1st & Goal: 2023 Week 4 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 15, 2023

As we rumble into Week 4, the various rankings from media and the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association have begun weighing in on which contenders they view to be in the best in every division.

MI Student AidWe include those MHSFCA rankings on our “Rankings” page, but check out as well the MHSAA’s metric for measuring success – the playoff points page – which factors wins and losses, but also strength of schedule, and with those points used to select the playoff field and seed brackets for the opening rounds of both the 11 and 8-player tournaments.

Those numbers update in real time as results are reported – and there surely will be shifts this weekend thanks to several of the matchups detailed below.

If you don’t attend a game in person, make sure to tune in on MHSAA.tv and check the MHSAA Scores page for the latest. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)

Bay & Thumb

Harbor Beach (3-0) at Ubly (3-0)

Ubly is pushing toward a decade as one of the elite small-school 11-player teams in the state, coming off last season’s Division 8 runner-up finish and led by fourth-year quarterback Evan Peruski who also the team to Ford Field to cap the 2020 season. The Bearcats have won 24 straight regular-season games and two straight over Harbor Beach, including 42-0 a year ago. Before Ubly’s recent rise, the Pirates were the team to chase both from the Greater Thumb Conference East and among Division 8 contenders from that part of the state. They meet this time after deciding the last two GTC East titles and having both opened with three wins against playoff teams from last season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankenmuth (2-1) at Birch Run (3-0), Bay City Western (2-1) at Midland Dow (2-1), Almont (3-0) at North Branch (2-1), Davison (3-0) at Saginaw Heritage (2-1).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (1-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (1-2)

Although West Bloomfield/Lake Orion would be the game any other week, history gives this matchup top billing at least heading into Friday. Look past the records; King’s losses are to championship contenders in Ohio and Indiana, and Cass Tech’s came to another Division 1 contender in Southfield Arts & Technology and arguably the top team from New Jersey. Throw in last year’s series – King won the first meeting 28-23 on the way to clinching a division title, and Cass four weeks later won the Detroit Public School League final 28-14 – and it matters less that many of the top contributors this fall are filling those spots for the first time.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY West Bloomfield (3-0) at Lake Orion (3-0), Warren Michigan Collegiate (3-0) at Romulus Summit Academy North (3-0), Macomb Dakota (3-0) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (2-1), Canton (2-1) at Northville (3-0).


East Lansing (1-2) at DeWitt (1-1)

East Lansing’s 36-30 win over DeWitt last season kicked off a wild ride through the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue that actually didn’t end with either of them winning or sharing the league title for the first time since 2017. But they’re expected to be back in the mix again and well-tested already this season. DeWitt didn’t have a game last week but came back to defeat Haslett in its opener and lost to arguably the Lansing area’s best in Mason in Week 2, while East Lansing came back big against Okemos last week after opening losses to Portage Central and Hudsonville.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gladwin (3-0) at Clare (2-1), Montrose (3-0) at Ovid-Elsie (2-1), Williamston (2-1) at Mason (3-0), Charlotte (3-0) at Lansing Sexton (3-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Beal City (3-0) at Houghton Lake (3-0)

Beal City is pursuing a third-straight Highland Conference title and hasn’t lost a league game since 2020, and hasn’t been tested a ton this fall giving up only 21 points total with its closest call a 32-14 win over Ravenna in the season opener. Houghton Lake is climbing from a much different place; the Bobcats were 1-8 last season and 2-7 the year before, but have outscored their three opponents this fall by a combined 98-19 – those 98 points one more than they scored all 2022. Two of those wins also avenged losses from last season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Jordan (3-0) at Charlevoix (2-1), Kingsley (2-1) at Boyne City (2-1), Johannesburg-Lewiston (2-1) at Frankfort (3-0), Petoskey (2-1) at Gaylord (3-0).

Southeast & Border

Manchester (3-0) at Napoleon (3-0)

Manchester is coming off its best season since 2015 and has continued the surge with all three wins this fall over opponents that finished 6-3 or better in 2022. Next comes an even bigger test, as Napoleon won the Cascades Conference last season and defeated the Flying Dutchmen 30-25 in league play and 42-13 in a Division 7 District Final. The Cascades split into two divisions beginning this fall, and these two are in the East as this opens the league schedule for both.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grass Lake (3-0) at East Jackson (2-1), Tecumseh (1-2) at Adrian (3-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-0) at Jackson Lumen Christi (3-0), Richland Gull Lake (2-1) at Parma Western (3-0).

Southwest Corridor

Schoolcraft (3-0) at Constantine (2-1)

After these longtime rivals had to cancel their 2021 game, the series restarted last fall with Constantine emerging 56-22 to break a seven-game Eagles winning streak in the matchup. The Falcons have to be riding high as well after last week’s 22-10 win over Lawton. But Schoolcraft should provide another challenge, especially defensively, as the Eagles have given up only 34 points so far and all of those to 2022 playoff teams Centreville and Kalamazoo United in double-digit victories over the last two weeks.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Saugatuck (3-0) at Union City (3-0), South Haven (2-1) at Lawton (2-1), Dowagiac (2-1) at Parchment (3-0), Portage Northern (3-0) at Kalamazoo Central (1-1).

Upper Peninsula

Kingsford (3-0) at Negaunee (2-1)

A top performance would add another big night to the impressive start of the season for Kingsford – but the Flivvers surely are being cautious despite their early success. They’re rivaling Iron Mountain as the top story in U.P. 11-player football after last week’s 35-12 win over Gladstone – which had defeated Negaunee in Week 2. But the Miners did bounce back last week to get past Calumet, and they likely need a win to keep repeat hopes alive in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper as Kingsford and Menominee have moved to the top of the standings early.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Menominee (3-0) at Calumet (1-2), Escanaba (1-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (2-1), Hancock (1-2) at Gladstone (2-1), Iron Mountain (3-0) at Gwinn (1-2).

West Michigan

Caledonia (3-0) at Rockford (3-0)

This has been one of the state’s most anticipated matchups after one of the most memorable series of 2022. Rockford defeated Caledonia 38-15 in Week 9 to clinch the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title outright, while handing the Fighting Scots their first loss. Caledonia won the rematch in a Division 1 District Final two weeks later, 14-13, handing the Rams their only loss while taking a massive step on a run that ended with a runner-up finish at Ford Field. The teams are in different playoff divisions this time – Caledonia will play in Division 2 – but the league title may be up for grabs and some of the most important contributors from last season are again leading the way.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon (1-2) at Muskegon Mona Shores (2-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (3-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (2-1), Hamilton (3-0) at Allendale (3-0), Whitehall (3-0) at Montague (2-1).


St. Ignace (3-0) at Indian River Inland Lakes (3-0)

St. Ignace’s 7-3 finish in 11-player football last fall was its best since 2016, and the Saints have carried that momentum into this season and a new format, topping 40 points all three games and giving up a combined 36 points. After gaining a forfeit Week 1, Inland Lakes has defeated two teams that won seven games last season – Lake Linden-Hubbell and Central Lake – and will provide St. Ignace another test, especially defensively, on a schedule filled with them. The Bulldogs scored 54 and 44 points, respectively, in those wins.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ontonagon (3-0) at Powers North Central (3-0), Martin (2-1) at Gobles (3-0), Carson City-Crystal (3-0) at Merrill (3-0), Rudyard (3-0) at Pickford (3-0).

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PHOTO A Rockford receiver attempts to pull in a pass while covered closely during the Rams' opening-night win over Muskegon. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs 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.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. 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.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. 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.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. 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 ShebestPam 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.)