1st & Goal: 2023 11-Player Semifinals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 20, 2023

Of 16 teams that earned trips Saturday to this weekend’s MHSAA 11-Player Football Finals, eight will be returning to Ford Field for at least the second season in a row – with a repeat Division 8 championship game leading off the upcoming lineup.

MI Student AidNotable as well, four schools earned an opportunity to play on the season’s final day for the first time – and those are just some of the storylines to catch up on during a quick week that will conclude the MHSAA’s 2023 Fall season.

We’ll be back with a preview of all eight championship games Wednesday evening. For now, see all 16 Semifinals at a glance:

(Note: Highlights from Saturday's 8-Player Finals will be included in a final football championship "Review" next week.)

Division 1

HEADLINER Belleville 63, Davison 21 At 38 straight games, Belleville’s winning streak is up to the seventh-longest in MHSAA history and fourth-longest among streaks taking place entirely during the playoff era. The Tigers (13-0) earned the opportunity to play for a third-straight Division 1 title by scoring more than 60 points for the second time in three weeks, and despite giving up a season-high 21 points to the Cardinals (12-1). Click for more from MLIVE-Detroit.

HEADLINER Southfield Arts & Technology 40, West Bloomfield 35 Quarterback Isaiah Marshall scored the game-winning touchdown on the final play to send A&T (12-1) to its first Final in this sport. The win also avenged the Warriors’ 31-20 loss to West Bloomfield (10-3) in Week 8. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 2

HEADLINER Muskegon 42, East Lansing 7 Running back Jakob Price was the biggest star this time as Muskegon (11-2) broke away to earn a return trip to the Finals after finishing Division 3 runner-up a year ago. East Lansing (10-3) capped its winningest season since 2001. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

HEADLINER Warren De La Salle Collegiate 45, Waterford Mott 19 The two-time reigning Division 2 champion is heading to the Finals for the fourth-straight season after extending its winning streak to nine this fall. The Pilots (11-2) opened up a 21-7 halftime lead on the way to advancing, and ended Mott’s longest playoff run and winningest season at 10-3. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 18, Zeeland West 14 The Rangers (12-1) also will be making a return trip to Ford Field after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season and thanks to a go-ahead touchdown during the final minutes after the teams traded scores during the fourth quarter. West finished 9-4, those losses by a combined 20 points. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

HEADLINER Mason 26, Detroit Martin Luther King 20 Mason (13-0) is off to its first Final, and after falling to the Crusaders in Semifinals the last two seasons. King (7-6) led 13-10 at halftime, but after the teams traded scores to start the second half Mason eventually went ahead for the final time in the fourth quarter to get past the two-time reigning champ. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 4

HEADLINER Grand Rapids South Christian 21, Portland 6 South Christian (10-3) earned an opportunity to repeat as Division 4 champion after limiting a Portland offense that averaged nearly 41 points per game entering the day. The Raiders (12-1) also shined on that side of the ball, holding South Christian to its second-lowest output of the season. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

HEADLINER Harper Woods 35, Goodrich 24 Harper Woods (10-3) will play in its first championship game in this sport after ending another long run for the reigning Division 4 runner-up Martians. Harper Woods tied the score at 21 all just before halftime, then pulled away during the second half while holding Goodrich (11-2) to just a field goal over the final two quarters. Click for more from MLIVE-Detroit.

Division 5

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Catholic Central 35, Frankenmuth 0 After a year away from Ford Field, GRCC (12-1) is heading back for its fourth Final over the last five seasons after shutting down an offense that averaged 46 points per game entering the weekend. Connor Wolf threw three touchdown passes and Kellen Russell-Dixon scored three times including twice rushing for the Cougars. Frankenmuth (11-2) was playing in its fourth-straight Semifinal and is a combined 47-5 over those seasons. Click for more from MLIVE.

HEADLINER Corunna 49, Flat Rock 0 Corunna (13-0) is headed to its first championship game in this sport after posting its fourth shutout this season and against an offense that averaged nearly 39 points per game during the regular season but 47 over three playoff wins. Flat Rock finished its first Semifinal run since 1976 at 9-4. Click for more from the Owosso Argus-Press.

Division 6

HEADLINER Kingsley 37, Reed City 7 Kingsley (11-2) added to its season-opening win over the Coyotes, this time to reach the Finals for the first time since 2005. Skylar Workman scored four times for the Stags, who held Reed City (9-4) to its two lowest scoring outputs of the season. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

HEADLINER Almont 45, Ovid-Elsie 21 Almont is headed to Ford Field for second time in five seasons after building a big first-half lead and carrying it through the second. The Raiders (12-1) scored on the first play with Chase Battani breaking away for a long run, one of his three rushing touchdowns. Ovid-Elsie finished its first Semifinal season since 2008 at 8-5. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Division 7

HEADLINER Menominee 32, North Muskegon 21 The Maroons (11-2) earned a return to the Finals for the first time since 2016 by handing North Muskegon (12-1) its only loss – scoring the most points the Norsemen gave up this fall. Menominee jumped out to a 20-0 lead and held off the comeback attempt. Click for more from the Eagle Herald.

HEADLINER Jackson Lumen Christi 35, Millington 7 The Titans (12-1) earned an opportunity to play for a repeat championship this weekend by handing Millington (12-1) its lone loss this season. It was the ninth time Lumen Christi had held an opponent to single-digit scoring. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Division 8

HEADLINER Ubly 24, Beal City 6 For the fifth-straight season, these two met with a trip to Ford Field on the line – and for the second straight Ubly (13-0) will be making it. Record-setting kicker Brett Mueller caught two touchdown passes and also booted a 54-yard field goal for the Bearcats. Beal City finished 11-2 and is a combined 33-5 over the last three seasons. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

HEADLINER Ottawa Lake Whiteford 35, Riverview Gabriel Richard 6 Reigning Division 8 champion Whiteford ran its winning streak to 27 games in earning its Ford Field return, also holding an opponent to single digits for the ninth time this season. Gabriel Richard finished its longest tournament run at 8-5. Click for more from the Monroe News.

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PHOTO Belleville blockers including Damon Denny (57) create running room during Saturday's 63-21 Division 1 Semifinal win over Davison. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)