1st & Goal: 2023 11-Player Semifinals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 17, 2023

No flashy or fact-packed introduction is necessary this weekend to tie together the remaining 11-player football games across the state. 

MI Student AidSaturday's winners advance to Ford Field, and that says it all. 

See below for a glance at all 16 Semifinals. All kick off at 1 p.m. except for Menominee/North Muskegon, which begins at 3 p.m. Follow along in person or watch all of them on MHSAA.tv, and keep up with the scores as they come in on the Football Playoff Scoreboard.

Division 1

Davison (12-0) vs. Belleville (12-0) at Novi – WATCH

Belleville’s winning streak is up to 37 games, and the Tigers have won all three playoff games by at least 41 points. Junior quarterback Bryce Underwood is up to 2,967 yards and 37 touchdowns on 159-for-232 passing. Davison will try to limit Belleville after holding Rockford to 14 points last week in arguably its most impressive defensive performance.  A running game led by junior AJ Hill (1,488 yards, 19 TDs rushing) could take some off some of the pressure.

Southfield Arts & Technology (11-1) vs. West Bloomfield (10-2) at Troy – WATCH

Southfield A&T gets a chance to avenge its lone loss, as West Bloomfield won their Week 8 meeting 31-20. Senior quarterback Isaiah Marshall has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in the state for multiple seasons. West Bloomfield avenged one of its two losses this season with last week’s 21-20 win over Clarkston and has one of the top pass combos in the state with senior quarterback Requez Nance (2,497 yards/21 TDs) and junior receiver Elisha Durham (1,010 yards, 10 TDs).

Division 2

East Lansing (10-2) vs. Muskegon (10-2) at Greenville – WATCH

East Lansing has won 10 straight games to reach its first Semifinal since 2007. A balanced offense is enjoying arguably its most impressive stretch, and a big drive is a running game led by juniors Jace Clarizio (1,209 yards, 9.0 per carry, 16 TDs) and Dwataye Sams Jr. (965 yards, 9.8 per carry, 13 TDs). Muskegon has run for 3,950 yards this season in making the Semifinals for the seventh time in eight seasons, with a dynamic group putting up similar numbers. Senior quarterback M’Khi Guy (1,636 yards/23 TDs) is averaging 10.9 yards per carry, senior running back Jakob Price (842/17) is averaging 8.2 and senior slot Destin Piggee (951/10) is averaging 14.9 yards per carry.

Waterford Mott (10-2) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (10-2) at Troy Athens – WATCH

The two-time reigning champion Pilots graduated their offensive leader for those two title runs but are keyed by another talented dual-threat quarterback in junior Sante Gasperoni (903 yards/14 TDs rushing, 1,876 yards/20 TDs passing). De La Salle’s only losses were to Davison in the season opener and Ohio power Toledo Central Catholic. Mott is making its first trip to a Semifinal paced by another skilled signal-caller with massive numbers – senior Kalieb Osborne had run for 1,865 yards and 25 touchdowns and thrown for 3,532 yards and 35 scores.

Division 3

Zeeland West (9-3) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (11-1) at Holland West Ottawa – WATCH

Forest Hills Central is one more win from returning to Ford Field after finishing Division 2 runner-up a year ago, and senior quarterback Mason McDonald is a catalyst again after stepping into the lineup due to an injury for the latter part of last year’s run. He’s thrown for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns and run for 649 yards and nine scores. West’s first Semifinal trip since 2015 has been driven in part by another balanced rushing attack that’s piled up 3,258 yards with senior Rolando Robelin leading the way with 762 and 15 TDs on the ground.

