The first week of the MHSAA Football Playoffs features 144 games across the state – and again this weekend, we enjoyed plenty of the intriguing and unexpected.
Five undefeated teams lost for the only time this season.
Three teams that entered the postseason at 3-6 or 3-5 were victorious, as were three more teams that entered 4-5.
And to help finish things off Saturday, Waterford Mott defeated Saginaw Heritage 77-63 – with those combined 140 points the second-most ever scored in an MHSAA 11-player game, six off the record set by Climax-Scotts and Fulton in 2017 when Climax-Scotts won 84-62.
There are stories behind all of this weekend’s scores, and we glance at several of them below.
11-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Detroit Cass Tech 38, West Bloomfield 13 Although both are among the most highly-regarded programs in Michigan, this certainly qualified as an upset as West Bloomfield (8-2) was ranked No. 4 in Division 1 in the state coaches poll while Cass Tech (7-3) was unranked. With big-time athletes all over the field for both teams, the Technicians’ speed stood out as running back Sean Hodges was among stars. Click for more from the Detroit News.
Highlights of the Detroit Cass Tech at West Bloomfield - Division 1 Football District Semifinal that aired on Football Fridays Overtime powered by STATE CHAMPS! on @BallySportsDET@Detroit_CTFB | @CoachRush_CTFB | @casstechalumni pic.twitter.com/hj8aFy87ga
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 29, 2022
District Digest Grand Ledge 38, Brighton 3 Any other week this would be the “headliner” above as unranked Grand Ledge (8-2) continued to impress in advancing to a District Final for the first time since 2015. No. 10 (tie) Brighton finished 8-2, its only two losses coming in its final two games. Clarkston 62, Lapeer 41 These two met for the second time in three weeks, with No. 7 Clarkston (8-2) adding to its 48-13 win over the Lightning (7-3) the first time. Rochester 21, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek 20 Just two weeks earlier, Stoney Creek (5-5) won the regular-season matchup 43-22. But the Falcons (6-4) not only avenged that loss but four straight to this rival.
11-Player Division 2
HEADLINER South Lyon 30, South Lyon East 27 (2 OT) Just a week after falling to East 27-21, South Lyon avenged with this double-overtime win over its neighbor. The Cougars (7-3) seemed on their way to another victory leading into the fourth quarter before the game went to overtime and the Lions (7-3) eventually prevailed. Click for more from Hometown Life.
District Digest East Lansing 24, Battle Creek Central 0 The Trojans went on the road coming off two straight losses that sunk their league title chances, but posted their third shutout of the fall to end Battle Creek Central’s first winning season since 2018 at 7-4. Portage Northern 44, Byron Center 22 The Huskies quietly have been bouncing back impressively from last season’s 3-6 finish, and they moved to 7-3 with this upset of No. 8 Byron Center (7-3). St. Clair Shores Lakeview 33, Port Huron Northern 27 Lakeview (7-3) also enjoyed a road upset in leaving No. 10 PHN with a berth in the District Finals for the first time since 2019.
11-Player Division 3
HEADLINER Detroit Martin Luther King 41, River Rouge 28 Crusaders standout quarterback Dante Moore started his final playoffs with four touchdown passes against a Rouge defense that was giving up only 8.5 points per game in entering the postseason 5-3. The Panthers’ offense elevated as well against a King defense that was allowing just 15 points per game, but couldn’t keep up as the Crusaders (6-3) improved to 13-2 in the playoffs during Moore’s four seasons. King entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in Division 3, while Rouge was No. 4. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.
Mr. Football candidate and Oregon commit Dante Moore from Detroit King threw four touchdowns in their win over River Rouge on Friday. Delivered by @hungryhowies @dantemoore05 | @oregonfootball | @DetKingFootball | @TheRealSterl | @J2Croft pic.twitter.com/j8JMI3G4QI
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 29, 2022
District Digest Coopersville 28, Cedar Springs 0 The Broncos (7-3) reached seven wins for the first time since 2008 after shutting out a Cedar Springs attack that had averaged 42 points per game during a five-game winning streak that had gotten the Red Hawks into the playoffs at 5-4. Jackson 32, Parma Western 25 The Vikings (6-4) guaranteed their winningest season since 2018 with their first playoff victory since 2015, while ending Western’s season at 6-4. Zeeland West 36, Lowell 28 The Red Arrows (6-4) came back from a double-digit deficit to tie things up in the fourth quarter, but the No. 6 Dux (9-1) scored one more time with just more than eight minutes to play and held off Lowell the rest of the way.
