By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This already-unusual 2020 football season introduced the first nearly all-in football playoffs this weekend with plenty of new in terms of format – but also a lot of the unpredictability we expect from this time of year.
For the first time, with fields doubled, 11-player teams were placed in eight-team Districts and 8-player teams in eight-team Regionals. And going by seeds, 35 games were upsets, including two by No. 8 seeds over No. 1s, four by seven seeds over No. 2s and 13 by six seeds over No. 3s.
There also were 66 rematches of regular-season games – with 13 different winners the second time around.
Below is a glance at results that intrigued the most from this first playoff week. Historical context is based in part on data at Michigan-football.com.
HEADLINER Rochester Adams 39, Rochester 7 Their Week 1 game didn’t happen, of course, and Rochester (6-1) went on to its first perfect regular season since 1993. But Adams (3-4) ran its winning streak over its rival to 23 with its best scoring output of the season. Click for more from the Oakland Press.
District Digest Novi 41, Brighton 27 Their opening night meeting was canceled, with the Bulldogs (4-3) getting the forfeit win. Before that, Brighton had won seven of their last eight matchups with the Wildcats (3-4) – with Novi’s win during that string coming in the 2016 playoffs. Grand Blanc 28, Lake Orion 14 The Bobcats (6-1) claimed their first playoff win since 2012, guaranteeing their best record since 2017 and in three fewer games than both of the last two seasons. Dearborn 20, Monroe 15 The Pioneers (3-4) joined Novi among No. 6 seeds that upset No. 3s, giving up their fewest points since the season opener. Monroe did finish 4-3, a win better than 2019. Romeo 20, New Baltimore Anchor Bay 6 Romeo was another No. 6 seed to prevail, but Anchor Bay (4-3) still had plenty to celebrate this fall with a three-win improvement and league title.
HEADLINER Oak Park 35, Grosse Pointe South 27 The Knights (1-6) couldn’t have picked a better moment to have their best of the season, winning their first game and scoring nearly half of their points for this fall in front of a FOX Sports Detroit audience. Oak Park was the eighth seed in the District and had put up only 45 points heading into the game. Grosse Pointe South (4-3) finished its season with two of its losses by eight points or fewer. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press and see highlights below from FSD.
Tonight's Game of the Week was STELLAR. Oak Park & Grosse Pointe South traded blows with the Knights defeating the Blue Devils 35-27. We hear from Knights QB James Burnley, WR Kyshaun Jackson, & Head Coach Greg Carter PLUS more reaction from Shep & Devin! #FWIM2020 pic.twitter.com/lu0XZJhoDo
— FOX Sports Detroit (@FOXSportsDet) October 31, 2020
District Digest Lowell 35, Byron Center 28 The Red Arrows (4-3) avenged a 14-point Week 7 loss to the Bulldogs (5-2), who went on to share the Ottawa-Kent Conference White title. Lowell also broke its three-game losing streak to close the regular season. Swartz Creek 28, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 6 The Dragons (5-2) added to a big turnaround season with their first playoff win. Dexter 56, Ypsilanti Lincoln 28 The Dreadnaughts (5-2) also earned their first playoff victory after near-misses the last two seasons. Ypsilanti Community 21, Dearborn Heights Crestwood 7 The Grizzlies (4-3) earned their first playoff victory as well and guaranteed at least their second-best season in eight as a program.
HEADLINER Battle Creek Harper Creek 30, Parma Western 13 Their annual regular-season meeting was scheduled for Week 3, but Harper Creek (5-2) had to wait until the playoffs to break a recent two-game losing streak to the Panthers (4-3). The Beavers are now two wins better than both of the last two seasons. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.
District Digest Lansing Waverly 39, St. Johns 7 With their first playoff win, the Warriors (4-3) also guaranteed their best finish since at least 2012. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 38, Pinckney 14 It’s not rare for a Catholic League Central team to have a so-so record after a highly-competitive regular season and come out strong in the playoffs, and St. Mary’s (2-3) is the latest example with this win over the Pirates (4-3). River Rouge 21, Gibraltar Carlson 0 The reigning Division 3 champion Panthers (5-1) picked up their fifth shutout of the season, halting a Marauders offense that had averaged nearly 34 points per game as the team went 4-2 during the regular season. Allen Park 18, Trenton 7 The Jaguars (5-2) made it three straight seasons with playoff wins over the league rival Trojans (3-4).
HEADLINER Ada Forest Hills Eastern 42, Allendale 0 The Hawks (4-3) missed the playoffs the last four seasons and hadn’t finished with a winning record since 2015. But they’ll finish at least .500 this fall thanks to their second shutout over the last four weeks, against an Allendale team that did open this season 3-0 before a tough final month. See highlights below from FOX 17.
