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.

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.

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.) 

1st & Goal: 2023 Football Finals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 29, 2023

On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.

MI Student AidThe two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.

Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.

MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.

Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball in celebration during the 11-Player Division 2 game.

Finals in Review

11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read

The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.

11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read

Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.

11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read

Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.

11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read

Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.

11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read

After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.

11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read

Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.

11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read

The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.

11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read

The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.

8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read

Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.

8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read

Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.

Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final.

Records Report

As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.

Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.

Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.

Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.

Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.

Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.

Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.

South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.

Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.

Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.

Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.

Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.

Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.

Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.

Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.

Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory.

Stories Behind the Scores

Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.

Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.

Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.

Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.

MHSAA.com's weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.

PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)