1st & Goal: 2022 Week 9 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 21, 2022

It’s not over yet.

Don’t look too far ahead to Sunday’s playoff selection when there’s plenty to behold during this weekend’s football regular-season finales.

MI Student AidFor starters, 37 teams are pursuing perfect finishes – and three games feature undefeated teams facing off. Additionally, Detroit Central, Negaunee and Bridgman moved to 9-0 with wins Thursday night.

A handful of league titles are still to be decided – including two by those matchups of unbeaten opponents.

And if last season’s first run using the enhanced strength-of-schedule format for playoff selection ends up the norm, we could see 15 changes in the playoff field between Thursday and the end of Saturday night. Last season, teams ranked Nos. 39 and 38 in playoff-point average heading into Week 9 were among those able to make the top 32 in their 11-player divisions, while 8-player saw teams sitting Nos. 18 and 17 move up into the top 16.

Don’t forget: We’ll unveil the full playoff field and all brackets during the “Sunday Selection Show” at 6 p.m. Sunday on Bally Sports Detroit.

Bay & Thumb

Davison (7-1) at Lapeer (7-1)

For the third time in five seasons but first since 2019, a Saginaw Valley League championship is coming down to these two – this time in the SVL South, as the winner takes the title outright. These two share an intriguing mutual opponent; Davison defeated Clarkston in its season opener, and the Lightning fell to the Wolves last week. But much can change over two months, and the key point instead may be how Davison’s offense – averaging 47 points per game – does against a Lapeer defense giving up 26 per contest. Lapeer scores just over 39 points per game as well, so this one could see a lot of scores put on the board – not too different from the Lightning’s 38-35 win over the Cardinals last season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Freeland (7-1) at Croswell-Lexington (6-2), Millington (7-1) at Flint Beecher (4-3), Gladwin (8-0) at Standish Sterling (7-0), Romeo (6-2) at Grand Blanc (4-4).

Greater Detroit

Brownstown Woodhaven (6-2) at Gibraltar Carlson (7-1)

These two and Trenton are tied for the Downriver League lead, with the winner of this matchup guaranteed a share of the title and the Trojans needing to defeat Wyandotte Roosevelt for another share. It’s a similar situation to last year, when Woodhaven entered the Week 9 matchup undefeated but Carlson was able to force a shared title (also with Allen Park) thanks to a 28-14 win. The Warriors haven’t given up more than 26 points to anyone this season, so something will have to give as the Marauders have scored at least 27 in every game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Cass Tech (5-3) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (3-4), River Rouge (5-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (6-2), Grosse Pointe South (5-3) at Grosse Pointe North (8-0). SATURDAY Madison Heights Bishop Foley (8-0) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (7-1) at Ford Field.


Belleville (8-0) at Brighton (8-0), Saturday

After turning back undefeated Livonia Franklin last week to clinch the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, Belleville will put its 19-game winning streak on the line against another unbeaten for the overall KLAA championship. This will be these teams’ first meeting since Brighton won a 2019 Semifinal matchup. Their strengths this time match up well. The Tigers are averaging 53 points per game despite scoring only 49 and 42 the last two weeks, respectively. Brighton has allowed only 81 points all season. Belleville is No. 1 in Division 1 playoff-point average, and Brighton is tied for No. 3.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hopkins (5-3) at Belding (7-1), Marine City (7-1) at Durand (8-0), Grand Ledge (6-2) at East Lansing (6-2), Ithaca (7-1) at Shepherd (6-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Detroit Country Day (5-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)

The Gladiators should have a really great idea what they do best heading into the playoffs after dominating Lawton last week and facing Division 5 contender Country Day this week. St. Francis sits atop Division 7 in playoff-point average heading into the weekend, guaranteeing three home playoff games, and will still get a nice bonus win or lose. Country Day will be seeking a bounce back after a Week 8 loss to Brother Rice, and is seeking a third win over a league champion after previously downing Detroit U-D Jesuit and Warren Michigan Collegiate.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Elk Rapids (6-2) at Frankfort (7-1), Ogemaw Heights (6-2) at Lake City (5-3), Traverse City West (2-6) at Traverse City Central (4-4), Charlevoix (7-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (3-5).

