1st & Goal: 2023 Week 7 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 5, 2023

It’s league title time as we dive into the final third of the 2023 football regular season.

MI Student AidOf 45 matchups highlighted below, nearly two-thirds could lead to either a conference championship being celebrated this weekend or impact a title race to be won over the next two.

Thursday’s rain is expected to continue in some parts of our state, but if you don’t attend in person most of the games below will be viewable on MHSAA.tv – click the “Watch” links to go directly to those broadcasts. Games below are Friday unless noted, and rankings are by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

Bay & Thumb

Freeland (6-0) at Frankenmuth (5-1) - WATCH

For the third-straight season, the winner of this game will earn a league championship – this time, a share of the Tri-Valley Conference Red, as both teams still will have a league game to play Week 8 as well. The Eagles did see their 24-game regular-season winning streak end in their opener against Goodrich in August, but they haven’t lost a league game since 2014 – and have strung together four straight wins over Freeland, including 21-0 a year ago. After edging Clare 29-26 in their opener, the Falcons have dazzled offensively this fall, surpassing 50 points in all five of their league games.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (4-2) at Cass City (5-1) - WATCH, Durand (3-3) at Chesaning (5-1) - WATCH, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (5-0) at Gladwin (6-0), Ithaca (6-0) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (5-1).

Greater Detroit

Walled Lake Western (6-0) at Milford (5-1) - WATCH

Walled Lake Western is attempting to finish what would be a second-straight perfect run through the Lakes Valley Conference. The Warriors have won 17 straight league games and have two left this fall – with their most recent league loss to Milford in 2021. Waterford Mott got within 15 of Western in this year’s season opener, but no one else has been within 30 points. Milford has had closer results – a 26-23 loss to Dearborn Divine Child and three wins by eight or fewer points. But the defense has been stunning – giving up just 20 points over five league games – and it will provide an intriguing matchup with a Warriors offense averaging 50 ppg.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake Orion (6-0) at Clarkston (4-2) - WATCH, Romeo (3-3) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (4-2) - WATCH, Grosse Pointe South (5-1) at St. Clair Shores Lakeview (5-1) - WATCH, Macomb Dakota (5-1) at Utica Eisenhower (5-1) - WATCH.

Mid-Michigan

Charlotte (5-1) at Portland (6-0)

The Raiders could be closing in on a seventh Capital Area Activities Conference White title over the last eight seasons – but the next two weeks should be their most challenging of this run. The circled matchup is next week with also-undefeated Lansing Sexton. But to reach that winner-take-all, Portland must be careful with Charlotte. The Orioles have continued their resurgence into a third-straight season, and their only regular-season loss a year ago was 40-13 to the Raiders. They did fall to Sexton 28-0 three weeks ago, but can mash up this league race if they can slow a Portland team that’s won all of its games by at least four touchdowns this fall.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Williamston (4-2) at Haslett (4-2), St. Johns (3-3) at Mason (6-0), New Lothrop (5-1) at Ovid-Elsie (3-3), Bath (3-3) at Saranac (4-2)

Northern Lower Peninsula

Kingsley (5-1) at Ogemaw Heights (5-1) - WATCH

The Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders division has been mostly a two-team race the last five seasons between Kingsley and Traverse City St. Francis. But Ogemaw Heights began pushing into contention last year and tonight will play Kingsley for an outright league title. The Falcons have given up only 59 points over their last five games after a 42-28 loss to still-undefeated Gladwin in Week 1. They’ve also gone 0-5 against Kingsley since joining the NMFL, but got within 30-20 a year ago. Kingsley’s lone loss this season also was to a still-undefeated opponent, Gaylord, and that was by just three points.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowler (5-1) at Frankfort (6-0), Kalkaska (3-3) at Grayling (3-3) - WATCH, Oscoda (3-3) at Benzie Central (3-3) - WATCH. SATURDAY Jackson Lumen Christi (6-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (3-3) - WATCH.

