians finished 9-4. Click for more from MLive-Detroit.

SEMIFINAL Caledonia 21, Clarkston 0 An anticipated offense back-and-forth turned into one of the most impressive defensive performances in the state this season as Caledonia shut out a Clarkston offense averaging nearly 41 points per game. The Fighting Scots (12-1) will be playing in their first Final since winning the Division 3 title in 2005. Clarkston finished 10-3. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 2

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 20, Dexter 17 (2OT) A Forest Hills Central defense that has been a big part of the story all season showed well again as the Rangers (13-0) advanced to their first Final since 1994. Quarterback Mason McDonald certainly did his part as well, and especially at crunch time, with a game-tying touchdown pass on the last play of regulation and the game-winning scoring run. Dexter finished its first Semifinal season at 12-1. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

SEMIFINAL Warren De La Salle Collegiate 43, Birmingham Groves 15 The reigning champion Pilots (12-1) once again followed quarterback Brady Drogosh, who scored four touchdowns, while the defense took care of their side with a ninth-straight game of allowing 18 or fewer points. Groves finished 9-4, an excellent comeback from finishing 2-7 last season. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

SEMIFINAL Muskegon 49, DeWitt 21 After two seasons away, Muskegon (11-2) will return to Ford Field for the fifth time in seven years. Quarterback M’Khi Guy showed the way scoring six touchdowns on the ground and throwing for a seventh. DeWitt, last season’s Division 3 runner-up, finished 9-4. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

SEMIFINAL Detroit Martin Luther King 52, Mason 17 The reigning champion Crusaders (9-3) also are headed back to the Finals, for the sixth time in eight seasons after shutting down a Mason offense averaging 45 points per game. Dante Moore also offered a few more highlights as his career draws to a close, throwing four touchdown passes. Mason finished a second-straight Semifinal run at 12-1. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 4

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids South Christian 26, Edwardsburg 20 The Sailors improved to 13-0 and earned their first Finals trip since 2014 by handing Edwardsburg its first loss since the season opener. The Eddies (11-2) pulled within a score late, but South Christian held them off the rest of the way. Click for more from FOX 17.

SEMIFINAL Goodrich 51, Riverview 26 The Martians (12-1) are headed to the season’s final weekend for the first time after piling up their second-most points in a game this season and handing Riverview (12-1) its lone defeat. Jace Simerson ran for five touchdowns to lead the way. Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Division 5

SEMIFINAL Gladwin 28, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21 Arguably the stunner of the playoffs goes to the Flying G’s, which is saying a lot since they remain undefeated at 13-0 but also ended Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s three-season Finals streak a win short of extending it to four. The Cougars (11-2) pulled within the final margin late and had the ball, but a Gladwin interception sealed the program’s first trip to the Finals. Click for more from the Bay City Times.

SEMIFINAL Frankenmuth 38, Detroit Country Day 0 The Eagles (13-0) earned their second trip to Ford Field in three seasons with arguably the finest defensive effort of a season full of them as they didn’t allow a first down while posting their fifth shutout. Aidan Hoard threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score. Country Day finished 8-4. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Division 6

SEMIFINAL Negaunee 13, Reed City 12 The Miners emerged from one of the snowiest Semifinals by twice coming back, the second time with the eventual game-winning touchdown run by Kai Lacar. The Negaunee (13-0) also reached its first Finals since 2002 by continuing a run of allowing no more than 15 points in a game this season, and even though Reed City (11-2) averaged 44 per game entering the day. Click for more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids West Catholic 33, Clinton 14 The Falcons are headed back to the Finals for the first time since 2017 by handing Clinton its only defeat and holding the Redwolves (12-1) to their fewest points scoring this fall. Tim Kloska ran for 349 yards and five more touchdowns for West Catholic (12-1). Click for more from FOX 17.

Division 7

SEMIFINAL Traverse City St. Francis 53, New Lothrop 8 The Gladiators’ dominance seems to become more extraordinary every week as they’re 13-0 for the first time since 2009 and have now won their last two games by a combined 116-8. St. Francis led 20-0 after the first quarter in this one. New Lothrop finished 10-3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

SEMIFINAL Jackson Lumen Christi 20, Napoleon 7 The Titans (10-3) earned a rematch with one of the opponents that contributed to their 0-3 start this season. Lumen Christi relied on a steady defense that held Napoleon to its fewest points scored in a game this fall. Napoleon also finished its first Semifinal season at 12-1. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Division 8

SEMIFINAL Ubly 41, Iron Mountain 14 The Bearcats have equaled St. Francis’ mastery so far, with this their closest game this season. Ubly (13-0) will return to Ford Field for the second time in three seasons after holding Iron Mountain to its fewest points since a Week 1 defeat to Negaunee and scoring the most the Mountaineers (11-2) gave up this season. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

SEMIFINAL Ottawa Lake Whiteford 44, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 6 The Bobcats also are headed back to the Finals for the first time since 2017 after defeating Everest (9-4) in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Quarterback Shea Ruddy ran for four scores for Whiteford (13-0). Click for more from the Monroe News.

MHSAA.com'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 Jakob Price (20) finds room to run in his team's win over DeWitt. (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.)