Every football season starts as a fast-tracked learning experience – we know some things from the previous year, but we’re watching to learn quickly with only nine weeks to figure out as much as we can before the highest achievers from the regular season move on to play for more.
And of course, opening weekend is always memorable – but this one had a few more unexpected wrinkles with a number of games moved a day or two later because of a heat wave across the Lower Peninsula, and several more stretched over two days as severe storms moved across the state.
When all was said and done, 296 varsity games were played. And although it’s impossible to list all of the significant moments – special shoutout to Pontiac for its first win on the field since 2018, and we see you too Livonia Franklin, Warren Michigan Collegiate, Millington and Pickford after solid wins – below we return with our weekly report highlighting some of the most intriguing results from all over Michigan.
Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER Davison 31, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 26 The marquee matchup at the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic saw two-time reigning Division 2 champion De La Salle carry a 14-0 third-quarter lead from Thursday to Friday at Kettering University, but Davison’s offense found its stride overnight. The loss was only the second for the Pilots over their last 28 games. Click for more from the Flint Journal and see below for highlights from WJRT-ABC12.
"Davison's known for being gritty and we're known for toughing things out. We're blue collar here."
Down 14-0 at the half, Davison dug deep and countered every punch De La Salle threw.
Sawyer Glennie's 24-yard TD pass to AJ Hill completed the comeback!
Cards defeat DLS, 31-26. pic.twitter.com/J8OLwab2C6
— Yousef Nasser (@YousefNasserTV) August 26, 2023
Watch list Goodrich 14, Frankenmuth 8 This Battle at the Big House matchup was a rematch of last season’s 27-2 Frankenmuth win as both teams went on to reach Finals at Ford Field. This time Goodrich scored the game-winner on a Chase Burnett run with 18 seconds to play at U-M.
On the move Midland 20, Cadillac 17 (OT) The Chemics added to last season’s 27-21 season-opening win over the Vikings by holding Cadillac to a field goal to start overtime and then clinching the victory on a touchdown pass from Isaiah Henderson to Zach Buschlen. Ubly 50, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 13 The Bearcats were Division 8 runners-up last season and started this one in a big way against another 2022 Division 8 semifinalist in Everest. Saginaw Heritage 42, Mount Pleasant 7 The Hawks are generating plenty of buzz after making a major move last fall, and breaking a nine-game losing streak against the Oilers will add to that.
HEADLINER Southfield Arts & Technology 29, Detroit Cass Tech 27 History repeated itself at the Xenith Kickoff Classic at Wayne State, but with nearly half the scoring as Southfield also defeated Cass Tech in the opener a year ago 56-54. Quarterback Isiah Marshall scored the go-ahead touchdown this time on a run with just under a minute to play. But don’t forget, the Technicians went on to win last year’s rematch 25-14 in a District Final, and these two could see each other again later this fall as well. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press and see highlights below from State Champs! Sports Network.
Highlights of Southfield A&T senior quarterback and Mr. Football candidate Isaiah Marshall, leading his team to victory over Cass Tech! The Kansas commit threw 3 touchdown passes to Toledo commit Tashi Braceful. Delivered by @hungryhowies@BracefulTashi | @ZekeMarshall07 pic.twitter.com/MUHQGc6lU7
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) August 28, 2023
Watch list Belleville 35, River Rouge 28 The Tigers ran their winning streak to 26, but not without a major scare at Wayne State as the Tigers went ahead for good with just seven seconds to play.
On the move Roseville 41, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 0 The Panthers have been building up to something big the last two seasons, and this absolutely ranks among the most notable wins in program history. Northville 24, Clarkston 10 The Mustangs bounced back big from 3-6 in 2021 to 8-3 last season, and that surge looks to continue under new coach Brent Luplow after this Big House win over a 2022 Division 1 semifinalist. West Bloomfield 22, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 21 The Lakers pulled within a point during the closing seconds at WSU, then went for the win and converted a two-point conversion to start 1-0.
HEADLINER DeWitt 27, Haslett 17 The Panthers trailed 10-7 when Thursday’s action ended due to thunderstorms, and Haslett scored the first touchdown after play resumed Friday. But DeWitt pulled away with 20 unanswered points as junior quarterback Elliott Larner ran for 227 yards and all four of the team’s scores. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Watch list Laingsburg 14, Durand 6 After just missing the playoffs with a 6-3 record last season, Laingsburg is grinding again after having also handed Durand its only regular-season defeat of 2022.
