By now, you’ve likely moved on to prepping for this weekend’s start of the 2023 Football Playoffs. We don’t blame you – it’s impossible to not look forward at this time of year.
(And join us again Friday as we switch up the “1st & Goal” preview format to take a look at matchups in every playoff division.)
Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER Davison 56, Lapeer 55 The Saginaw Valley League Red title race went down to the final minutes and last points of the regular season as Davison (9-0) held on to claim the outright championship; a Lapeer win would have awarded a share of the title to runner-up Grand Blanc. What’s next? The Lightning (5-4) go back to Davison for a Division 1 District Semifinal on Friday. Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Davison & Lapeer combined for 111 points tonight... enough said
They were going back-and-forth like a conversation
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 21, 2023
Watch list Harbor Beach 17. Beal City 8 This was among the headliners statewide as Harbor Beach (8-1) not only handed Beal City (8-1) its only loss but also leaped to No. 6 on the final playoff-points average list.
On the move Frankenmuth 38, Gladwin 0 Frankenmuth (8-1) went on the road for a rematch of last season’s Division 5 Final, won by Gladwin 10-7 on a closing-seconds field goal, and this time finished a regular-season run that guaranteed home games at least through the Regional and could include hosting the Flying Gs (7-2). Midland Dow 29, Midland 9 This got Dow (5-4) into the playoffs and boosted the Chargers enough to keep them home for a rematch with the Chemics (5-4) this week. Freeland 35, Croswell-Lexington 32 Freeland came back from 26 points down to not only get to (8-1) but eventually earn home field for this week’s game against Lake Fenton, which entered Week 9 only one spot behind the Falcons on the Division 4 playoff-points average list.
HEADLINER Lake Orion 35, Saline 28 These two entered both undefeated and Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, on the Division 1 playoff-points average list. Lake Orion (9-0) finished the weekend with its first perfect regular season since 2006 and the top spot overall in Division 1, guaranteeing itself three home playoff games. The Dragons took their first lead with 4:36 to play. Saline (8-1) moved down only to No. 6 on the Division 1 list and will be home this week as well. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.
Lake Orion wrapped up a perfect regular season with a thrilling 35-28 victory over Saline! Senior standout Billy Roberson makes his case to be in the Top 10 for Mr. Football with 3 rushing touchdowns! Delivered by @hungryhowies@BillyRobersonII | @lohsathletics pic.twitter.com/8tjIlESwje
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) October 22, 2023
Watch list Harper Woods 24, Roseville 7 The Pioneers (6-3) continued their rise from a 1-2 start and continued to benefit from a loaded schedule by moving up six spots to No. 1 on the final Division 4 playoff-points average list after avenging last season’s 28-0 loss to the Panthers (6-3).
On the move Belleville 42, Northville 0 Belleville (9-0) posted its third-straight shutout and fifth this season to claim the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association title; the Tigers could see Northville (8-1) again in a Regional Final. Oxford 24, Detroit U-D Jesuit 21 Oxford (4-5) climbed in the top 32 in Division 1 playoff-point average last week for the first time this season and stayed there by edging Jesuit (6-2). Birmingham Seaholm 21, Birmingham Groves 14 Seaholm (8-1) broke a four-game losing streak against its rival, and after falling to Groves in both in the regular season and playoffs last year – and the Maples will host the Falcons (6-3) again this week.
HEADLINER East Lansing 35, Grand Ledge 21 East Lansing (7-2) finished an outright Capital Area Activities Conference Blue championship, its first league title since sharing the Blue in 2019, and jumped up to No. 10 on the Division 2 playoff-points average list while securing home games through the District Final. Grand Ledge (6-3), last year’s Blue co-champion, narrowly missed getting a home game and will travel in Division 1. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Watch list Portland 43, Berrien Springs 0 The Raiders (9-0) capped their first perfect regular season since 2018 with their second straight shutout and this one over another league champion in Berrien Springs (5-3).
On the move Hastings 38, Battle Creek Pennfield 3 Hastings (7-2) clinched the outright Interstate 8 Activities Conference title, the Saxons’ fourth-straight league championship (including one shared), but Pennfield also can be pleased finishing 4-5 after going 0-9 a year ago. Belding 66, Howard City Tri County 20 The Black Knights (8-1) scored a season high in their best win of the regular season as they finished 8-1 for the second straight. Tri County (7-2) helped provide the boost to keep Belding No. 5 on the final Division 5 playoff-points average list. Bath 28, Perry 6 While Perry (5-4) did still qualify for the playoffs for the first time, Bath (6-3) celebrated on this night and has made the playoffs for the second straight while also earning a home game this week in Division 7.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER Gaylord 20, Sault Ste. Marie 8 Just two seasons after going 2-7, Gaylord (9-0) completed its first perfect regular season since 2002 and finished off a Big North Conference outright championship in the process. The win also kept Gaylord at No. 6 in Division 3 playoff-points average and guaranteed them home games through the District, but also likely kept Sault Ste. Marie (5-4) out of claiming one of the final spots in the Division 4 bracket. Click for more from the Petoskey News-Review.
