1st & Goal: 2023 Playoff Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 10, 2023

By Saturday night, the first two MHSAA Football Finals matchups will be decided.

MI Student AidFour 8-Player Semifinals earlier that day will determine which teams advance to play one more time Nov. 18 at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome, and we detail this weekend’s matchups below.

We’re also down to the final eight teams in all eight 11-player divisions as Regional championships will determine the 32 that will take another step closer to spending Thanksgiving weekend at Ford Field.

Of 40 games played this weekend, 36 will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, and continue to monitor the Football Playoff Scoreboard including for 11-Player Semifinal times and locations as those are determined.

8-Player Division 1

Indian River Inland Lakes (10-1) at Pickford (10-1), Saturday - WATCH

Pickford is playing in its first Semifinal since the Division 2 championship season of 2019, and bounced back nicely after losing its Week 9 game 42-10 to St. Ignace with a pair of rematch wins over Rudyard and Norway. Junior Tommy Storey tells it, rushing for 1,851 yards and 31 touchdowns and throwing for 794 and 12, respectively.  Inland Lakes, however, edged St. Ignace 40-36 last week to advance – avenging a Week 4 loss to the Saints – and also is paced by a standout junior run/pass threat. Aidan Fenstermaker has run for 1,567 yards and 23 scores and thrown for 996 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Martin (9-2) at Kingston (9-2), Saturday - WATCH

Martin graduated 11 seniors, including an all-state quarterback, from last season’s Division 1 championship team. But the Clippers are again one step from playing for the title, led by another standout signal-caller. Junior Gavin Meyers has rushed for 1,144 yards and 11 touchdowns and thrown for 787 yards and eight more scores, and Martin is coming off avenging a 37-point Week 4 loss to Gobles with a 28-6 District Final win. Kingston is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2019, and also having avenged an early defeat (by 18) with a 26-0 District Final win over Brown City. Senior Owen Corlis has piled up 1,412 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground and connected on 56 percent of his passes with 10 – nearly half of those completions – going for scores. He also has three return TDs.

8-Player Division 2

Lake Linden-Hubbell (8-3) at Marion (10-0), Saturday - WATCH

Marion ran into eventual Division 2 champion Powers North Central in Semifinals the last three seasons, including while also undefeated a year ago, and will attempt to take the next step with a defense that has given up only 40 points over eight games on the field (two wins were by forfeit). Senior Gavin Prielipp is the leading rusher and scored 11 touchdowns rushing, eight receiving, three off interceptions and one apiece on kickoff and punt returns. Lake Linden-Hubbell is making its first Semifinal appearance since 1997 in 11-player and likely will try to break through the Eagles’ wall with senior quarterback Danny Marcotte (1,234 yards/20 TDs rushing ) and senior running back Sam Roberts (1,165/15).

Deckerville (9-2) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (11-0), Saturday - WATCH

Lenawee Christian has topped 60 points for the second time in three seasons, scoring more than 50 in seven games, with a variety of playmakers but quarterback Sam Lutz setting the pace. The senior has thrown for 1,727 yards and 29 touchdowns, rushed for 868 and 24, respectively, and also scored off interception and kickoff returns. Deckerville is one of the original 8-player powers and back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2017 after one-score playoff wins over Morrice and Portland St. Patrick. Junior Hunter Garza quarterbacks an attack that’s run for more than 3,000 yards, while he’s passed for 1,341 and 24 touchdowns.

11-Player Division 1

Davison (11-0) at Rockford (11-0), Saturday - WATCH

It’s difficult to not look ahead, knowing that one of these undefeated teams could next week face two-time reigning Division 1 champion Belleville in a Semifinal – if the Tigers defeat Northville on the other side of the bracket. But Davison and Rockford surely aren’t looking past anything; they last faced off in a 2020 Semifinal, won by the Cardinals, and both are seeking a first Regional title since that season. Both teams are keyed by standout offensive playmakers, and Rockford’s defense has been one of its best over the last decade giving up only 10 points per game despite facing Muskegon, Mona Shores and Caledonia among six playoff teams total during the regular season. The deciding matchup could be the Rams trying to slow down a Davison attack that has scored 44 or more points seven times.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Clarkston (6-5) at Western Bloomfield (9-2) - WATCH, Southfield Arts & Technology (10-1) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-2) - WATCH. SATURDAY Northville (10-1) at Belleville (11-0) - WATCH.

11-Player Division 2

Saturday Heritage (9-2) at Muskegon (9-2), Saturday

Muskegon is as close to a regular at this stage of the playoffs as any program in Michigan; the Big Reds will be playing in a Regional Final for the 11th time over the last 12 seasons as they continue to pursue a return trip to Ford Field. Heritage is much newer to the experience after winning its first District title since 2001 – but that just sets up an opportunity to add another incredible chapter to an already memorable run. The Hawks boast the state’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns in Braylon Isom, who caught his 49th and 50th to tie and break the record in the District Final win. But Heritage also lost standout running back Ty Robertson to injury two weeks ago and now must stop or keep up with a Muskegon offense that’s reached 40 points in five of its last six games.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Byron Center (10-1) at East Lansing (9-2) - WATCH, Roseville (8-3) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (9-2) - WATCH, Waterford Mott (9-2) at Gibraltar Carlson (10-1) - WATCH.

