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.
More 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.)
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.”
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).
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.
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.