1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 28, 2022

Everything begins anew this weekend for Michigan’s remaining football hopefuls.

MI Student AidThat isn’t entirely true, of course. Only 288 varsity teams are still playing based on what they accomplished during the regular season, and those teams are matched up in their Districts according to how they performed over the last nine weeks.

But at the same time, all 288 have a championship opportunity as playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-Player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for every division.

Of 144 games being played this weekend, 122 will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting the Detroit Cass Tech/West Bloomfield Division 1 District opener at 7:30 p.m. on the BSD Extra channel.

See below for a glance at an especially notable playoff opener in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at West Bloomfield (8-1)

These continue to be two of the most high-profile programs in the state, and this will be their first meeting since the 2017 Semifinals when West Bloomfield advanced with a 9-7 victory. Both have strung together solid wins especially over the last two weeks, with the Lakers coming off victories over Southfield Arts & Technology and Utica Eisenhower and Cass Tech defeating Detroit Martin Luther King and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. The Technicians gave up only 14 points in both of those victories, and West Bloomfield’s offense (34 ppg) may be facing its biggest test.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (7-2) at Brighton (8-1), Lapeer (7-2) at Clarkston (7-2), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-2) at Romeo (7-2), Detroit Catholic Central (6-2) at Dearborn (7-2).

11-Player Division 2

South Lyon (6-3) at South Lyon East (7-2)

Just a week ago, South Lyon East broke a four-game losing streak against its rival – and now they’re meeting again on the same field. That 27-21 triumph was only the second win for the Cougars in 15 tries against the Lions since East began playing varsity football in 2008, a year after it opened with only underclassmen. But this fall under second-year coach Jacob Topp, the Cougars have posted their winningest regular season despite facing five eventual playoff teams. The Lions – who made the Semifinals last season – faced five as well and surely are driving even harder after losing the last two weeks by a combined seven points.   

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Lansing (6-3) at Battle Creek Central (7-2), Grosse Pointe South (6-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (8-1) at Wayne State University, Traverse City Central (5-4) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2). SATURDAY Saginaw Heritage (7-2) at Waterford Mott (7-2).

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (5-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-3)

These are two more of the state’s most high-profile programs, but they’re plenty familiar with each other after facing off the playoffs the last two seasons with King last year’s victor and Rouge coming out on top in 2020. After both matchups, the winner eventually reached Ford Field. The Panthers are slightly more than two touchdowns from perfection this fall, having lost their games by a combined 15 points. Often recognized more for a high-powered offense, Rouge is giving up only 8.5 points per game on defense despite facing another strong schedule. That should make for an interesting matchup for King standout quarterback Dante Moore and an offense averaging 36 points per game but coming off losses to Cass Tech and Ohio powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord (6-3) at Mount Pleasant (8-1), Haslett (6-3) at Linden (5-4), Lowell (6-3) at Zeeland West (8-1), Parma Western (6-3) at Jackson (5-4).

11-Player Division 4

Freeland (7-2) at North Branch (8-1)

The strengths of a pair of Saginaw/Thumb-area leagues will be tested as North Branch was a co-champion of the Blue Water Area Conference and Freeland finished second in the Tri-Valley Conference 10. Aside from its Week 7 loss to Armada, the Broncos didn’t have another game closer than 14 points – and the two do share a recent opponent with North Branch defeating Croswell-Lexington 35-21 in Week 8 and Freeland falling to the Pioneers last week 41-34. That said, the Falcons have made the Semifinals the last two seasons and have plenty of know-how when it comes to this time of year.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Big Rapids (7-2) at Whitehall (9-0), Chelsea (5-4) at Charlotte (8-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (3-5) at Croswell-Lexington (7-2), Carleton Airport (7-2) at Tecumseh (9-0).

11-Player Division 5

Howard City Tri County (7-2) at Belding (8-1)

Belding is enjoying its winningest season since a District title run in 2017, while Tri County is hoping to continue building on last year’s 9-2 finish that was its winningest since 2004. Both have kept the scoreboard moving. The Vikings are enjoying their best offensive season in recent memory, averaging 44 points per game, and Belding is right there too averaging nearly 42. Both are league champions but took good losses late – Tri County to Big Rapids and Muskegon Catholic Central over the last three weeks and Belding to Cadillac in Week 7.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kingsley (7-2) at Kingsford (6-3), Olivet (7-2) at Portland (8-1), Williamston (7-2) at Corunna (7-2), Flint Hamady (8-1) at Armada (7-2).

