1st & Goal: 2023 Playoff Week 3 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 13, 2023

Seven of last season’s MHSAA Football Finals champions remain in the playoff mix as we move into the final two weeks of the 2023 season, and no doubt at least a few of the annual contenders have become accustomed to playing this late into the fall.

MI Student AidBut plenty more also are sharing in the thrill of playing mid-November football for the first time.

This weekend’s 8-Player Semifinals sent Indian River Inland Lakes into its first championship game in this sport, and Marion to its first since 1990. The 11-player brackets saw five first-time champions Regional champions – and two more that won Regional titles for the first time since well before any of their current players were born.

See below for a glance at all 72 games as the ride continued through the playoffs' third week, and click here for the full playoff schedule (including linked schedules for all 288 teams in the field this season).

8-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Indian River Inland Lakes 12, Pickford 0 Inland Lakes (11-1) earned its first trip to a football championship game with yet another impressive win – the Bulldogs’ last four opponents finished a combined 33-9. The shutout came against an offense that averaged 46.5 points per game entering the weekend. Pickford finished 10-2, its best since its 2019 championship season. Click for more from the Cheboygan Daily Tribune.

HEADLINER Martin 42, Kingston 34 The reigning Division 1 champion will play for a repeat as Martin outlasted Kingston in its closest matchup since back-to-back losses in Weeks 3 and 4. The Clippers (10-2) hadn’t had a single-digit game since, but stayed a step ahead by reaching 40 points for the third time over the last four weeks. Kingston (9-3) is a combined 18-4 over the last two seasons. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

8-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Marion 42, Lake Linden-Hubbell 36 Playing in a fourth-straight Semifinal, Marion (11-0) earned its first championship game trip since 1990, coming back from a 14-8 halftime deficit as both offenses found their footing over the final two quarters. Marion’s final touchdown – which ended up the deciding score – was run in by an offensive lineman who stepped back into his former position. Lake Linden-Hubbell (8-4) finished its winningest season since 2016. Click for more from Cadillac News.

HEADLINER Adrian Lenawee Christian 42, Deckerville 14 Another dominating Lenawee Christian run continued, as the Cougars (12-0) pulled within one more win of a third undefeated season over the last four. They have not scored fewer than 41 points in a game this fall, and were able to slow a Deckerville offense that entered the weekend averaging 48.5 ppg. The Eagles (9-3) capped their winningest season since 2019. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

11-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Davison 28, Rockford 14 The Cardinals won this Regional Final matchup of undefeated teams, doing so in part thanks to arguably its most impressive defensive performance of the fall. Davison (12-0) held Rockford scoreless until midway through the third quarter, limiting an attack that averaged nearly 43 points per game entering the weekend. The Cardinals also found their way offensively against a Rams defense that had given up only 10 points per game during its 11-0 start. Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Regional Roundup Belleville 49, Northville 7 Belleville (12-0) won a sixth-straight Regional title by adding to a 42-0 Week 9 win over Northville (10-2) in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship game. Those were the Mustangs’ only losses this fall. West Bloomfield 21, Clarkston 20 The Lakers (10-2) may be talking about this one for years to come, as they trailed Clarkston 20-0 before coming back to not only claim a Regional title but avenge their Week 6 loss to the Wolves (6-6). Southfield Arts & Technology 31, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 21 A&T (11-1) clinched its first Regional title since the school opened in 2016 after a merger of the former Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup, and this was the school community’s first Regional championship including those predecessor programs since 2014. Chippewa Valley (9-3) capped its winningest season since 2019 with its three defeats by a combined 14 points.

11-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Waterford Mott 40 Gibraltar Carlson 19 A special season for Mott just became historic, as the Corsairs (10-2) – after winning their second District title in program history last week – claimed their first Regional championship and also set a program record for wins. Kalieb Osborne threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more for Mott. Carlson finished 10-2 and sets its program record for wins as well this fall. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Regional Roundup Muskegon 42, Saginaw Heritage 14 Muskegon (10-2) earned its seventh Regional championship over the last eight seasons. Heritage (9-3) finished its winningest season since 2006, with Braylon Isom adding two more receiving touchdowns to his MHSAA career record that ended at 52. East Lansing 42, Byron Center 20 East Lansing (10-2) is on its way to the Semifinals for the first time since 2007 after breaking away during the fourth quarter against the Bulldogs (10-2), who completed their longest run since 2016. Warren De La Salle Collegiate 34, Roseville 14 The reigning Division 2 champion Pilots (10-2) won their sixth Regional title over the last seven seasons, ending the fall for Roseville (8-4) for the fourth-straight season.

11-Player Division 3

HEADLINER Mason 44, Walled Lake Western 41 (OT) This matchup was up for grabs until the very end before Mason secured a third-straight Regional title. Western (10-2) nearly avenged Mason’s 30-7 win over the Warriors in Week 8; the Bulldogs (12-0) led at halftime, then trailed by double digits much of the third quarter, and then Western sent the game to overtime before Mason’s Kaleb Parrish scored the game winner on a pass from Cason Carswell. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Regional Roundup Detroit Martin Luther King 20, River Rouge 19 (OT) The two-time reigning champion Crusaders (7-5) pulled a win closer to possibly playing for a third-straight title, holding on into overtime as well to end Rouge’s six-game winning streak and season at 7-5. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 33, Gaylord 7 Last season’s Division 2 runner-up Forest Hills Central (11-1) also is one win away from a potential return to Ford Field after handing Gaylord (11-1) its only loss. The Blue Devils capped their best season since 2002. Zeeland West 42, Parma Western 7 West is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2015, giving the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green two of the final 32 teams (with Muskegon). Western finished 10-2, having tied its program record for wins with its third District title victory over the last six years.

