1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 10, 2022

Michigan’s first 2022 football finalists will earn their ways to the Superior Dome this weekend, as the eight remaining 8-player hopefuls face off in four Semifinals across two divisions Saturday.

MI Student AidMore detailed looks at those games move to the top of this weekend’s “1st & Goal” preview, followed by glances at Regional Final matchups in every 11-player division as those teams seek to take a step closer to spending Thanksgiving weekend at Ford Field.

Once again, click here for all things football matchups – schedules, scores as they come in and next-round pairings as they’re determined – and enjoy the opportunity to watch several games as 34 of 36 this weekend will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv.

8-Player Division 1

Merrill (11-0) at Munising (11-0), Saturday

This will be the first 8-player Semifinal for both, although both played at this stage of the 11-player tournament before – Munising most recently when it finished Division 8 runner-up in 2014, and Merrill in 1999. Merrill senior quarterback Joel Tack can do it all offensively; he leads the Vandals with 1,864 yards and 27 touchdowns rushing and has thrown for 1,518 yards and 26 scores. Munising throws effectively when needed, but makes no secret of its rushing power. The Mustangs have run for 4,390 yards, led by seniors Kane Nebel with 1,496 and 15 touchdowns and Josiah Peramaki with 1,480 yards and 26 scores.

Brown City (10-1) at Martin (9-2), Saturday

The Green Devils’ turnaround from last year’s 1-8 finish has landed at their first Semifinal since 1997, where they’ll face Martin looking to avenge a 49-6 defeat to the Clippers in Week 5. Brown City has scored 60 points in four of five games since and 52 in the fifth (another win was a forfeit), with seniors Kyle Affer (1,537 yards, 24 touchdowns rushing) and Clint Ford (1,117 yards, 14 TDs rushing) shouldering a lot of the load. Martin will be playing in a Semifinal for the third-straight season, seeking to reach a championship game for the first time since 1987. Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand directs the attack well and has totaled 1,254 yards and 25 touchdowns passing and 1,518 yards and 25 scores on the ground.

8-Player Division 2

Powers North Central (11-0) at Marion (11-0), Saturday

This is a rematch of North Central’s 73-8 Semifinal win from a year ago, but there are reasons to expect a closer game this time. True, the Jets are at 35 straight wins and counting, going back three seasons and with no opponent coming closer than 39 points over the last two. Senior quarterback Luke Gorzinski has set the pace during the entirety of the run, and heads into this weekend with 1,067 yards and 18 touchdowns passing with 1,109 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing. He’s also a starting defensive back for a defense giving up 2.9 points per game. But Marion’s defense has taken a few steps upward as well, giving up only 8.5 points per game this fall and none during the playoffs. The Eagles also have a standout quarterback – senior Mason Salisbury has run for 1,046 yards and 27 touchdowns and thrown for 1,378 yards and 22 scores.

Morrice (9-2) at Mendon (9-2), Saturday

Mendon opened its 8-player era reaching the Regional Finals last year, and the Hornets took a sizable next step advancing to this Semifinal with a 46-44 win over previously-undefeated Colon last week. The powerful rushing game that helped make them a state power in 11-player for decades works here as well – junior Jack McCaw has run for 1,674 yards and 22 touchdowns and senior Evan Lukeman follows with 1,180 and 17, respectively. Morrice missed the Semifinals by a win both of the last two seasons, but is back thanks in part to a pair of 1,000-yard rushers as well. Senior Drew McGowan has run for 1,403 and 20 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Travis Farrow has 1,012 yards and 17 scores on the ground.

11-Player Division 1

Rochester Adams (10-1) at Clarkston (9-2), Friday

Clarkston won the first meeting of these Oakland Activities Association Red rivals, 45-35 in Week 3, and has already responded to two strong playoff challenges with a combined 111 points. Ethan Clark has run for more than 5,000 yards over his career including 337 and six touchdowns against Davison last week. But Adams has plenty of star power as well and hasn’t lost again as Parker Picot has continued to show he’s one of the state’s top quarterbacks.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Detroit Cass Tech (8-3) at Macomb Dakota (11-0). SATURDAY Grand Ledge (9-2) vs. Caledonia (10-1) at East Kentwood, Detroit Catholic Central (8-2) at Belleville (11-0).

11-Player Division 2

Midland (10-1) at Dexter (11-0), Friday

Star running back Cole Cabana continues to lead Dexter into uncharted waters as the Dreadnaughts will look to add to their first District title won last week. Midland won a Regional title as recently as 2018 and has more than rebounded from last season’s uncharacteristic 2-7 finish thanks in part to an ability to win close games – four victories this fall were by eight points or fewer. Two of Dexter’s best wins were by one score as well – including over Saline in Week 8.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY East Lansing (8-3) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (11-0), Birmingham Groves (8-3) at Livonia Franklin (10-1), Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (7-4) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (10-1) at Wayne State University.

