1st & Goal: 2023 Playoff Week 1 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 30, 2023

The first weekend of MHSAA Football Playoffs sees the initial field of 288 teams cut in half, with 144 moving on either to District Finals in 11-player or Regional Finals in the 8-player divisions.

MI Student AidBut it’s a milestone weekend for many as well.

Football is the one MHSAA Tournament team sport requiring contenders to qualify for the postseason. That’s an accomplishment in itself, of course.

But making it then also opens the door for more – and so while we listed plenty of highlights below for championship hopefuls moving on, we also included plenty of context on what those that advanced and some that did not also achieved by making it this far.

11-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Grandville 22, Hudsonville 21 Only two Division 1 playoff games were decided by fewer than 21 points, and Grandville (8-2) came back from two touchdowns down to finish a season sweep of the Eagles (5-5) after previously defeating them 44-37 in Week 5. The win earned the Bulldogs a rematch with Rockford. Click for more from Michigan Sports Radio.

District Digest Macomb Dakota 10, St. Clair Shores Lakeview 7 This was Division 1’s only other close game, and Dakota (8-2) earned the opportunity to play for a third-straight District title while Lakeview closed 7-3. West Bloomfield 42, Rochester Adams 14 The Lakers (8-2) finished a season sweep of their Oakland Activities Association Red rival after Adams (6-4) swept them in 2021 and won last year’s lone meeting. Detroit Cass Tech 35, Westland John Glenn 14 The Technicians (7-3) went on the road and ended John Glenn’s most successful season since 2009 at 7-3.

11-Player Division 2

HEADLINER White Lake Lakeland 28, Milford 21 Lakeland (7-3) edged Lakes Valley Conference rival Milford (6-4) by seven points for the second week in a row, this time with the last-second heroics of Trevor Tschudin creating one of the first round’s most memorable highlights. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

District Digest Birmingham Seaholm 56, Birmingham Groves 49 Seaholm quarterback Colton Kinnie was among the stars as the Maples also held off Groves for the second week in a row after also winning by seven, 21-14, in Week 9. Midland Dow 14, Midland 7 This Week 9 rematch also saw the same winner but by a much closer score as Dow (6-4) had defeated the Chemics (5-5) 29-9 the first time around. Gibraltar Carlson 42, Livonia Churchill 35 Carlson (9-1) withstood a significant challenge from Churchill, which finished 4-6 and doubled its win total from 2022.

Petoskey's Seth Marek (0) catches a pass from quarterback Joseph McCarthy that he takes into the end zone.

11-Player Division 3

HEADLINER Coopersville 14, East Grand Rapids 13 Coopersville (8-2) hasn’t received enough statewide buzz for its success this season, but this one should gain the Broncos some notice. The win gave them eight for the first time since 2007 as they’ve added to their total now for the third straight season, and Coopersville’s only losses this fall were by a point to Spring Lake and three to undefeated Grand Rapids West Catholic, both during the first half of September. This one over the Pioneers (7-3) was clinched with a two-point conversion try stop. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

District Digest Stevensville Lakeshore 20, St. Joseph 15 After falling to St. Joseph (6-4) in Week 7, 35-0, Lakeshore (6-4) bounced way back and also ended a three-game losing streak in advancing. DeWitt 56, Fenton 28 DeWitt (7-2) defeated Flint Metro League Stripes champion Fenton (6-4) and earned a rematch with Week 2 opponent Mason. Auburn Hills Avondale 34, Holly 24 Avondale (9-1) is enjoining its winningest season since 2012 and earned its first playoff victory since that year. The Bronchos (6-4) completed their winningest season since 2011.

11-Player Division 4

HEADLINER Harper Woods 20, Croswell-Lexington 13 Harper Woods (7-3) ended the regular season with the highest playoff-points average in Division 4, but Croswell-Lexington (7-3) entered this game’s fourth quarter with the lead before the Pioneers scored to move ahead for good. The playoff victory was Harper Woods’ first since 2019 as it continues an impressive rebound from finishing 3-6 a year ago. See below for more from the D Zone.

District Digest Hastings 30, Charlotte 28 The Saxons (8-2) held on to defeat the Orioles (6-4) for the third-straight playoffs and sixth consecutive season overall. Big Rapids 27, Spring Lake 20 (OT) Big Rapids moved to 9-1, reaching nine wins for the first time since 2009 by getting past Spring Lake (7-3) in overtime. Chelsea 49, Tecumseh 35 Chelsea moved to 9-1 as its offense responded repeatedly before pulling away just a bit at the end of finish a season sweep of Tecumseh (5-5).

11-Player Division 5

HEADLINER Muskegon Oakridge 13, Belding 7 Oakridge (7-3) ran its winning streak this fall to four with a playoff win over Belding for the second-straight season. The Eagles handed Belding (8-2) its first loss since Week 2 by stopping an offense that averaged 44 points per game entering the weekend and hadn’t scored fewer than 38 since that previous defeat. Click for more from CatchMark SportsNet.

District Digest Detroit Southeastern 38, Detroit Denby 20 Southeastern (7-3) had tied for second in the Detroit Public School League Blue and over the last two weeks handed Ecorse its only regular-season loss and then downed PSL Gold champion Denby (8-2). Birch Run 37, Saginaw Swan Valley 15 Birch Run (6-4) earned its first playoff win since 2010 and guaranteed its winningest season since 2014 in avenging a 14-10 Week 8 loss to the Vikings (5-5). Corunna 45, Flint Hamady 7 Corunna (10-0) won the only first-round matchup of undefeated teams as a defense that’s given up only 5.9 points per game this fall continued to dominate against the Hawks (8-1) – who hadn’t given up a point since Week 6.