Southeast & Border

Napoleon (6-0) at Michigan Center (5-1) - WATCH

Napoleon has won 16 straight regular-season games and can earn a share of the Cascades Conference East title tonight after winning the formerly one-division league last season on the way to the Division 7 Semifinals. The Pirates are 18-1 since missing the 2021 playoffs despite finishing 6-3. Michigan Center is quite a story as well. The Cardinals finished 4-5 a year ago and lost four Cascades games, but all by seven points or fewer – including by only two, 29-27, to the Pirates. Michigan Center fell to Jackson Lumen Christi to start this fall, but has not lost since and last week avenged a 2022 defeat to Grass Lake. The Cardinals too would earn a share of the East title with a win in this one. 

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Jackson (4-2) at Chelsea (5-1) - WATCH, Union City (5-1) at Petersburg Summerfield (4-2) - WATCH, Grass Lake (4-2) at Manchester (5-1) - WATCH, Hastings (4-2) at Parma Western (6-0).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Northern (6-0) at Portage Central (5-1) - WATCH

This annual rivalry game will mean as much as ever with these two entering both undefeated in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference play at this late of a date for the first time in decades. The lone loss this season between them was Central’s to Division 3 No. 3 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central in Week 2, and the Mustangs do own a win over Division 2 No. 10 East Lansing. Northern has won four of the last five of these matchups, however, including 25-22 a year ago.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Battle Creek Pennfield (3-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-2), Schoolcraft (5-1) at Lawton (5-1) - WATCH, Cassopolis (3-3) at White Pigeon (6-0) - WATCH. SATURDAY Kalamazoo United (4-2) at Constantine (5-1).

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (5-1) at Menominee (6-0)

Menominee passed its first major Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper test last week, getting by Gladstone 44-26. Next up is the reigning champion, and the Miners’ lone defeat this fall was to Gladstone 42-14 in Week 2. Although the Maroons were still playing in the Great Northern Conference last season, these two did face off, with Negaunee a 44-0 Division 6 District Final winner on the way to Ford Field. The Miners’ defense has strengthened substantially since that Gladstone loss at the start of September – they’ve allowed just 35 points over their last four games – but the challenge will be on as Menominee is averaging 50 points per game in league play and had given up just six total before last week.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petoskey (4-2) at Marquette (3-2) - WATCH, Houghton (2-4) at Gladstone (4-2) - WATCH. SATURDAY Lakeview (2-4) at Manistique (3-3) - WATCH, Bark River-Harris (3-3) at West Iron County (1-4) - WATCH.

West Michigan

Howard City Tri County (6-0) at Big Rapids (5-1) - WATCH

While the Ottawa-Kent Conference divisions are still sorting themselves out a bit more with some major matchups this weekend (see below), the Central State Activities Association Gold will be decided at least in part tonight with these two undefeated in league play and this Big Rapids’ league finale. This matchup helped decide the Gold title last year as well; Big Rapids’ 27-26 win resulted in a three-way shared championship between these two and Reed City. This meeting could be close again and similarly low-scoring – Big Rapids is giving up 12 per game in league play, and Tri County is allowing just less than 13.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-1) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (5-1) - WATCH, Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-0) at Allendale (5-1), Grandville (5-1) at Caledonia (5-1), Muskegon (4-2) at Zeeland West (6-0) - WATCH.

8-Player

Climax-Scotts (6-0) at Mendon (5-1) - WATCH

Mendon has had little time to rebound from last week’s 73-20 loss to Adrian Lenawee Christian, with the Southern Central Athletic Association West title to be decided at least in part tonight as the winner of this matchup locks up a share of the league title. Climax-Scotts is seeking its first conference championship in 8-player and has finished a runner-up twice over four seasons. This will also be the first time these two are facing off in league play in this format, although the Hornets won a Division 2 playoff matchup 44-18 last October.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Alcona (5-1) at Au Gres-Sims (6-0) - WATCH, Gobles (5-1) at Bridgman (6-0), Grandville Calvin Christian (4-2) at Marcellus (5-1) - WATCH, Pickford (6-0) at Norway (5-1) - WATCH.

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PHOTO Ada Forest Hills Eastern, on defense, takes on Grand Rapids Catholic Central this week coming off a 28-14 win over Wayland. (Photo by Michigan Sports Photo.)

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.)