1st & Goal: 2023 Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 7, 2023

After two weeks of high anticipation to begin this football season, we’ve moved into the grind as several leagues begin play this weekend and contenders hope to take the first steps toward potentially celebrating a local championship next month.

It’s also not too late to bounce back from a tough start. Of 288 Michigan varsity teams that opened with losses during Week 1, 129 rebounded to win in Week 2. We’ll likely see many more find their footing over the next two days.

The majority of games across the state this weekend will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv and viewable with subscription, with results updated as those games conclude on the MHSAA Scores page.

Here’s a look at some of the matchups that may end up mattering most as this season rumbles on:

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Bay & Thumb

Goodrich (2-0) at Lake Fenton (2-0)

With impressive wins over Frankenmuth and Linden over the last two weeks, Goodrich is off to an even more notable start than last season when it finished Division 4 runner-up. This one kicks off Flint Metro League Stars play with a rematch of the Martians’ only close league game from a year ago – they edged Lake Fenton 14-7 to lock up the outright title. The Blue Devils have outscored their first two opponents this season by a combined 93-6 as they look to rebound from last year’s 3-6 finish.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Croswell-Lexington (2-0) at Armada (1-1), Freeland (2-0) at Essexville Garber (2-0), Saginaw Heritage (2-0) at Grand Blanc (1-1), Bad Axe (1-1) at Harbor Beach (2-0).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Pershing (2-0) at Detroit Denby (2-0)

With Cass Tech, Martin Luther King and lately Central getting most of the pub, Denby’s success over the last decade often isn’t noted enough; the Tars have nine winning seasons and eight playoff appearances over the last 10 years. They’ve also shut out their first two opponents this fall as they begin Detroit Public School League Gold play. Pershing, meanwhile, is 2-0 for the first time since 2012 and last week defeated Madison Heights Bishop Foley to avenge a 41-point loss in 2022.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Rochester Adams (2-0) at Clarkston (0-2), New Lothrop (1-1) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (1-1), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (1-1) at Utica Eisenhower (2-0). SATURDAY Detroit Country Day (1-1) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (2-0).

Mid-Michigan

Pewamo-Westphalia (1-1) at Laingsburg (2-0)

The Wolfpack’s drive this season certainly must be substantial after just missing the playoffs last year despite a 6-3 record. Paced by senior Jack Borgman, Laingsburg opened by avenging last season’s loss to Durand and will now seek to defeat the Pirates for the first time since 2009 after missing by just seven points a year ago. P-W bounced back from a three-point loss to North Muskegon in its opener to shut out Bath last week.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Northville (2-0) at Brighton (1-1), Lansing Catholic (1-1) at Charlotte (2-0), Grand Ledge (2-0) at Holt (1-1), Olivet (0-2) at Lansing Sexton (2-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Marquette (1-1) at Gaylord (2-0), Saturday

League realignments over the last few years have led to some different trips for teams in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula – see Traverse City Central welcoming Davison in the Saginaw Valley League this weekend and this Marquette drive along with Sault Ste. Marie’s to Cadillac in the newest version of the Big North Conference. Gaylord is 2-0 for the second-straight season, but last year saw that momentum paused with a 17-14 Week 3 loss to Marquette. Marquette is coming off a 49-0 win over Alpena after falling to the Wildcats by two a year ago.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankfort (2-0) at Benzie Central (1-1), Sault Ste. Marie (2-0) at Cadillac (1-1), Boyne City (2-0) at Charlevoix (1-1), Davison (2-0) at Traverse City Central (1-1).

Southeast & Border

Carleton Airport (2-0) at Flat Rock (2-0)

The Huron League and Carleton Airport headlines this section of the state for the second week in a row, this time after the Jets avenged their 2022 loss to league champion Riverview with a 48-27 win. Flat Rock gave Airport a mighty challenge last season as well, with the Jets prevailing only 21-19 but the Rams going on to finish 8-4 – their winningest since 1976. Flat Rock is off to another solid start with victories over Dundee and Grosse Ile, both playoff teams as well in 2022.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Leslie (2-0) at Addison (2-0), Temperance Bedford (1-1) at Dexter (0-2), Hillsdale (1-1) at Hudson (2-0), Clinton (1-1) at Ida (1-1).

Southwest Corridor

Kalamazoo Central (1-0) at St. Joseph (1-1)

The Maroon Giants celebrated their first win in two seasons last week, downing 2022 playoff qualifier Sturgis 47-34 to break an 11-game losing streak. St. Joseph won this matchup big a year ago and has taken 12 straight since Central’s most recent victory in the series in 2004. However, the Bears are seeking to gain momentum to start September; they were shut out by Niles in their opener and didn’t get to play last week after receiving a forfeit win from Detroit Henry Ford.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY White Pigeon (2-0) at Decatur (1-1), Constantine (1-1) at Lawton (2-0), Jackson Lumen Christi (2-0) at Richland Gull Lake (2-0), SATURDAY Kalamazoo United (2-0) at Schoolcraft (2-0).

Upper Peninsula

Gladstone (2-0) at Kingsford (2-0)

Gladstone has opened with a pair of wins over Marquette and Negaunee that puts the Braves back in the discussion for best in the Upper Peninsula. But this week they face another challenger – one that’s also familiar but under changed circumstances. Gladstone and Kingsford were past Great Northern Conference football foes who both moved to the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper this fall, and the Flivvers actually had won 23 straight in this series before Gladstone’s 34-20 victory last season. Kingsford has yet to give up a point.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Houghton (0-2) at Hancock (1-1), Iron Mountain (2-0) at Ishpeming (1-1), Calumet (1-1) at Negaunee (1-1), Ishpeming Westwood (0-2) at Menominee (2-0).

West Michigan

Lowell (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (2-0)

For most of the 2000s, this was one of the spotlight games every season not only in the Grand Rapids area, but often statewide. The buzz has cooled some the last few years but could be building again. Lowell posted its first winning season last fall since 2017. East Grand Rapids is seeking its first since 2020 and last week downed reigning Division 4 champion Grand Rapids South Christian 23-21. The Pioneers edged the Red Arrows 15-14 a year ago.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0) at Coopersville (2-0), Manistee (2-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (1-1), Wayland (2-0) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1-1), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (2-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (1-1).

8-Player

Bridgman (2-0) at Martin (2-0)

This is a rematch of one of the most memorable 8-player games from last season, as Bridgman’s 35-34 win in Week 9 finished off its second-straight perfect season. The Bees’ enrollment is too high for the team to qualify for the 8-player playoffs, however, and Martin went on to finish 11-2 and an overpowering Division 1 champion after winning all of its playoff games by at least 34 points. This season has started similarly as the Clippers have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 117-6 and Bridgman has put up 90 points over its first two games. This meeting takes on extra meaning as well as a switch put these two in the same division of the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League this fall.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY St. Ignace (2-0) at Alcona (2-0), Kingston (2-0) at Brown City (2-0), Newberry (2-0) at Rudyard (2-0). SATURDAY Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0).

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.

PHOTO Harper Woods pulled away from Rochester Hills Stoney Creek 34-21 in Week 1. (Photo by Olivia B. Photography.)

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

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

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.)