1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 2 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 4, 2022

The MHSAA Football Playoffs are set up purposely to begin with local matchups and continue to branch out along more unfamiliar paths.

MI Student AidThis weekend’s 11-Player District Finals and 8-Player Regional Finals still include a good share of familiarity – whether they are pitting regular-season rivals for a rematch or past playoff opponents who have become more known over years of similar November meetings.

Below is a glance at a game in each division that especially pops off the page. Click here for all things football matchups – schedules, scores as they come in and next-round pairings as they’re determined – and if you can’t make it to a game live this weekend, 85 percent of those games will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv.

11-Player Division 1

Caledonia (9-1) at Rockford (10-0)

The much-hyped Week 9 game matching undefeated contenders for the outright Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title turned into a 38-15 Rockford win over the Fighting Scots. But we’ve already seen plenty of rematches going the other way this postseason, even after a big win in the first meeting. Rockford opened the playoffs with a 50-14 victory over East Kentwood, putting up its most points this season and outdoing its 41-20 win over the Falcons on Sept. 23. Caledonia did similar in its 48-26 first-round win over Grandville after previously defeating the Bulldogs 50-40 during Week 5.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (8-2) at Holt (7-3), Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (9-1), Romeo (8-2) at Macomb Dakota (10-0).

11-Player Division 2

Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (10-0)

The Rangers have been piling up strong seasons for the last seven, and made the Division 2 Semifinals in 2017. They haven’t advanced past the District level since, but defeating Mona Shores to do so this weekend certainly would be considered a breakout performance. Forest Hills Central hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a game and is allowing only 5.7 per game this fall. That should get a strong challenge from the Sailors, who even in their defeats put up 27 and 35 points – and they’re averaging 43 per game. Mona Shores has won its last three playoff meetings with FHC (over the last four seasons) including 31-7 last fall.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY South Lyon (7-3) at Dexter (10-0), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (9-1) at Roseville (8-2), Birmingham Groves (7-3) at Birmingham Seaholm (8-2).

11-Player Division 3

Zeeland West (9-1) at St. Joseph (9-1)

The Dux are playing in their fifth District Final in six seasons but seeking to advance for the first time since their most recent championship run of 2015. St. Joseph shut West’s pursuit down quickly last year with a 29-26 District-opening victory that turned into an unexpected Semifinal run for the Bears after they’d entered the playoffs 5-4. Expectations are much higher this time as St. Joseph hasn’t lost since Week 1, and the offense especially is surging scoring 42 or more points in four of its last five games including three against playoff teams. West’s only loss was to Mona Shores in Week 6, and its 36-28 win over Lowell last weekend was especially noteworthy among Division 3 matchups.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY DeWitt (7-3) at Mount Pleasant (9-1), Trenton (9-1) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (4-5) at Walled Lake Western (9-1).

11-Player Division 4

Tecumseh (10-0) at Riverview (10-0)

Riverview deserves more due after completing a third-straight undefeated regular season, and a first District title since 2017 would add another highlight to arguably its most impressive run of the three. Tecumseh’s story has been told a few times in this space – the team was a combined 8-25 over the last four seasons but has reached 10-0 for the first time since 1991. Tecumseh’s offense is up to 51 points per game after going over 50 last week for the seventh time this fall. Riverview is giving up 15 points per game and has never allowed more than 28 – giving this matchup the feel of a potential back-and-forth tug-of-war.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-4) at Grand Rapids South Christian (10-0), Charlotte (9-1) at Hastings (9-1), Freeland (8-2) at Goodrich (9-1).

11-Player Division 5

Belding (9-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (9-1)

Only three of eight teams on this side of the Division 5 bracket won their league’s championship this fall. Belding was one of those three, its only loss to another league champion in Cadillac. The Black Knights’ offense is churning at 43 points per game but next runs into an Oakridge defense giving up just under 13. The Eagles finished second in their league, losing only to still-undefeated Whitehall – and aside from Whitehall, no other opponent has scored more than 18 points against them. Similarly, aside from Cadillac, Belding has scored at least 34 points on every other opponent and more than 40 points on seven.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Corunna (8-2) at Portland (9-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-3) at Detroit Country Day (6-3). SATURDAY Flint Hamady (9-1) at Marine City (8-2).