Watch list Traverse City St. Francis 27, Muskegon Catholic Central 0 Last season’s Division 7 runner-up Gladiators had a lot of faces in different places or larger roles starting this fall, but they’ve qualified for the Division 7 playoffs thanks to a tough schedule and three wins over playoff teams including this one over MCC (5-4).
On the move Cheboygan 29, Benzie Central 25 Proving again that there’s always something to play for, Cheboygan (1-8) scored a season high in points, gave up their second fewest and closed a tough fall with an upset of playoff-bound Benzie (5-4). Traverse City West 17, Traverse City Central 8 Central (4-5) grabbed one of the final spots in the Division 2 playoff field and West (4-5) fell just three outside of qualifying, but the Titans surely should celebrate doubling their win total from a year ago and breaking a four-game losing streak against their rival. Ogemaw Heights 21, Almont 7 Ogemaw Heights (8-1) tied its winningest season since 2009, handing Almont (8-1) its only defeat, and earned a rematch, this time at home, against the only team it lost to this fall – Week 1 opponent Gladwin.
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER Addison 24, Napoleon 0 The timing couldn’t have been better for Addison to show arguably its best performance. The Panthers (9-0) earned the overall Cascades Conference championship in this matchup of previous undefeated divisional winners, posting their first shutout of the fall against an offense that was scoring 42 points per game, to avenge last year’s 36-18 loss and to move up to No. 5 on the Division 8 playoff-points average list with a home game against Hudson coming up next. Napoleon (8-1) will open the playoffs at home as well. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Watch list Clinton 29, Hudson 0 With its second-straight shutout, Clinton (8-1) clinched an outright championship in the Lenawee County Athletic Association for the second-straight season. A Hudson win would have meant a shared title with the Tigers (7-2). Clinton has four shutouts this fall and suffered its only loss in the season opener.
On the move Chelsea 31, Dexter 21 After opening in August with a loss to Grand Rapids Northview, Chelsea (8-1) has been on a roll and made its loudest statement against the Dreadnaughts (6-3), who also hadn’t lost since starting 0-2. Ida 14, Dundee 7 Ida (5-4) jumped from No. 32 to a more comfortable No. 25 in Division 6 playoff-point average with this win, while Dundee (5-4) was left four spots outside the field in Division 5. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 28, Detroit Country Day 27 A tough schedule already had SMCC (5-4) in fine shape to make the playoffs, but the Falcons have won three straight to move up to No. 5 on the Division 7 playoff-points average list, in this one handing County Day (3-5) its third loss by six or fewer points this fall.
HEADLINER Niles 56, Paw Paw 18 Niles pulled away from what had been a much closer game at halftime, in doing so claiming the Wolverine Conference championship outright and assuring itself of home games through the Regional. Moreover, the Vikings (8-1) reached eight wins for the first time since 1979, according to Michigan-Football.com, and they could host Paw Paw (8-1) if both win their Division 4 District Semifinals this week. Click for more from the Niles Daily Star.
— FOX 17 Blitz (@FOX17Blitz) October 21, 2023
Watch list Buchanan 34, Union City 0 The Bucks (6-3) enter the Division 6 playoffs on an impressive defensive streak, as they haven’t given up a point over their last three games – including this one against the playoff-bound Chargers (6-3).
On the move South Haven 44, Kalamazoo United 42 South Haven (6-3) will host a Division 5 playoff opener after edging the Titans (5-4), who had defeated the Rams the last two seasons including in a 2021 playoff opener. Benton Harbor 24, Hopkins 16 The Tigers’ playoff chances seemed slimmer after a tough run midseason during which they lost two one-score games over three weeks, but Benton Harbor (4-5) won two of its final three games to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2017 (not counting 2020, when all teams qualified because of the COVID-adjusted schedule). Portage Central 42, Stevensville Lakeshore 0 Portage Central (8-1) completed an outright championship run in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference with its first shutout of the fall. Lakeshore (5-4) has reason to be pleased as well this week, as it finished the regular season back in the playoffs and two wins better than a year ago.