11-Player Division 4
HEADLINER Livonia Clarenceville 48, Redford Union 46 (OT) The Trojans (6-4) entered the playoffs coming off two straight losses during which they’d scored a combined 102 points but lost by six and then one. This opener played out similarly, but this time Clarenceville hung on for the win after putting up its points on a Union defense that had given up only 50 total during a 9-0 regular season that saw the Panthers enter the playoffs ranked No. 4 in the coaches poll. Click for photos from Hometown Life.
District Digest Charlotte 27, Chelsea 15 The Orioles (9-1) added to their best season since 2004 this win over last season’s Division 4 champion. This was Chelsea’s earliest season conclusion since not making the playoffs in 2013; the Bulldogs finished 5-5. Freeland 61, North Branch 41 The No. 6 Falcons (8-2) bumped their average scoring per game to 41 points with a season high against the Blue Water Area Conference co-champion Broncos (8-2). Niles 56, Three Rivers 32 The Vikings (6-4) have won five straight games, and this avenged a 27-21 Week 3 loss to the Wildcats (5-5).
11-Player Division 5
HEADLINER Flint Hamady 36, Armada 35 The Hawks earned their best win of an outstanding season, edging the other Blue Water Area Conference co-champion (see North Branch above) despite trailing by a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter. Hamady (9-1) is heading to the District Finals for the first time since 2018. The 36 points were the most allowed by Armada (7-3) this season. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.
District Digest Kingsford 34, Kingsley 30 The Flivvers (7-3) scored with 23 seconds to play to earn their first District Final trip since 2017. Kingsley finished 7-3, with two of its three losses decided by a combined five points. Corunna 34, Williamston 27 The No. 10-ranked Cavaliers (8-2) edged the No. 9 Hornets (7-3) to earn their third-straight trip to a District Final. All three Williamston losses this season were by eight points or fewer. Flat Rock 27, Dundee 22 The Rams (7-3) earned their first playoff win since their Class C championship season of 1976 – and after going a combined 9-25 over the last four years. Dundee finished 6-4.
11-Player Division 6
HEADLINER Lansing Catholic 28, Durand 21 It’s tough to say if this was the most stunning of two Division 6 wins over teams that finished the regular season undefeated. Lansing Catholic entered 4-5, but also is the reigning Division 6 champion – and the Cougars have come on strong with three straight wins and despite opening this season 0-3. No. 7 Durand had won four games decided by a touchdown or less on the way to its 9-0 start, but couldn’t hold onto an early lead this time. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
District Digest Manistee 28, Boyne City 27 This was the other win over an undefeated opponent, as Manistee (7-3) earned its first trip to the District Finals after hitting the road to deal Boyne City (9-1) its only loss in also the No. 6 Ramblers’ only game decided by fewer than 15 points. Standish-Sterling 30, Clare 29 (OT) The No. 10 (tied) Panthers (8-1) saw their potential perfect regular season stopped short in Week 9, but extended their playoffs with an overtime 2-point conversion to edge the Pioneers (5-5). Constantine 54, Buchanan 12 The Falcons’ continued to dominate on both sides of the ball, besting their points for and points against averages in stopping the Bucks (8-2) and improving to 9-1. Menominee 44, Calumet 39 In running 38 times for 330 yards and five touchdowns, Brayden Nelson broke or tied three Calumet school records. But Landon Bardowski scored with less than a minute left to put the Maroons (6-4) ahead for good. Calumet finished 6-4.
11-Player Division 7
HEADLINER Ravenna 10, North Muskegon 7 Three weeks after falling to North Muskegon 28-7 in the game that eventually decided the West Michigan Conference Rivers title, Ravenna (7-3) is headed back to the District Finals for the third time in four seasons after one of its strongest defensive performances of the fall. North Muskegon ended 8-2, its best record since 2006. Click for more from CatchMark SportsNet.
