Memories are guaranteed to be made this weekend.
Only 288 teams qualify for the MHSAA Football Playoffs. And while the great majority have secured spots in the field to be announced Sunday, there’s still opportunity for last-minute movement this weekend; in 2021, 15 teams joined the field during Week 9, and last season that total was 14.
That also brings us to some potential history being made.
Perry may be on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time. The Ramblers enter the weekend 5-3, playing Bath (also 5-3) and sitting No. 25 on the Division 7 playoff-points average list. Hart also is playing to secure a first playoff berth and sits 7-1 in Division 6, hosting Ravenna (3-5).
Detroit University Prep Science & Math and Jackson Northwest are seeking the same, but likely will need help. University Prep is 5-3 and No. 37 on the Division 3 playoff-points average list, while Northwest is 4-4 and No. 38. The top 32 qualify in each 11-player division, and the top 16 qualify in both divisions of 8-player.
By the end of Saturday night, the field will be known – follow all of the playoff-point average movement in real-time on the Playoff Point Summary page.
How those teams are assigned to Districts and Regionals, and who plays who, will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on Bally Sports Detroit Extra. Tune in via your cable provider or the BSD website. Pairings will then be posted to MHSAA.com at 7 p.m., with dates, times and locations for all games added Monday.
(All games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Frankenmuth (7-1) at Gladwin (7-1)
This rematch of last season’s Division 5 championship game – won by Gladwin 10-7 on a field goal with two seconds to play – seems a fitting way to roll into these playoffs. Both continued league title streaks this fall, Gladwin with its third-straight in the Jack Pine Conference and Frankenmuth clinching its 12th-in a row in the Tri-Valley Conference. Both have losses against MHSAA championship contenders – Gladwin 56-21 to undefeated Division 5 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Frankenmuth 14-8 in its opener to 2022 Division 4 runner-up Goodrich. Both are putting up more than 40 points a game this fall with several new contributors, and depending on how the lines are drawn they could see each other a second time; Frankenmuth is No. 8 in Division 5 playoff-point average, and Gladwin is No. 14.
Northville (8-0) at Belleville (8-0) - WATCH
The overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship is on the line, along with perfect regular seasons for both and Belleville’s 33-game winning streak. Five of eight teams in the KLAA East are .500 or better heading into this weekend, and Belleville outscored all of its conference opponents by a combined 345-18 over the last seven weeks. Northville, champion of the KLAA West, is the Tigers’ next challenger and another good one – the Mustangs are actually No. 2 in Division 1 playoff-point average, while Belleville is No. 6. Keep in mind, this again could be just the first round between these two over the next few weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Birmingham Groves (6-2) at Birmingham Seaholm (7-1) - WATCH, Grosse Pointe North (6-2) at Grosse Pointe South (7-1), Detroit Denby (8-0) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (6-2). SATURDAY Detroit Cass Tech (6-2) vs. Toledo Central Catholic (9-0) at Ford Field
East Lansing (6-2) at Grand Ledge (6-2) - WATCH
The Capital Area Activities Conference Blue is one of few with title possibilities remaining, as East Lansing clinched a guaranteed share against Holt last week but Grand Ledge and DeWitt are both just one game back with this one (and DeWitt’s against Lansing Waverly) to play. East Lansing had won four straight over its longtime rival before the Comets prevailed 45-30 last season. After opening 0-2 against opponents that remain a combined 12-4, East Lansing has churned to 42 points per game over its last six games while giving up just 70 points total during that time. The Comets’ league loss came to DeWitt, 41-38 in Week 6, and they fell to Lapeer as well a week later before rebounding against Okemos to set up this title-share opportunity.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City Central (4-4) at Traverse City West (3-5) - WATCH
The annual Patriot Game between these neighbors at their shared Thirlby Field will no doubt have the same festive feel this weekend, but with different factors in play. Both are among three teams tied for second in the Saginaw Valley League Blue that’s already been clinched by Mount Pleasant, and instead both are battling for some level of playoff opportunity – Central is No. 29 in Division 2 playoff-point average, and West may only be able to play spoiler sitting at No. 41. Central last missed the playoffs in 2013, but has won this rivalry matchup four straight seasons although only 14-13 a year ago. West saw a similar run of postseason success end a year ago and has improved by a win this season – and adding one more no doubt would give the Titans something to build on for 2024.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Elk Rapids (4-4) at East Jordan (5-3) - WATCH, Grayling (5-3) at Lake City (6-2), Clare (6-2) at Petoskey (5-3) - WATCH. SATURDAY Muskegon Catholic Central (5-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (3-4) - WATCH.
