Four undefeated teams will be the first to play for championships to cap the longest football season in MHSAA history.
Adrian Lenawee Christian and Suttons Bay in Division 1 and Portland St. Patrick and Powers North Central in Division 2 will take the field at Brighton’s Legacy Center on Saturday with this season’s two 8-player titles on the line. They returned to action last week after a nearly two-month pause due to COVID-19.
Suttons Bay and Portland St. Patrick are the 2019 runners-up in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively. Adrian Lenawee Christian is new to the format this season and like Suttons Bay is playing for its first football title. North Central, meanwhile, is the only program to win multiple 8-player championships since the format was added in 2011, and the Jets are back at the Finals for the first time since their repeat run in 2016.
Kickoff for the Division 2 game is 2 p.m., with the Division 1 game following approximately 5:30 p.m. Spectators remain limited, but both games will be broadcast live on the FOX Sports Detroit Facebook page, and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel Jan. 21 beginning at 8 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason.
ADRIAN LENAWEE CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 10-0, No. 3
Coach: Bill Wilharms, eighth season (59-21)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 49-0 over No. 1 Morrice in Regional Final, 47-12 over No. 8 Martin in Semifinal, 78-14 over No. 4 Mayville in Regional Semifinal, 24-6 over Division 2 No. 5 Colon.
Players to watch: RB/LB Jameson Chesser, 5-10/170, sr. (1,179 yards/29 TDs rushing, 506 yards/4 TDs receiving); QB/CB Landon Gallant, 5-10/155, sr. (1,331 yards/23 TDs passing, 388 yards/6 TDs rushing); OG/NG Coby Kegerreis, 5-8/185, jr.; C/DE Joey Breckel, 6-1/240, sr.
Outlook: Lenawee Christian’s 8-player debut couldn’t have gone better on the field, as the Cougars have won only one game by fewer than 35 points. That was an 18-point victory over league foe Colon, last season’s Division 1 champion, and Saturday the Cougars can make it a repeat for the SCAA Division A. Chesser – who also has thrown for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts – made the all-state first team and scored five times against Martin in the Semifinal. Kegerreis also made the all-state first team, as did junior kicker Clay Ayers (41 of 48 XP), and Breckel earned honorable mention. Those four and Gallant also start on a defense that’s given up only 46 points over 10 games.
Record/rank: 10-0, No. 1
Coach: Garrick Opie, third season (30-2)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 runner-up 2019, 11-player Division 6 runner-up 2004.
Best wins: 38-22 over No. 8 Gaylord St. Mary in Regional Final, 35-0 over Brethren, 39-20 and 44-0 (Regional Semifinal) over Whittemore-Prescott.
Players to watch: RB/DB Hugh Periard, 6-0/175, jr. (799 yards/13 TDs rushing, 217 yards/3 TDs receiving); QB/DB Nate Devol, 6-0/175, sr. (901 yards/15 TDs passing, 301 yards/2 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions on defense); RB/LB Shawn Bramer, 6-2/195, jr. (622 yards/11 TDs rushing, 60 yards/1 TD receiving); OL/LB Michael Wittman, 6-4/230, sr.
Outlook: Suttons Bay is returning to the Division 1 championship game after falling short in a 26-14 defeat to Colon in 2019. The Norsemen have won all of their games by double digits, with a defense giving up only 7.6 points per game and a rushing attack that has piled up 2,506 yards over nine games (last week’s Semifinal win was a forfeit by Indian River Inland Lakes). Wittman made the all-state first team as a linebacker. Starting tight ends Jake Murphy and Brayden Opie add another element to the attack – both have caught 15 passes, with Murphy scoring on five and Opie on six.
PORTLAND ST. PATRICK
Record/rank: 10-0, No. 1
Coach: Patrick Russman, 13th season (96-39)
League finish: Does not play in the league.
Championship history: 8-player Division 2 runner-up 2019 and 2017, 11-player Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1997 and 1991.
Best wins: 44-34 over No. 5 Colon in Regional Final, 34-12 over No. 7 Kinde North Huron in Semifinal, 52-19 over No. 4 Burr Oak, 26-22 over Division 1 No. 6 Merrill.
Players to watch: QB/DB Connor Cross, 6-3/190, sr. (1,245 yards/21 TDs passing, 429 yards/9 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions on defense); RB/LB Derec Fedewa, 5-10/185, jr. (1,369 yards/19 TDs, 311 yards/5 TDs receiving); WR/LB Braxton Teachworth, 6-3/190, jr. (193 yards/3 TDs receiving); OL/DL Chase Fitzsimmons, 6-3/240, sr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks have come within a win of the Division 2 championship twice over the last four seasons, and will make a run at it again with an offense featuring all-state first teamers at quarterback and running back. Cross and Fedewa have piled up big numbers this fall, as has leading receiving Shane Cook (502 yards/9 TDs), for a team scoring 43.5 points per game. But the key Saturday could be an opportunistic defense that has taken advantage of 28 turnovers – including 19 fumble recoveries – and allowed conversions on only 19 percent of opponent third downs. Fitzsimmons and Teachworth earned all-state honorable mentions, Teachworth at linebacker.
POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record/rank: 10-0, No. 2
Coach: Leo Gorzinski, third season (28-3)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference West
Championship history: 8-player champion 2016 and 2015.
Best wins: 55-8 over No. 3 Cedarville in Regional Final, 50-2 over No. 8 Marion in Semifinal, 50-8 over Stephenson, 52-8 over Lake Linden-Hubbell in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: QB/LB Luke Gorzinski, 5-9/170, soph. (1,163 yards/18 TDs passing, 909 yards/20 TDs rushing); WR/LB Ian Gorzinski, 5-11/165, sr. (362 yards/5 TDs receiving, 101 yards/3 TDs rushing); RB/LB Alex Naser, 5-8/165, jr. (312 yards/7 TDs rushing, 301 yards/7 TDs receiving, 2 TDs on kickoff returns); OL/DL Carter Eichmeier, 6-2/190, sr.
Outlook: The Jets will match St. Patrick’s all-state quarterback with the other all-state first-team signal-caller this season in Luke Gorzinski, who is coming off four touchdown runs and a scoring pass in the Semifinal. He keys an offense that has outscored opponents 280-8 in the first quarter alone and 539-60 in nine games overall (one win was a forfeit). Eichmeier also made the all-state first team as North Central won all but one of its games by more than 40 points. In addition to the sparse points given up, the Jets are allowing only 114 yards per game.
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.)