On the move New Lothrop 34, Muskegon Catholic Central 20 Division 8 is loaded with familiar contenders, and these two stand to be among them in eight weeks when we move into the playoffs. Grand Ledge 37, Holland West Ottawa 30 A late end zone interception followed by the heroics of freshman Anthony Baker and company gave the Comets a memorable opening win. Portland 33, Ovid-Elsie 6 These two finished a combined 18-5 a year ago after Portland won their opening matchup by nearly the same score.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER Traverse City St. Francis 41, Charlevoix 40 (OT) This is a good sign not only for reigning Division 7 runner-up St. Francis’ resilience but also for Charlevoix’s potential this fall. The Gladiators survived multiple scares late in regulation and then stopped the Rayders on an overtime two-point conversion try to hold on. St. Francis is mustering after graduating many of the standouts from last year’s 13-1 team, while Charlevoix is hoping to build on three straight eight-win seasons. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Watch list Kingsley 46, Reed City 12 Reed City has lost only three times during the regular season since the start of 2020, and the Stags made this one happen on the Coyotes’ home turf as well.
On the move Alpena 34, Flint Powers Catholic 33 The Wildcats won only one game total last season – losing 34-7 to the Chargers along the way – and hadn’t started 1-0 since 2018. Boyne City 12, Standish-Sterling 7 After suffering its only 2022 loss in a Division 6 District Final, Boyne City is off on the right foot after downing another D6 playoff team from last season. Gaylord 13, Traverse City West 7 The Blue Devils followed up their first winning season last year since 2018 with their first victory over the Titans since 2005.
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER Saline 42, Brighton 3 CJ Carr is going to be one of the most followed stars in Michigan this fall, and it's fair to expect the entire Saline offense should benefit from the attention he draws. The Hornets ran for five touchdowns in a big opening win as Carr ran for one and threw for another score and directed the show throughout against a Bulldogs defense that gave up only 16 points per game last season. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) August 25, 2023
Watch list Parma Western 21, Dearborn Divine Child 7 The Panthers entered this fall with a streak of six straight winning seasons, but this still no doubt opened a few more intrigued eyes as Divine Child was 9-3 a year ago. Western kept the Falcons off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.
On the move Napoleon 29, Onsted 28 The Pirates survived quite a few close games in reaching the Division 7 Semifinals last season and showed they can do so again, but Onsted also should be excited after winning just one game a year ago. Tecumseh 40, Jackson Northwest 21 Tecumseh ran its regular-season winning streak to 11 after downing a Mounties team coming off its best finish last fall since 2013. Manchester 42, Whitmore Lake 6 The Flying Dutchmen earned a second-straight opening night win over Whitmore Lake after both went on to six victories last season.
HEADLINER Portage Central 17, East Lansing 7 The Mustangs couldn’t have hoped for a better start after last season’s 4-5 finish, and this actually carried on their two-game winning streak to close 2022. The Trojans are coming off a Division 2 District title and defeated Portage Central 21-15 in last year’s opener and in 2021 as well. See below for highlights from FOX17.
Portage Central rededicated their field to McCamley Knight Field tonight and the Mustangs earned a 17-7 win against East Lansing to start 2023. @PCMustangSports https://t.co/jiEkIArYy9 pic.twitter.com/od1NXYTsgY
— FOX 17 Blitz (@FOX17Blitz) August 26, 2023
Watch list Niles 55, St. Joseph 0 These two hadn’t faced off since Niles left the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference after the 2019 season, and before that the Vikings hadn’t defeated the reigning SMAC champion Bears since 2014.
On the move Battle Creek Harper Creek 33, Battle Creek Lakeview 32 Both are looking for better after matching 3-6 records a year ago, and Harper Creek took the first step by breaking a three-game losing streak against its rival. Kalamazoo United 28, Berrien Springs 27 The Titans scored last and got the conversion to win this matchup of 2022 playoff teams. White Pigeon 36, Reading 14 This also was a matchup of playoff teams from a year ago, and an avenging for White Pigeon after Reading won last year’s opener 33-14.