11-Player Division 3

Mason (11-0) at Walled Lake Western (10-1), Friday - WATCH

The setup for this rematch includes a rare mathematical oddity of the playoff system in that Mason went to Western in Week 8 and won 30-7, and now must return for this Regional Final. Western, with a schedule of mostly Division 2 opponents, has the home game after holding onto the top spot in Division 2 playoff-point average while Mason – playing a Division 3-heavy schedule – finished third on that list. The good news for the Bulldogs, however, is they know they can win this on the road – and the offense is continuing to churn with that first Western matchup the only game over the last six in which Mason didn’t score at least 41 points. That said, we’ve once again seen these playoffs a number of rematches flip, with multiple postseason winners coming back after losing big the first time around.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Gaylord (11-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (10-1) - WATCH, Detroit Martin Luther King (6-5) at River Rouge (7-4) - WATCH. SATURDAY Zeeland West (8-3) at Parma Western (10-1).

11-Player Division 4

Portland (11-0) at Niles (10-1), Friday - WATCH

On the surface, this appears to be an undefeated Portland team with seven double-digit win seasons over the last nine, hitting the road seeking to return to the Semifinals after most recently making them in 2021 and 2018, on the way to face an up-and-coming Niles program that just won its first District title. But while all true, Niles is led by coach Scot Shaw, formerly of nearly two decades at Three Rivers and leader of its Division 4 championship team in 2003. He has the Vikings learning this playoff thing fast, but there will be some unfamiliarity regardless because Niles’ first two postseason wins were Wolverine Conference rematches. Portland, under another longtime leader in John Novara, has traveled this path and will be playing in its third-straight Regional Final.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Big Rapids (10-1) at Grand Rapids South Christian (8-3) - WATCH, Haslett (8-3) at Goodrich (10-1) - WATCH. SATURDAY Carleton Airport (10-1) at Harper Woods (8-3).

11-Player Division 5

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-0), Friday - WATCH

After playing last season in different divisions, these two are matched up again, and both enter this meeting undefeated against in-state opponents – GRCC’s lone loss came in Week 1 against Chicago Loyola. The challenges otherwise for both have been few. The Cougars defeated reigning Division 4 champion Grand Rapids South Christian 21-12 in Week 8, but have won all of their remaining games by at least 32 points. West Catholic’s 17-14 win over Division 3 Coopersville in Week 3 was its only game closer than 26 points, and the Falcons have given up a combined 13 points over their last five games with two shutouts to start the postseason.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Macomb Lutheran North (9-2) at Corunna (11-0) - WATCH, Flat Rock (8-3) at Detroit Southeastern (8-3). SATURDAY Kingsford (10-1) at Frankenmuth (10-1) - WATCH.

11-Player Division 6

Gladstone (9-2) at Kingsley (9-2), Friday - WATCH

Only eight teams remain in all of these 11-player divisions, and perhaps no division seems wider open than Division 6, with these two on the same side of the bracket with two more that have lost three games this fall. Kingsley won a Regional title as recently as 2019 and is playing in its fourth Regional Final over the last six seasons. Gladstone is playing in a Regional Final for the second straight after losing last year to Negaunee, the eventual Division 6 runner-up. The Braves defeated Negaunee last week, and another win would send them to the Semifinals for the first time since 1985.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Midland Bullock Creek (8-3) at Reed City (8-3) - WATCH, Detroit Edison (8-3) at Almont (10-1) - WATCH. SATURDAY Ovid-Elsie (7-4) at Constantine (10-1) - WATCH.

11-Player Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (10-1) vs. North Muskegon (11-0) at Muskegon Oakridge, Saturday - WATCH

A 17-14 opening-weekend win over annual Finals contender Pewamo-Westphalia announced statewide that North Muskegon might be set up for a special season. And so it’s been, with last week’s 27-24 District clincher over Lawton the Norsemen’s first single-digit victory since that Week 1 defeat of the Pirates. P-W hasn’t lost again, or had another game decided by fewer than 13 points. The defense especially has resembled the group that helped drive Division 7 titles in 2019 and 2021, giving up 8.6 points per game and double digits only three times. North Muskegon has been held to fewer than 27 only one other game this fall, an 18-7 win over rival Ravenna.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Montrose (8-3) at Millington (11-0) - WATCH, Clinton (10-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (10-1) - WATCH. SATURDAY McBain (7-4) at Menominee (9-2) - WATCH.

11-Player Division 8

Ithaca (11-0) at Ubly (11-0), Saturday - WATCH

This is the level of showdown that immediately came to mind when Ithaca slotted as one of the two largest schools in Division 8 after playoff runs in Divisions 5, 6 and 7 over the last decade. After another dominant regular season, Ithaca has navigated one-point wins over Fowler and New Lothrop to start the playoffs. The Yellowjackets feature their most potent offensive attack since 2017 and still have given up only 9.2 points per game after allowing a combined 55 over the last two weeks. Ubly’s last three seasons have ended at Ford Field twice and the Semifinals in 2021, and this team has performed similarly keeping pace with last season’s record-setting offense and allowing only 9.5 points per game.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Iron Mountain (11-0) at Beal City (10-1) - WATCH, White Pigeon (11-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0) - WATCH. SATURDAY Riverview Gabriel Richard (7-4) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-2) - WATCH.

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.

PHOTO Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central defenders converge during a Division 3 District Final win over Mount Pleasant. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)