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).
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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.)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)