11-Player Division 6

HEADLINER Hart 44, Kent City 22 After reaching the playoffs for the first time (not counting COVID-shortened 2020), Hart now has its first playoff win as well as the Pirates (9-1) put up 44 or more points for the fourth straight game. Connor Edwards ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns in helping to end Kent City’s eighth-straight winning season at 7-3. Click for more from CatchMark SportsNet.

District Digest Midland Bullock Creek 22, Clare 19 Bullock Creek (7-3) has followed up two straight sub-.500 seasons with its winningest since 2007, throwing for the game-clinching touchdown during the final minute to get past Clare (7-3). Lansing Catholic 35, Michigan Center 34 Lansing Catholic (4-6) was one of only three three-win teams to reach the playoffs, and the Cougars made it count in upsetting Michigan Center (7-3) to make it seven consecutive seasons with at least one postseason win. Detroit Edison 22, Detroit Old Redford 0 Edison (7-3) secured the winningest season in program history by ending Old Redford’s winningest season all-time at 8-2.

11-Player Division 7

HEADLINER North Muskegon 27, Union City 14 The West Michigan Conference Rivers champion Norsemen (10-0) claimed this matchup of league title winners, ending the season for Big 8 Conference champ Union City (6-4). North Muskegon also reached double-digit victories for the first time since 1986. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

District Digest Charlevoix 31, Traverse City St. Francis 7 Charlevoix (9-1) avenged its lone loss, 41-40 to St. Francis (4-5) in the season opener, and the nine wins are the program’s most since going undefeated in 1977, according to Michigan-Football.com. Bath 16, Laingsburg 14 Bath (7-3) guaranteed its winningest season since 2000 by avenging a 17-6 Week 6 loss to the Wolfpack (4-6). Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 10, Detroit Loyola 7 (OT) Drew Harris drilled a game-winning field goal to add to SMCC’s combined 17-6 record in the playoffs over the last seven seasons. Loyola finished 4-6, an improvement of three wins from a year ago.

11-Player Division 8

HEADLINER Ithaca 28, Fowler 27 These two traded scores to the end before Ithaca (10-0) stopped a two-point conversion try during the final minutes to remain undefeated and also reach double-digit wins for the second-straight season. Both offenses scored the most the opposing defenses had given up this fall, as Ithaca still has allowed only 7.3 ppg and Fowler finished having given up just 8.1. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

District Digest Hudson 40, Addison 0 This was another of the weekend’s stunners as Hudson (8-2) bounced back from two straight losses to hand Addison (9-1) its only defeat. Ishpeming 20, East Jordan 6 After starting this season 1-3, Ishpeming (7-3) long ago guaranteed its first winning season since 2019, and with this victory ended East Jordan’s winningest season since 1999 at 8-2. Allen Park Cabrini 35, Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 27 Cabrini (5-5) was 2-7 just a year ago but has won three straight games this month and in this one avenged a 50-21 Week 2 loss to Parkway (7-3).

A collection of Martin defenders wrap up a Marcellus ball carrier.

8-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Gobles 50, Mendon 14 Gobles’ first 8-player playoff win in its fourth season since switching formats was one to remember, as the Tigers (8-2) avenged last year’s 36-6 regular-season loss to Mendon and also ended the season for the 2022 Division 2 runner-up Hornets (7-3). Gobles earned a rematch with last season’s Division 1 champion, Martin, after defeating the Clippers 53-16 in Week 4. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Regional Roundup Indian River Inland Lakes 22, Alcona 6 This matchup of league champions went to the Ski Valley Conference’s Inland Lakes (9-1), which held the North Star League Big Dipper’s Alcona (8-2) to well below its average of 51.4 ppg heading into the weekend. Martin 44, Marcellus 18 The Clippers (8-2) are undefeated since that Gobles loss and earned the rematch by winning this rematch with Marcellus after also downing the Wildcats (7-3) in Week 8. Marcellus capped its winningest season since 1998. Kingston 46, Merrill 6 Kingston (8-2) ended the season for the 2022 Division 1 runner-up Vandals (8-2), coming back off a Week 9 loss to earn its first playoff victory since 2019.

8-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Powers North Central 54, Posen 20 The three-time reigning Division 2 champion isn’t done yet. Despite suffering its first defeats this fall since 2019, North Central (8-2) is off to another big playoff start after hitting the road and dealing Posen (8-1) its only loss to reach the Regional Finals for the fifth-straight season. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Regional Roundup Marion 64, Bay City All Saints 14 Another matchup of league champions saw West Michigan D League title winner Marion (9-0) remain undefeated by downing the North Central Thumb League Stripes’ All Saints (7-3). Lake Linden-Hubbell 27, Crystal Falls Forest Park 6 In a repeat of 2022, Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-3) won the playoff rematch with Forest Park (7-3) after falling during the regular season, this time avenging a 36-28 defeat. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 34, Au Gres-Sims 0 Au Gres-Sims (7-3) averaged 50 points per game this season, but Sacred Heart’s defense lowered its average allowed to 16.4 with its second shutout of the fall as the Irish moved to 9-1.

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PHOTOS (Top) Clarkston's Desman Stephans II dives for the end zone during his team's 33-10 Division 1 playoff win over Romeo. (Middle) Petoskey's Seth Marek (0) catches a pass from quarterback Joseph McCarthy that he takes into the end zone. (Below) A collection of Martin defenders wrap up a Marcellus ball carrier. (Top photo by Chris Mudd/National Photo Scout. Middle photo by Cara Kamps. Below photo by Gary Shook.) 

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)