11-Player Division 6

Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-1) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley (10-0)

Last season’s Division 6 runner-up Michigan Collegiate is an eight-point loss to Detroit Country Day from being undefeated, and statistically has been even better on both sides of the ball so far than during last year’s run to Ford Field. Likewise, Bishop Foley is having its best season, reaching 10 wins for the first time thanks in part to a defense that matches Michigan Collegiate’s in giving up only 11 points per game. This will be the Ventures’ second District Final in three seasons as they seek to reach the Regional for the first time.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Standish-Sterling (8-1) at Millington (9-1), Ecorse (9-1) at Clinton (10-0). SATURDAY Constantine (9-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-1).

11-Player Division 7

Hudson (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (7-3)

This might be one of the most telling games in the entire Division 7 bracket this month. The teams have traveled much different paths to end up looking like strong title contenders. Lumen Christi opened this season 0-3 with losses to two more Division 7 powers – New Lothrop and Traverse City St. Francis – and then a three-point loss to Division 5 Hastings, the eventual champion in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference. All three of those defeats were by seven points or fewer, and the Titans haven’t lost again. Enter Hudson, last season’s Division 8 champion, with its only loss to undefeated Division 6 contender Clinton but an impressive early-season win over another Division 6 contender in Constantine.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Schoolcraft (7-3) at Lawton (8-2), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (9-1) at Montrose (7-3). SATURDAY Ravenna (7-3) at Ithaca (9-1).

11-Player Division 8

Fowler (9-1) at Beal City (10-0)

Beal City is one of three undefeated teams left in Division 8, and a regular at this point in the season having finished Division 8 runner-up last year and in 2019. This time, however, the Aggies are 10-0 for the first time since 2013. Fowler is making its fourth-straight trip to a District Final as well. The Eagles handed Carson City-Crystal both of its losses and got past rival Pewamo-Westphalia for the first time since 2014. Fowler is giving up only 9.1 points per game and aside from a loss to Division 6 Laingsburg hasn’t allowed more than 16. Beal City has been similarly up to the task defensively, but also is scoring 42 points per game after putting up 63 in its playoff opener.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-1) at Ubly (10-0), Bark River-Harris (8-2) at Iron Mountain (9-1), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-3) at Marine City Cardinal Mooney (8-2).

8-Player Division 1

Newberry (9-1) at Munising (10-0)

One of the very few non-blowouts these teams played was against each other in Week 2, when Munising won 14-0 on the way to eventually claiming the Great Lakes Eight Conference East championship. Newberry is averaging 43 points per game despite that shutout and put up 54 last week on previously-unbeaten Rogers City to earn this rematch. Munising scores 52 points per game, so it’s anyone’s guess if this will be another low-scoring matchup or one that will keep the scoreboard moving. Both defenses have five shutouts this fall as well.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Breckenridge (8-2) at Merrill (10-0), Deckerville (7-3) at Brown City (9-1). SATURDAY Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-2) at Martin (8-2).

8-Player Division 2

Mendon (8-2) at Colon (10-0)

These neighbors met three times in the 11-player playoffs and will meet for the first time in 8-player with Mendon having made the format switch last year. Mendon has given up 49 points total over its seven-game winning streak (one victory was a forfeit). But the Hornets are facing a Magi team that also is enjoying a superlative season, which really seemed to take off with a Week 4 win over Adrian Lenawee Christian and included a 25-20 Week 6 victory over Climax-Scotts – which Mendon defeated 44-18 in its playoff opener last week. Colon has put up 60+ points in four straight games – although two of them were against the same team – and averages 55 per game despite playing half its games against playoff teams.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-3) at Powers North Central (10-0), Gaylord St. Mary (8-2) at Marion (10-0). SATURDAY Morrice (8-2) at Au Gres-Sims (9-1).

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 A Holt ball carrier works to find an opening during a District Semifinal win over Hartland. (Photo by Michele Hoffman.)

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.)