Southeast & Border
Addison (8-0) at Napoleon (8-0)
It's tough to rank any game above Saline/Lake Orion below, but these two also are undefeated and meeting for the overall Cascades Conference championship in the first season after the league split into divisions. These teams have split their last six meetings – Napoleon winning 36-18 last year to finish off an outright Cascades title – and both soundly defeated their three mutual opponents on the way here. This will provide one last strong test heading into what surely will be tough playoff brackets for both. Napoleon is tied for No. 2 in Division 7 playoff-point average, but No. 1 Jackson Lumen Christi and No. 5 Clinton could be opponents soon. Addison is No. 7 in Division 8 playoff-point average with No. 1 Ottawa Lake Whiteford and No. 6 Hudson possibly down the road.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hudson (7-1) at Clinton (7-1) - WATCH, Chelsea (7-1) at Dexter (6-2), Lake Orion (8-0) at Saline (8-0) - WATCH. SATURDAY Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-2) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (7-1) at Ford Field.
Paw Paw (8-0) at Niles (7-1) - WATCH
From a trophy perspective, this might be the most significant 11-player game in the state this weekend – a winner-take-all for the Wolverine Conference championship. Along the way, they’ve guaranteed an end to Edwardsburg’s league title reign at nine straight – including the last seven in the combined Wolverine after the league previously was split into divisions – and both contenders have left no doubt they are the elite in the league this fall. After opening with a 55-0 win over St. Joseph and then taking its lone loss to Stevensville Lakeshore, 15-14, Niles has outscored its other six Wolverine opponents by a combined 335-37, with three straight shutouts heading into this matchup. Paw Paw hasn’t had a game closer than three touchdowns all season and has outscored its other league opponents by a combined 227-53.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Union City (6-2) at Buchanan (5-3) - WATCH, Hastings (6-2) at Battle Creek Pennfield (4-4), South Haven (5-3) at Kalamazoo United (5-3), Stevensville Lakeshore (5-3) at Portage Central (7-1).
Iron Mountain (8-0) at Negaunee (7-1), Thursday - WATCH
This matchup of Western Peninsula Athletic Conference powers kicks off Week 9 in a big way Thursday, as Iron Mountain dominated in winning the Iron championship and Negaunee came back from a Week 2 loss to claim a share in the Copper. Iron Mountain played in the Copper most recently, until this season, and the league matchups between these two were decided by three points twice and two points once – all Iron Mountain wins – before Negaunee claimed last year’s 19-14. The Miners this time are coming off a 13-6 win over Houghton – which the Mountaineers defeated 56-6 in the opener two months ago – and they’ve had no other common opponent. But what they do have in common are playing styles, as both have dominating defenses and potent run games.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Menominee (6-2) at Bark River-Harris (5-3) - WATCH, Gaylord (8-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3) - WATCH, Saginaw Nouvel (3-5) at Manistique (4-4) - WATCH, Kingsford (7-1) at Marquette (5-2) - WATCH.
Hudsonville (5-3) at Rockford (8-0) - WATCH
The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red will be the last of the O-K divisions to fully crown its champion, as Rockford earned a share of the title last week with a 34-13 win over second-place Grandville but needs to down Hudsonville as well to clinch outright. That result over the Bulldogs was Rockford’s closest in league play this season and no opponent league or nonleague has gotten closer than 20 points. But Hudsonville can shake things up and showed the ability with its Week 2 win over East Lansing and narrow loss to Grandville in Week 5. Rockford has won the last eight meetings between this pair, but Hudsonville played the Rams to 42-31 a year ago despite finishing only 3-6. In fact, one more win would assure the Eagles their best record since at least 2019. Rockford sits first in Division 1 playoff-point average, guaranteeing three home playoff games if that position is maintained, while Hudsonville is slotting No. 24 and should benefit playing this game win or lose.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Coopersville (6-2) at Allendale (6-2), East Grand Rapids (6-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (6-2) - WATCH, Montague (4-4) at Muskegon Oakridge (5-3) - WATCH, Schoolcraft (6-2) at Saugatuck (7-1) - WATCH.
Indian River Inland Lakes (7-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-2), Saturday
This is also a winner-take-all as these two sit tied for first in the Ski Valley Conference. Inland Lakes has won the league title both seasons as part of it for 8-player football, including last year thanks to a 44-40 win over St. Mary on the way to the Snowbirds finishing second. All of that alone makes this big, but the St. Mary’s season also is on the line. Inland Lakes sits No. 8 in 8-player Division 1 playoff-point average, but St. Mary is No. 18, just outside the qualifying field after losing last week to Rudyard, which sits No. 16. Neither team has missed the playoffs since switching to the 8-player format, St. Mary in 2019 and Inland Lakes in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Posen (7-0) at Au Gres-Sims (7-1) - WATCH, Bay City All Saints (7-1) at Brown City (8-0) - WATCH, St. Ignace (7-1) at Pickford (8-0) - WATCH, Climax-Scotts (8-0) at Pittsford (7-1) - WATCH.
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PHOTO Ortonville Brandon and Goodrich face off Oct. 6 during a downpour. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)