Detroit Martin Luther King (7-5) vs. Mason (12-0) at Chelsea – WATCH

This is a rematch of Semifinals from the last two seasons, both won by King as the Crusaders went on to back-to-back Division 3 championships. Mason will try to take its turn this time with nearly the entire lineup back from last season including four-year running back AJ Martel, who has gained 1,293 yards (9.0 per carry) and 25 touchdowns this fall and is the program’s all-time leading rusher. King’s losses were to Division 1 Cass Tech twice and three out-of-state powers, and the defense can counter with a standout senior end in Marquise White, who has 12 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

Division 4

Grand Rapids South Christian (9-3) vs. Portland (12-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern – WATCH

Reigning Division 4 champion South Christian is coming off a 55-35 win over Big Rapids and its highest scoring output since opening night, and senior receiver Jake Vermaas has followed up a monster Finals performance last year with a monster 2023 catching 79 passes for 1,485 yards and 19 touchdowns as junior Carson Vis has directed the attack. Portland’s task got taller when leading rusher Caden Thelen (1,496 yards/23 TDs rushing) was lost with an injury at the end of the Regional Final. But the Raiders have run for 3,323 yards total, and junior quarterback Dominic Novara has provided another threat throwing for 1,008 yards and 16 touchdowns – or a score on every third completion.

Goodrich (11-1) vs. Harper Woods (9-3) at Livonia Franklin – WATCH

Goodrich also is a game away from a Ford Field return after finishing Division 4 runner-up a year ago, and the Martians have already outscored last year’s team thanks in part to the powerful running of junior Chase Burnett (1,746 yards/23 TDs rushing), who has gained nearly two-thirds of the team’s yardage on the ground. By now, no one should be sleeping on Harper Woods despite its three losses – those defeats came to Division 1 Southfield A&T and Lake Orion and Division 2 Birmingham Groves, and wins over Clarkston and Roseville certainly were attention grabbers. Sophomore quarterback Nate Rocheleau has completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,836 yards and 23 scores.

Division 5

Frankenmuth (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) at Ithaca – WATCH

These two met in the 2020 Division 5 Final and a 2021 Semifinal, and Frankenmuth then finished runner-up a year ago with GRCC losing to eventual champion Gladwin in a Semifinal on the other side of the bracket. The Cougars can count wins over South Christian, River Rouge and Grand Rapids West Catholic among their most impressive, with senior Kellen Russell-Dixon averaging 10.9 yards per carry for the season (with 1,560 yards/22 TDs rushing total). Frankenmuth counters with a defense that’s given up only 807 rushing yards despite facing Goodrich (see above) and a powerful attack from Kingsford among others. Senior quarterback Jack Rich has stepped in to lead the Eagles with 1,184 yards and 19 scores rushing while throwing for another eight TDs.

Flat Rock (9-3) vs. Corunna (12-0) at Ypsilanti Lincoln – WATCH

Flat Rock is playing in its first Semifinal since 1976, and Corunna its first since 1996. The Rams bounced back from a midseason 1-3 stretch to score a combined 201 points over their last four wins, which were all by 30 or more. Corunna has given up only 94 points all season – never more than 18 in a game – and only a combined 42 over three playoff wins despite playing undefeated opponents in two of them. The senior Bower twins are playing major roles; Wyatt, the quarterback, has thrown for 2,191 yards and 25 touchdowns and run for 943 and 15, respectively; while split end Tarick has caught 41 passes for 1,289 yards (30.2 per catch) and 18 scores.

Division 6

Reed City (9-3) vs. Kingsley (10-2) at Cadillac – WATCH

Reed City’s repeat run to the Semifinals has come after a 1-3 start – including a 46-12 season-opening loss to Kingsley. But the Coyotes have reached 40 points six times during their eight-game winning streak and have pounded defenses with senior running backs Max Hammond (1,343 yards/18 TDs rushing) and John Ondrus (1,365/13). Kingsley has stayed in stride, with its 583 points this season more than the Stags scored in any of their other three 10-win seasons over the last five years – and even more than they scored in going 12-1 in 2019. Senior Eli Graves has run for 1,654 yards and 20 scores, caught five touchdown passes and scored twice on kickoff returns.