Southeast & Border

Clinton (8-0) at Hudson (8-0)

Clinton is in its third season since returning to the Lenawee County Athletic Association and finds itself with a golden opportunity in addition to the chance to claim its first title since coming back from the Tri-County Conference. Hudson is riding a 22-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the state – and sits No. 3 in Division 7 playoff-point average after winning Division 8 a year ago. By the numbers, the Redwolves have scored about two points more and given up a little more than two points fewer against the other six teams in the league this fall. Hudson won last year’s meeting 36-28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (8-0) at Chelsea (5-3), Addison (4-4) at Jonesville (4-4), Manchester (5-3) at Reading (6-2), Battle Creek Harper Creek (3-5) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-3).

Southwest Corridor

St. Joseph (7-1) at Battle Creek Central (7-1)

This has been lining up as the potential deciding game in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference for a few weeks, and both teams made good on their ends to make it happen. St. Joseph has won the last two meetings, but this is Central’s best team since at least 2018, and with another win will tie its most in a season since 2004. Neither team has lost since Week 1. The Bearcats are 3-1 in games decided by one score, so they will be ready if crunch time presents itself again. But St. Joseph also won its only similarly close game and has an impressive victory over Hudsonville Unity Christian to bolster its SMAC run.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Portland (7-1) at Berrien Springs (6-1), Centreville (6-2) at Buchanan (7-1), Napoleon (8-0) at Union City (7-1), Sturgis (5-3) at Edwardsburg (7-1).

Upper Peninsula

Benzie Central (3-5) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3)

Sault Ste. Marie is one of four teams with a 5-3 record sitting outside the Division 3 playoff field heading into this weekend. The Blue Devils broke a three-game losing streak last week and will need those three opponents to continue harvesting bonus points while they look to take care of what they can control against the Huskies. Benzie has bounced back since starting the season 0-3 and sits No. 25 in Division 7 playoff-point average thanks in part to losses to some of the same powerhouse teams as Sault Ste. Marie has faced.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Bark River-Harris 28, Ishpeming 20; Negaunee 44, Ishpeming Westwood 0. FRIDAY Menominee (4-4) at Kingsford (6-2), Calumet (5-3) at L’Anse (4-4).

West Michigan

Rockford (8-0) at Caledonia (8-0)

This is a dream Week 9 showdown, with the top two teams in the most prominent league on the west side of the state facing off with a perfect regular season and Ottawa-Kent Conference Red outright title on the line. Rockford’s 17-14 win in Week 7 of last year ended up being the title decider. Don’t expect Caledonia’s fifth shutout of this season tonight, but the Fighting Scots’ defense has given up more than 14 points only once. Rockford will counter with an offense scoring 40 points per game that put up 31 against a similarly-strong Muskegon Mona Shores defense in a Week 2 win.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Mona Shores (7-1) at Muskegon (6-2), Grand Rapids South Christian (8-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (6-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (5-3) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-1), Byron Center (6-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-5).


Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-1) Powers North Central (8-0)

The Jets have won a record 32 straight 8-player games, and 40 straight during the regular season. But prior to the streak, Forest Park was one of few to have success against North Central, and the Trojans will try to find some again against a team that has outscored its seven opponents (one win was a forfeit) by a combined 448-17. Forest Park’s only loss was by two to Norway, which fell to North Central last week by a much more significant margin.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Tekonsha (7-1) at Colon (8-0), Peck (7-1) at Deckerville (5-3), Farwell (7-1) at Marion (8-0), Au Gres-Sims (7-1) at Posen (7-1).

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PHOTO Davison, on offense, and Grand Blanc match up last week; the Cardinals won 49-14. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)