11-Player Division 4

HEADLINER Portland 21, Niles 14 Portland (12-0) broke free from a 7-7 game heading into the fourth quarter to win its second Regional title in three seasons. Both defenses shined, holding their opponents to season lows. Niles’ only other defeat was by a point in Week 2 as the Vikings (10-2) capped their best run with a program record for wins and first District title. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Regional Roundup Goodrich 24, Haslett 17 The 2022 Division 4 runner-up Martians (11-1) pulled within one more win of playing for the title again, twice holding off Haslett comeback attempts after building double-digit leads. The Vikings (8-4) capped their longest run since 2005. Grand Rapids South Christian 55, Big Rapids 35 The reigning champion Sailors (9-3) scored their most points since opening weekend to distance themselves from a Big Rapids team that finished its winningest season since 2003 at 10-2. Harper Woods 46, Carleton Airport 19 Harper Woods (9-3) claimed its first Regional title as it continued its best season since 2007. Airport’s only losses this fall in finishing 10-2 were to teams playing in Semifinals. (See Week 3 opponent Flat Rock below.)

11-Player Division 5

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Catholic Central 30, Grand Rapids West Catholic 28 The was the closest matchup between these longtime rivals since 2017, as West Catholic took a 28-24 lead with 3:49 to play but GRCC’s Connor Wolf then ran in for the winning score to go with his two touchdown passes. The Regional title was the eighth straight for the Cougars (11-1). The Falcons finished 11-1 coming off their Division 6 title in 2022. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Regional Roundup Flat Rock 56, Detroit Southeastern 26 Flat Rock (9-3) is another first-time Regional champion, earning its first trip to the Semifinals since 1976 (when the MHSAA Playoffs were only two rounds). Southeastern finished 8-4, its winningest record since also going 8-4 in 2018. Corunna 56, Macomb Lutheran North 18 Corunna (12-0) topped 300 yards rushing and 400 yards of total offense in winning its first Regional championship since 1996. Lutheran North capped arguably the best bounce-back season in the state this season, going from 3-6 a year ago to a 9-3 with a first District championship and school record for wins. Frankenmuth 35, Kingsford 13 Frankenmuth won its fourth-consecutive Regional title, scoring the most points Kingsford (10-2) allowed this season and holding the Flivvers to 176 total yards and -6 rushing. Kingsford capped its winningest season since 2004.

11-Player Division 6

HEADLINER Ovid-Elsie 38, Constantine 25 From the division that seemed heading into the weekend like perhaps the most wide-open, Ovid-Elsie (8-4) may have earned the biggest stunner of the Regional Finals. The Marauders were just 3-4 with two regular-season games to go but have won their first Regional title since 2008 and by handing Constantine (10-2) it first loss since Week 2. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Regional Roundup Kingsley 51, Gladstone 27 Kingsley (10-2) is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2019 as the offense raised its scoring average to nearly 49 points per game by going over 50 for the fourth time over the last five weeks. Gladstone finished 9-3 for the second-straight season. Reed City 28, Midland Bullock Creek 14 The Coyotes (9-3) have won eight straight games to reach the Semifinals for the second-straight season, this time ending Bullock Creek’s longest playoff run since 2005. The Lancers finished 8-4 coming off two straight 4-5 seasons. Almont 49, Detroit Edison 24 Almont (11-1) also is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2019 after ending Edison’s longest playoff run and winningest season at 8-4 with a first District title.

11-Player Division 7

HEADLINER North Muskegon 28, Pewamo-Westphalia 27 North Muskegon led through the first half, then trailed until late, but scored last to secure its first Regional title since 1986. These two also had met in a season opener, the Norsemen (12-0) winning that one 17-14, and this time QB James Young scrambled back-and-forth nearly the width of the field to find Landon Christensen on the game winner with 1:21 to play. P-W finished 10-2, both losses to North Muskegon by that margin of four total points. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Regional Roundup Jackson Lumen Christi 21, Clinton 14 The reigning Division 7 champion will play in its seventh Semifinal in eight seasons after advancing from one of its only close matchups this fall. Clinton (10-2) led 8-7 at halftime before Lumen (11-1) moved ahead halfway through the third quarter and held off a late comeback attempt. Menominee 40, McBain 0 Menominee (10-2) won its first Regional championship since 2016 and is the final Upper Peninsula team playing this fall after posting its fifth shutout this season and fourth-straight game giving up 14 or fewer points. McBain ended its longest run since 2015 at 7-5. Millington 35, Montrose 15 Millington claimed its first Regional title since 2016 and set a school record for wins as Dallas Walsh raced to four touchdown runs. Montrose’s 8-4 record ran its streak of winning seasons to 14.

11-Player Division 8

HEADLINER Ubly 41, Ithaca 20 Ubly’s profile already was pretty high entering this season with two Division 8 championship game appearances over the last three seasons, and it no doubt grew with this win over the Yellowjackets (11-1) – who were also undefeated and considered a title contender. The Regional title was the fifth straight for the Bearcats (12-0). Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

Regional Roundup Beal City 20, Iron Mountain 6 Beal City (11-1) still has given up only 95 points this season, and it slowed down an Iron Mountain offense that scored 50 per game during its 11-0 start. Ottawa Lake Whiteford 54, White Pigeon 6 Another meeting of undefeated contenders saw the reigning Division 8 champion Bobcats (12-0) score nearly half the 109 points that White Pigeon (11-1) allowed this season. Riverview Gabriel Richard 31, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 28 Gabriel Richard (8-4) also was 3-4 with two regular-season games to play and joined the first-time Regional champions, handing Everest (9-3) its first loss since Week 3.

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PHOTO Haslett defenders bring down a Goodrich ball carrier stretching for extra yardage Friday. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)