Ovid-Elsie (8-4) vs. Almont (11-1) at Grand Blanc – WATCH

After stunning contender Constantine in last week’s Regional Final, Ovid-Elsie takes on another opponent that might be considered the team to beat. Almont’s only loss was Week 9 to Division 5 Ogemaw Heights, and the Raiders have impressed including edging another favorite in Warren Michigan Collegiate in the District Final. Junior Chase Battani leads the rushing attack with 1,047 yards and 15 touchdowns and also has 85 tackles with 11 tackles for loss at linebacker. Ovid-Elsie similarly has a balanced offensive attack, but junior quarterback Tryce Tokar helps make it so throwing for 1,224 yards and 18 scores and rushing for a team-high 814 yards and 13 TDs.

Division 7

Menominee (10-2) vs. North Muskegon (12-0) at Gaylord – WATCH

North Muskegon’s first Semifinal since 1986 has come off two wins by a combined four points, and the Norseman take on a Menominee team that’s had only one single-digit game – win or lose – in making its longest run since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2016. These Maroons are more balanced than the run-heavy teams that many associate with the program, but they still dominate on the ground with senior Landan Bardowski leading a 3,200-yard rush attack with 1,343 and 25 touchdowns. North Muskegon’s rushing and passing yardage and touchdown totals are nearly identical, but junior quarterback James Young definitely pops off the page with 2,460 yards and 31 scores through the air.

Millington (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) at Westland John Glenn – WATCH

The reigning champion Titans are a three-point Week 8 loss to Division 3 Gaylord from an undefeated season so far, and they’ve done it in part with one of their most impressive defenses in at least a decade giving up just 7.1 points per game. Millington’s defense has been similarly sturdy, giving up only nine per game during a run that’s included two one-point wins. Junior Dallas Walsh is among those hoping to break through for the Cardinals; he’s run for 1,153 yards and 16 touchdowns this fall.

Division 8

Beal City (11-1) vs. Ubly (12-0) at Mt. Morris – WATCH

This is Ubly’s fifth-straight Semifinal, and the only team to keep the Bearcats from Ford Field the two years they fell short was Beal City with a one-point win in the 2019 matchup and five-point victory in 2021. Ubly has run for more than 4,100 yards led by senior Canden Peruski, who is averaging 11.7 per carry for 1,485 total to go with 21 touchdowns on the ground – he’s one of five Ubly rushers with at least 10 rushing scores. Beal City is giving up only 8.6 points per game and has an offensive playmaker in senior Jamisen Latham, who has run for 827 yards and 10 scores and also caught 10 touchdown passes.

Riverview Gabriel Richard (8-4) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Adrian College – WATCH

Reigning Division 8 champion Whiteford has won 26 straight games since falling in a 2021 Semifinal, and the Bobcats are doing it again this fall with a defense giving up nine points per game and with five players scoring between 8-17 touchdowns and freshman quarterback Tre Eitniear throwing for 949 yards and 14 scores. Gabriel Richard will attempt to transform its first Semifinal appearance into its first Ford Field trip with a similarly-balanced attack led by junior quarterback Nick Sobush (1,256 yards/13 TDs passing, 8 TDs rushing) and junior running back Joey Calhoun (858 yards/16 TDs rushing, 5 TDs receiving).

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PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) takes on a pair of Ithaca defenders during last week's Regional Final win. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Football Title Reflects Kingsley's Current Success, Recalls Loved Ones Passed

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

December 1, 2023

Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThey may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.

The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.

Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.

There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.

Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.

Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.  

Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.

Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back.“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.

“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”

Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game. 

The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.

Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.

Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.

“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”

Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.  

“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said.  “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.

“It was very emotional,” Conner continued.  “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”

Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.

In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.

He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire. 

Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right.On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.

Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.

Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.  

“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.

“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued.  “But nothing like a family does.”

Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.

Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.

“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.

“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”

Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.

Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.

“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’

Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. “You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”

In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.

This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.

The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.

“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain. 

“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)