HEADLINER Escanaba 40, Calumet 13 The last two seasons have been tough for Escanaba with a combined three wins, but this could be a great sign as the program moves into the Big North Conference this fall with its league opener this week. Calumet has a nine-season playoff streak – and also lost last year’s opener to a bigger school by a similar score but came back to finish 6-4 and reach the postseason again. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.
Watch list Gladstone 36, Marquette 7 These two are going separate ways for league play after spending most of the last several seasons together in a Great Northern Conference. Gladstone has run its winning streak over Marquette to two as it begins Western Peninsula Athletic Conference play this week.
On the move Hancock 56, L’Anse 14 The Bulldogs ended a two-year losing streak against the Purple Hornets, and after falling in last year’s opener to them by 33. Iron Mountain 56, Houghton 6 The Mountaineers returned after last season’s Division 8 Semifinal run with their highest scoring output since 2020. Negaunee 32, Ishpeming 16 The Miners’ only loss last season came at Ford Field, and the reigning Division 6 runner-up opened this fall by running its winning streak over the Hematites to four.
HEADLINER Rockford 27, Muskegon 7 The first meeting between these two was one of the most highly-anticipated openers in the state, and the Rams have to be energized after performing so well on the road against the reigning Division 3 runner-up. Rockford’s defense was especially impressive, mostly stopping a Big Reds offense with multiple playmakers back after averaging 39 points per game a year ago. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Check out the victory of #7 Rockford in our STATE CHAMPS! Top 25 Rankings, going on the road at #11 Muskegon with a 27-7 win. 🏈🔥 Video Courtesy: WXMI-TV@MHSAA | @RockfordAD | @RockfordRamsFB pic.twitter.com/DYFOG0gdFP
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) August 27, 2023
Watch list Grand Rapids West Catholic 56, Edwardsburg 12 An eight-point margin separated these two last season, but the reigning Division 6 champion Falcons expanded that substantially and especially impressed defensively against what might be one of its toughest challenges of the regular season.
On the move North Muskegon 17, Pewamo-Westphalia 14 The Norsemen put together their winningest season last fall since 2006, and edging an annual Division 7 contender is a great way to start the season and get ready for this week’s matchup with rival Muskegon Catholic Central. Whitehall 34, Hudsonville Unity Christian 28 Whitehall is coming off its winningest season and opens with a loaded nonleague schedule over the first three weeks – but started it well by holding off the Crusaders for the second-straight fall, although this time by a much closer margin. Caledonia 35, Romeo 28 Last season’s Division 1 runner-up Caledonia made a trip to the Big House and got a combined four touchdowns from Brody Betser and Maddox Greenfield to match the three passing and one rushing by Romeo’s Kaden Burroughs.
HEADLINER Climax-Scotts 26, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 14 The Panthers have upped their win total each of the last two seasons and could be on their way to doing so again if this was an indication. NorthPointe was too large to qualify for the playoffs in 2022 but finished the regular season undefeated. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Watch list Rudyard 47, Munising 6 The Bulldogs not only avenged last season’s 34-7 loss to Munising, but did so against a team that didn’t lose last fall until it fell just two points short in a Division 1 Semifinal.
On the move St. Ignace 48, Suttons Bay 6 The Saints moved to 8-player this fall after rebounding to 7-3 in 11-player last season, and they started this next chapter off well against a frequent Division 1 contender. Martin 62, Colon 6 These two were a combined 21-3 last season, and reigning Division 1 champion Martin looks like it may have another group of playmakers to pick up where last year’s left off. Morrice 36, Breckenridge 12 Both are returning playoff teams from a year ago; they’re in separate divisions of the new Mid-State Activities Conference 8-player league after playing together in the Central Michigan 8-Man Football Conference last fall.
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) Davison defenders wrap up a Warren De La Salle Collegiate ball carrier during the Cardinals' Week 1 victory. (2) Coopersville started 1-0 with a 49-6 win over Otsego. (3) Ishpeming's Caden Luoma (20) is among Hematites pursuing Negaunee's Kai Lacar during the Miners' victory. (4) Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart opened with a 48-30 win over Blanchard Montabella. (Photos by Terry Lyons [top], Gary Shook , Cara Kamps  and High School Sports Scene .)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)