11-Player Division 6

Calumet (6-3) at Menominee (5-4)

These two both made it count down the stretch to earn longer seasons. Calumet has won three straight, including two matchups over playoff teams, and its losses are against arguably the three best teams from the Upper Peninsula this fall. Menominee held off Kingsford 42-41 last week after losing two in a row, but its offense has been rumbling with 42 or more points both of the last two weeks – raising its season average to 31. Calumet has been on a similar ride, scoring at least 35 points over those last three games – about a touchdown above its season average of 28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kent City (7-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (7-2), Buchanan (8-1) at Constantine (8-1), Ovid-Elsie (7-2) at Almont (6-3), Detroit Voyageur College Prep (7-2) at Ecorse (8-1).

11-Player Division 7

Ravenna (6-3) at North Muskegon (8-1)

This is a rematch of a Week 7 game won 28-7 by North Muskegon on its way to claiming the West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. These two annual league opponents also met in a District opener last season, won 7-6 by the Bulldogs. The Norsemen have tied their winningest season since 2006 and haven’t lost since a season-opening two-point defeat to Muskegon Catholic Central. The offense is scoring 40 points per game and the defense is giving up eight and hasn’t allowed more than seven to an opponent in a month. Ravenna bounced back from two straight losses with a big win last week over Hart.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bath (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-4), Bad Axe (6-3) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (8-1), Union City (7-2) at Hudson (8-1), Homer (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (6-3).

11-Player Division 8

Harbor Beach (8-1) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-1)

These two are part of one of the most competitive Districts in any division, making this one of the top openers of the weekend statewide. On the other side of the bracket, Ubly (9-0) hosts Saginaw Nouvel (6-3), and whichever team advances to Regionals surely will have earned it and then some. MLS’s only loss was to Division 7 contender Ithaca, and its best win was over another Division 8 contender in Marine City Cardinal Mooney – plus MLS defeated Nouvel 55-7 in Week 6. Harbor Beach’s only defeat came to Ubly, but otherwise only Division 7 Cass City put up much of a challenge – and a 28-7 win over Division 7 Bad Axe two weeks ago was especially notable.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bark River-Harris (7-2) at St. Ignace (7-2), Carson City-Crystal (8-1) at Fowler (8-1), White Pigeon (6-3) at Centreville (6-3), Addison (5-4) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-0).

8-Player Division 1

Newberry (8-1) at Rogers City (9-0)

These two are part of a super-strong Regional – Munising (9-0) hosts Norway (6-3) on the other side. The Hurons finished their first perfect season since 1998 and really started to impress after midseason, with none of their last four opponents getting closer than 16 points as they averaged 57 points per game over the string. Newberry’s loss came all the way back in Week 2, when it was the only team this season to hang with Munising. Newberry hasn’t allowed a point in three straight games and four of its last five, taking its defensive average down to 7.4 points allowed per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Deckerville (6-3) at Kingston (9-0), Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (8-1) at Brown City (8-1), Fulton (7-2) at Breckenridge (7-2).

8-Player Division 2

Mendon (7-2) at Climax-Scotts (8-1)

Climax-Scotts was one of the elite small-school 11-player programs in Michigan during the first two decades of the 2000s, and although the Panthers made the 8-player Division 2 Semifinals in their first season in the format in 2019, this season feels like potentially a bigger step toward winning a championship. Climax-Scotts’ only loss was by five to undefeated Colon, and it joined Colon in handing two-time reigning Division 1 champion Adrian Lenawee Christian a defeat this fall. Mendon seems on a similar track. The Hornets dominated small-school 11-player football for years and debuted in 8-player with an 8-3 finish a year ago. But with their two losses this season by a combined eight points to teams that are a combined 16-2, Mendon may too be on the verge of something substantial.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Posen (7-2) at Marion (9-0), Central Lake (7-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (7-2), Morrice (7-2) at Peck (7-2).

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PHOTO Traverse City Central applies the pressure as Mount Pleasant gets off a pass during the Oilers’ Week 4 win over the Trojans. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Moore Finishes Legendary King Career by Leading Crusaders to D3 Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 27, 2022

DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.

“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.

King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.

The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.

Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.

The Crusaders never looked back.

“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”

Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.

Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.

“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.

Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.

Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.

Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.

Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.

“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.

“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.

King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).

King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.

“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”

Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.

It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.

“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.

“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”

Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”

“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.

“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.

Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.

“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.