From a mile-high view, it’s incredible to consider how much history and how many memories will be made on Michigan high school football fields this weekend.
We’re so close to the end of the regular season that almost every league in the state will have awarded at least a share of its championship by Saturday night. We’re also nine days from solidifying this season’s playoffs – and between Weeks 6 and 7 alone the prospective field of 288 teams saw 17 changes as time ticks down for hopefuls to make their move.
See below for our glance at several games that could continue to shape how this regular season finishes up. (Games are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (6-1) at North Branch (6-1)
It seems like we’re turning to the Blue Water Area Conference for a big game every week, and this time it pits two of three teams tied for first as the league schedule concludes. The winner clinches a share of the league title, and Armada can as well with a win over Richmond. Croswell-Lexington broke a four-game losing streak against the Broncos with a 28-7 win last season – the only time North Branch has been held to single-digit scoring over the last two years. The Broncos are averaging 52 points per game this season, and a Pioneers defense giving up 16.5 will need to slow them down again.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clarkston (5-2) at Lapeer (7-0), Grand Blanc (4-3) at Davison (6-1), Charlotte (6-1) at Flint Hamady (7-0). SATURDAY Goodrich (6-1) at Linden (5-2).
Livonia Franklin (7-0) at Belleville (7-0)
The Tigers have been nearly unbeatable the last six seasons – they’ve lost only once each of the last five, and the first four of those defeats came during the playoffs. The reigning Division 1 champions have won all four meetings with Franklin since joining the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East in 2018 – and this time the matchup will decide the outright league championship. The Patriots turned a 4-5 regular season in 2021 into a trip to the Division 2 Semifinals, and they haven’t slowed down. Nor has Belleville; the Tigers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 54-8 this season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Cass Tech (4-3) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (5-1) at Wayne State, Detroit Community (4-3) at Mount Clemens (6-1), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (6-1) at River Rouge (5-1), West Bloomfield (6-1) at Southfield Arts & Technology (6-1).
Durand (7-0) at New Lothrop (6-1)
New Lothrop has won 12 straight league football titles between the Genesee Area Conference and current the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference. But extending the streak got a little more complicated with last week’s 14-13 loss to Ovid-Elsie. That meant Durand earned a share of the championship with its 5-0 league start – and New Lothrop must win tonight to also earn a share, with a victory also giving another share to the Marauders. The Railroaders’ title is their first since 1983, and earning a win over New Lothrop for the outright championship would add another significant note to this memorable season. The Hornets have won their four MMAC meetings by an average of 33 points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Lansing (6-1) at Holt (4-3), Olivet (6-1) at Williamston (5-2), Bath (5-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-3), Clare (5-2) at Shepherd (5-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Lawton (6-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (7-0), Saturday
A league title in hand, St. Francis is continuing to push to the end of the regular season with Lawton up this week and Detroit Country Day next in Week 9. With Saugatuck unable to play its league game against Lawton this week, the Blue Devils – also their league’s champions – made a similar power move in connecting with the Gladiators for a matchup of the No. 1 (St. Francis) and No. 5 teams in Division 7 playoff-point average.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY St. Ignace (6-1) at Elk Rapids (5-2), Portland (6-1) at Cadillac (5-2), Gladstone (5-2) at Gaylord (5-2), Evart (6-1) at Lake City (5-2).
Southeast & Border
Saline (6-1) at Dexter (7-0)
Dexter received an unexpected assist last week when Temperance Bedford ended Saline’s 50-game Southeastern Conference Red winning streak with a 7-0 defeat – which also led to the Dreadnaughts earning a share of the league title instead of this week’s matchup being a winner-take-all for the outright championship. Saline will be plenty motivated especially on offense after being shut out for the first time since the first game of 2017 – and the defense has been elite giving up only 8.4 points per game. Dexter has put up similar numbers and surely hasn’t forgotten how close it came in last season’s 42-40 loss to the Hornets.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hudson (7-0) at Dundee (6-1), Homer (5-2) at Reading (6-1), Marine City Cardinal Mooney (6-1) at Whitmore Lake (6-1), Erie Mason (5-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0).
Buchanan (6-1) at Benton Harbor (4-3)
The inaugural Lakeland Athletic Conference football title will be decided in part by this game. Buchanan clinched a share of the championship with a 26-24 win over Niles Brandywine last week. But Benton Harbor can also gain a share with a win this weekend – a major accomplishment as the team that went 10-1 in 2016 played as an independent, and the Tigers haven’t won a league title since 1984. Benton Harbor is giving up only 14 points per game, and that defense might be the key as it’s held up well even in the team’s defeats.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Catholic Central (5-2) at Centreville (6-1), Chelsea (5-2) at Edwardsburg (6-1), Niles Brandywine (4-3) at Berrien Springs (5-1), Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-2) at Decatur (5-2).
Negaunee (7-0) at Houghton (5-2)
The Miners are coming off a memorable win over Gladstone, 24-6, and they’ve been consistently solid all season. That must continue this week with a chance to clinch a share of the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title on the line. Houghton is coming off a defeat against Calumet, but the Gremlins are one more victory from equaling their winningest season since 2013, and they’ve had their moments on defense over the last two seasons – including holding a Negaunee offense that otherwise averaged 34 points per game to only 26 last fall.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Iron Mountain (6-1) at Ishpeming (4-3), Bark River-Harris (5-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (4-3), Midland (6-1) at Marquette (3-4), Petoskey (2-5) at Sault Ste. Marie (4-3).
Muskegon Mona Shores (6-1) at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (5-2)
The Sailors can clinch a share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green championship with a win and haven’t lost to Reeths-Puffer since 2016. A 34-6 victory to hand Zeeland West its only loss sticks out from this year’s run, but Mona Shores must be careful with the Rockets. With one more win, Reeths-Puffer will guarantee its best season since 2013. And although the Rockets lost last week to Zeeland West 30-12, they did impress in a 28-20 Week 3 defeat against Muskegon High – Mona Shores’ opponent in Week 9.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Coopersville (5-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1), Ravenna (5-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (6-1), Grand Rapids Christian (3-4) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (7-0), Kingsford (5-2) at Hopkins (5-2).
Alcona (6-1) at Rogers City (7-0)
This has been an anticipated matchup in the North Star League Big Dipper for a few weeks, and Alcona’s 50-34 loss last week to Au Gres-Sims sapped it only a bit. Rogers City would clinch the title outright with a win, while an Alcona win puts those two and Whittemore-Prescott atop the standings with one loss apiece. The Hurons won a few games close over the first month to get into this position, but their defense has been tough throughout giving up only 17 points per game. Alcona is seeking its first win over Rogers City since 2017 and will attempt to counter that defense with an offense averaging 56 points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Newberry (6-1) at Pickford (5-2), Central Lake (5-2) at Farwell (7-0), Kingston (7-0) at Mayville (5-2), Adrian Lenawee Christian (6-1) at Climax-Scotts (6-1).
Second Half’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 Saginaw Nouvel ball carrier dashes through the Ithaca defense during the Yellowjackets' 48-6 win Sept. 9. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.