HEADLINER Iron Mountain 42, Negaunee 7 There’s conversation that Iron Mountain (9-0) may be the Upper Peninsula’s best team regardless of division this fall, and it’s hard to argue with success. The Mountaineers haven’t been challenged much after moving into the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron, but this win over Copper co-champion Negaunee (7-2) says plenty and kept Iron Mountain in position to host both District rounds. Click for more from UPMatters.com.
Watch list Kingsford 46, Marquette 11 Kingsford is the other side of the argument for best in the UP, and the Flivvers (8-1) have their most wins since 2017 and are a one-point loss to Negaunee from a perfect regular season. This defeat of Division 3 Marquette (5-3) pushed Kingsford to No. 10 on the Division 5 playoff-points average list.
On the move Menominee 44, Bark River-Harris 14 The Maroons (7-2) bounced back from back-to-back losses to hold steady at No. 7 on the Division 7 playoff-points average list, but ended playoff hopes for Bark River-Harris (5-4) in the process. Gladstone 30, Escanaba 0 Gladstone (7-2) is No. 6 on the Division 6 list and will be home for both District rounds as well. Ishpeming 30, Ishpeming Westwood 0 The Hematites (6-3) have their best record since 2019 after ending a three-game losing streak to rival Westwood.
HEADLINER Wayland 49, Grand Rapids South Christian 40 Wayland not only qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013 (not counting 2020’s COVID-related format), but the Wildcats (6-3) with this win downed the reigning Division 4 champion and reached six wins for the first time since that playoff season a decade ago. They’ll go to South Christian (6-3) this week for a Division 4 District Semifinal. Click for more from Michigan Sports Radio.
WATCH: Wayland appears to have secured its spot in the Division 4 playoffs with a 49-40 win over South Christian.@WUWildcats @SCsailorFB @KaharrieP @brycecalkins1 @carsonvis1 @jake_vermaas pic.twitter.com/5Dac30puEb
— Matt Gard (@mgard_wzzm13) October 21, 2023
Watch list Hart 44, Ravenna 0 Hart (8-1) will be making its first playoff appearance this week (not counting 2020), coming off its first win over Ravenna (3-6) since 1992 and after losing to the Bulldogs 48-0 a year ago. The eight wins are the program’s most since 1968.
On the move Rockford 48, Hudsonville 0 The Rams (9-0) finished an outright Ottawa-Kent Conference Red championship and fourth-straight perfect regular season, and could see Hudsonville (5-4) again in a District Final. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 14, Zeeland West 12 After losing to West by 40 two seasons ago and 18 last fall, Reeths-Puffer (7-2) edged the Dux (6-3) to get to seven wins for the first time since 2013. Zeeland East 21, Muskegon Mona Shores 20 (OT) Similarly, East (6-3) had fallen to Mona Shores (6-3) by 19 in 2021 and then 35 last year before this win that boosted the Chix to No. 16 on the Division 3 playoff-points average list.
HEADLINER Indian River Inland Lakes 36, Gaylord St. Mary 30 Inland Lakes (8-1) ran its Ski Valley Conference title streak to all three since joining the league, taking this winner-take-all matchup. Inland Lakes also moved up to No. 5 on the 8-player Division 1 playoff-points average list, while St. Mary (6-3) fell two spots and missed qualifying by four slots. Click for more from the Petoskey News-Review.
Watch list Posen 46, Au Gres-Sims 42 This winner-take-all for the North Star League Little Dipper title went Posen’s way after Au Gres-Sims (7-2) won their Week 9 matchup last season to claim the championship. Posen is 8-0 and set to host both Division 2 Regional rounds.
On the move Fulton 36, Carson City-Crystal 28 Fulton (6-3) sat three spots off the Division 2 playoff list heading into the weekend, but reached the final spot in the field by handing Carson City-Crystal (8-1) its only loss. Powers North Central 48, Crystal Falls Forest Park 24 The three-time reigning Division 2 champion Jets (7-2) also were in danger of missing the playoffs in the No. 16 slot when the weekend began – but moved up to No. 14 by getting past the Trojans (7-2). They could meet again in a Regional Final. St. Ignace 42, Pickford 10 The Saints (8-1) handed Pickford its only loss, limiting an offense that entered averaging 54 points per game. A rematch would come in a Division 1 Semifinal.
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PHOTO Bath and Perry faced off under the lights and rain in Week 9, and both will continue as the playoffs begin this weekend. (Middle) A Lapeer defender pursues a Davison ball carrier during Friday's 56-55 Cardinals win. (Top photo by Max McCallister. Middle 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.)