11-Player Division 3

Zeeland West (10-1) at Muskegon (9-2), Saturday

This is a rematch of a West 38-36 win in Week 5, and the two went on to share the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title with Muskegon Mona Shores. The Dux ended up on top in that back-and-forth game with a last-minute touchdown, but the Big Reds haven’t lost since – with their most notable victory 55-35 over Mona Shores in Week 9. West lost to Mona Shores 34-6 the week after the Muskegon win, but rebounded to finish the regular season and open the playoffs with one of the most impressive District runs in any division – victories over Lowell and St. Joseph.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY DeWitt (8-3) at Linden (7-4), Mason (11-0) at Trenton (10-1), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (5-5) at Detroit Martin Luther King (7-3).

11-Player Division 4

Whitehall (11-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (11-0), Friday

The best season in Whitehall football history has been filled with unforgettable highlights, starting with early wins over 2021 Division 4 runner-up Hudsonville Unity Christian and then Hastings (still Hastings’ only loss) and followed by a league title run through the West Michigan Conference Lakes that included a 42-victory win over Muskegon Oakridge (which remains Oakridge’s only loss). Total, eight wins have come against playoff teams, and another over South Christian would be the biggest of all. Not only did the Sailors end Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s two-plus season winning streak, but that was one of seven wins over playoff teams and one of only two single-digit games they’ve played this fall. Whitehall’s closest game was the 41-30 win over the Saxons.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Hastings (10-1) at Edwardsburg (10-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-5) at Goodrich (10-1), Dearborn Divine Child (9-2) at Riverview (11-0).

11-Player Division 5

Portland (10-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1), Friday

Over the course of GRCC’s two straight Division 5 championships, the Cougars have faced most of the usual contenders but not Portland, which had to forfeit their scheduled District Final matchup during COVID-altered 2020. That provides some anticipation now that they’ll finally meet, as the Raiders are known for their ability to grind through close games against their strongest opponents. Portland’s first two playoff games both were settled by one score, and it will be interesting to see how the Raiders match up as GRCC’s offense has heated up during the playoffs with two 56-point outputs. There is a recent common opponent to consider: The Cougars shut out Berrien Springs 56-0 last week, while Portland defeated Berrien Springs 40-6 in Week 9.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Flint Hamady (10-1) at Frankenmuth (11-0), Detroit Country Day (7-3) at Flat Rock (8-3). SATURDAY Gladwin (11-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (10-1).

11-Player Division 6

Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-1) at Clinton (11-0), Friday

Michigan Collegiate is coming off arguably the most impressive of a series of take-notice defensive performances this fall, shutting down a Madison Heights Bishop Foley team averaging 39 points per game to win their District. Next up is a Clinton attack averaging 42 points and coming off its fifth game this season scoring 50 or more. That may be the key matchup, but there’s a smidge of history here too. Clinton defeated Michigan Collegiate 13-12 in a 2020 Regional Final on the way to finishing Division 6 runner-up, and of course the Cougars came back last season to also finish runner-up at Ford Field.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Lansing Catholic (6-5) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-1). SATURDAY Negaunee (11-0) at Gladstone (9-2), Millington (10-1) at Reed City (10-1).

11-Player Division 7

Ithaca (10-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Saturday

This will be St. Francis’ ninth-straight Regional Final, and few other programs consistently reach this point in November. But Ithaca is another; this will be the Yellowjackets’ 11th Regional Final over the last 14 seasons. Their lone loss was in Week 2, by four points to Division 6 Standish-Sterling, and they put up a season-high 63 points in defeating Ravenna by 36 last week. That’s the right way to enter this matchup against a Gladiators team that has rumbled through a schedule that includes three teams still playing this weekend. That said, St. Francis has had just one single-digit game all season – although last week’s 34-18 rematch win over Benzie Central may have given Ithaca some ideas.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (10-1) at New Lothrop (9-2), Lawton (9-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-3), Napoleon (11-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-5).

11-Player Division 8

Evart (10-1) at Iron Mountain (10-1), Saturday

The Mountaineers are playing in their third Regional Final in four seasons and have nearly matched their 12-1 season of 2019 both in record and impressiveness. Their lone loss this fall came Week 1 to still-undefeated Negaunee, and that was by just five points; otherwise, Iron Mountain has won all of its games by double digits and had held every opponent to eight points or fewer until winning a rematch with Bark River-Harris last week 32-16. Evart also deserves more fanfare as it’s reached 10 wins for the first time and with its only loss by five points to Beal City, which finished 10-1. The Wildcats’ offense is capable of putting up a big number, averaging 40 points per game, which should make for an interesting matchup with Iron Mountain’s defense that allows only 6.9 ppg.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY White Pigeon (8-3) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0), Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (6-5) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (8-3). SATURDAY Fowler (10-1) at Ubly (11-0).

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PHOTOS (Top) A Lansing Catholic pass rusher collapses the Ovid-Elsie pocket during the Cougars' District Final win last weekend. (Photo by Christine McCallister.)

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.)