District Digest Benzie Central 21, Charlevoix 14 This was right up there with the biggest stunners of the weekend as Benzie (4-6) entered 3-6 but edged the No. 9-ranked Rayders (8-2). Manchester 22, Grass Lake 19 Two weeks after falling to Grass Lake 35-19, Manchester avenged to move to 6-4 and guarantee its winningest season since 2015. Grass Lake ended 5-5. Hudson 50, Union City 13 The No. 3 Tigers (8-1) fell short in their league title bid this season, but defeated a league champion in Union City (7-3) to reach the District Finals.
11-Player Division 8
HEADLINER Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 34, Harbor Beach 20 As noted in Friday’s preview, these two made up half of one of the strongest Districts in any division, and No. 5 MLS (9-1) will now meet undefeated and top-ranked Ubly after holding on against the No. 6 Pirates (8-2). Harbor Beach had given up more than 16 points in only one other game – against Ubly – and MLS continued a marvelous turnaround after going a combined 5-11 over the last two seasons. Click for more from the Saginaw News.
District Digest Detroit Community 38, Mount Clemens 28 The Battling Bathers (7-3) had won the Week 8 matchup for the Charter School Conference East title, 44-24, but Community (6-4) avenged with its first playoff win in 12 years as a program. East Jordan 6, Frankfort 0 (OT) The Red Devils (6-4) secured their first playoff win since 1999 by earning their first shutout of the season and scoring the game’s only points after regulation. Frankfort (8-2) had won their Week 6 meeting 20-14. Bark River-Harris 44, St. Ignace 20 This matchup of league champions went to the Broncos (8-2), who will see Iron Mountain in a District Final for the second time in three seasons. St. Ignace finished 7-3, its best since 2016 and after going a combined 3-13 over the last two seasons.
8-Player Division 1
HEADLINER Deckerville 14, Kingston 8 The No. 5-ranked Cardinals’ run to their first perfect regular season since 1999 included a 56-20 Week 6 win over Deckerville, their first victory over the Eagles over the last 13 seasons of playing them annually. But Deckerville (7-3) hasn’t lost since, and this actually was the Eagles’ third-straight victory by eight points or fewer. It was also the only single-digit game this fall for Kingston (9-1). Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.
Regional Roundup Newberry 54, Rogers City 6 What seemed heading in as arguably the top matchup of the weekend in Division 1 didn’t end up that way as No. 6 Newberry allowed single-digit scoring for the sixth-straight game and with No. 4 Rogers City (9-1) averaging 46 points per game entering the contest. Breckenridge 36, Fulton 32 After Breckenridge (8-2) won their Week 1 meeting 40-36, the Huskies similarly edged the Pirates (7-3) in their first 8-player playoff game. Brown City 66, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian 38 The No. 9 Green Devils (9-1), also in their first season of 8-player, earned their first playoff win since 1997. No. 7 Oakland Christian (8-2), in its second season of 8-player, also was making its first playoff appearance in its new format.
8-Player Division 2
HEADLINER Mendon 44, Climax-Scotts 18 The No. 7 Hornets opened with a strong move, defeating No. 3 Climax-Scotts to reach the Regional Finals for the second time in two seasons of 8-player. Climax-Scotts (8-2) was averaging 42 points per game entering the weekend, but couldn’t find that stride against a defense that hasn’t given up more than 17 points in a game since Week 3. Mendon (8-2) is now a combined 16-5 over its two 8-player seasons. See below for more from FOX 17.
— FOX 17 Blitz (@FOX17Blitz) October 29, 2022
Regional Roundup Lake Linden-Hubbell 44, Crystal Falls Forest Park 12 The No. 5 Trojans (7-3) had won these teams’ Week 6 meeting 22-14. With this win, the Lakes (7-3) earned another rematch – against top-ranked Powers North Central. Morrice 62, Peck 6 Two regular-season losses took No. 9 Morrice out of its league’s title mix, but the Orioles opened the playoffs with this win over the No. 8 Pirates (7-3), winners of the North Central Thumb League Stripes. Gaylord St. Mary 47, Central Lake 6 The No. 10 Snowbirds (8-2) have won six straight and by an average margin of 45 points during the run. St. Mary also won the first meeting with Central Lake (7-3) in Week 2, 48-36.
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PHOTO A Swartz Creek ball carrier looks for an opening during Friday’s playoff game against Midland. (Photo by Melody Cook.)
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.)