Five-seed Forest Hills Eastern shuts out four-seed Allendale to advance in the Division 4 playoffs. https://t.co/ysUjsQZsMG
— FOX 17 Blitz (@FOX17Blitz) October 31, 2020
District Digest Coopersville 26, Sparta 14 The Broncos (3-4) earned their first playoff win since 2007 as another No. 6 seed winner. Vicksburg 17, Plainwell 12 These teams didn’t get to play their Wolverine Conference game this fall, but Vicksburg (5-2) handed Plainwell (3-3) its only loss this season on the field. Madison Heights Lamphere 43, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 0 The Rams (7-0) earned their first playoff win since 2009, continuing their best run since at least that fall. Croswell-Lexington 40, Imlay City 26 The Pioneers (6-1) tied their winningest season since 2012 with their second victory this fall over Imlay City (4-3).
HEADLINER Belding 32, Hopkins 18 The Black Knights’ surge continued as they’ve gone on to outscore three opponents by a combined 140-21 since losing to Hopkins by six in Week 7. That first-meeting win earned the Vikings (5-2) the O-K Silver championship, but this rematch allowed Belding (6-1) to move on in one of the strongest Districts in the state, regardless of division. Click for more from the Greenville Daily News.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) November 1, 2020
District Digest Kingsford 13, Ogemaw Heights 6 The Flivvers (4-2) improved to 4-1 on the field, reducing their points-allowed average this fall to 12.4 per game. Howard City Tri County 33, Central Montcalm 7 All four Vikings losses this season have come by seven points or fewer, and this avenged a 7-0 defeat to the Hornets (4-3) in Week 7. Olivet 20, Hillsdale 17 The Eagles (6-1) emerged with a solid win in another strong top-to-bottom District, as the No. 6-seeded Hornets finished 4-3. Richmond 38, Macomb Lutheran North 7 Add the Blue Devils (3-4) as well to the No. 6 seeds that won over the weekend as they upset Lutheran North (4-3).
HEADLINER Clare 41, Kent City 6 The Pioneers moved to 7-0 by winning this matchup of league champions and added to a defensive effort that’s allowed just 8.6 points per game. Kent City (5-2) had averaged nearly 31 points per game entering the weekend. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun and see below for highlights from MI Sports Now.
— MISportsNow (@MISportsNow) October 31, 2020
District Digest Negaunee 28, Gladstone 14 The Miners’ two losses on the field this season were by a combined four points, and with this win they avenged the first. Harrison 22, Sanford Meridian 14 Harrison (5-2) also avenged a loss after falling to Meridian (4-3) by 20 points in Week 6. Parchment 42, Coloma 40 The Panthers (3-4) started 0-4, with that fourth defeat by 11 to Coloma (4-3) in Week 7. Adrian Madison 34, Quincy 30 The Trojans (6-1) tied their most wins in a season since 2009 with their first ever in the playoffs.
HEADLINER Evart 23, Houghton Lake 18 The Wildcats’ first playoff win since 2012 guaranteed its winningest season since 2016 and earned Evart (5-2) a rematch with Highland Conference champion McBain. Evart has won five straight since losing the first McBain game in Week 5. Houghton Lake finished 4-3, with two of those losses to the Wildcats. Click for more from the Cadillac News.
District Digest Madison Heights Bishop Foley 27, Madison Heights Madison 24 After beating Madison 34-2 in Week 9, Bishop Foley (6-1) had to rally to move on in the rematch a week later. Detroit Central 26, Detroit Community 22 The Trail Blazers (5-2) bounced back from two straight losses, while Community ended a season that saw three of its last four losses come by eight points or fewer. Bad Axe 19, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 12 Laker (4-3) made this rematch closer than Bad Axe’s 21-point win two weeks ago, but the Hatchets (5-2) were able to get to five wins for the first time since 2014. Cass City 36, Reese 26 The Rockets had come a long way since Cass City’s 42-3 win in Week 5, but the Red Hawks (7-0) held on despite giving up a point shy of half their season total.
HEADLINER Gwinn 24, East Jordan 20 The Modeltowners earned their first playoff victory since 1999, improving to 4-3 after winning just a game a year ago – another wonderful tribute to late coach Dion Brown, who died unexpectedly in January. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
District Digest Unionville-Sebewaing 57, Marlette 14 The Patriots (5-2) are 12 points over two games from being undefeated and went over 50 points for the second time this fall. Detroit Leadership 8, Melvindale Academy of Business & Tech 6 The Cougars (4-3) earned the first playoff win in their five years as a program. Bark River-Harris 54, St. Ignace 20 The Broncos (4-2) opened this fall with two losses but haven’t lost since, in this win putting up one-third of their points for the entire season. Saranac 14, Potterville 0 After not winning since opening night, Saranac picked up its first playoff victory since 2011.
HEADLINER Indian River Inland Lakes 34, Munising 22 After two straight winless seasons in 11-player, and three over its final four, Inland Lakes improved to 6-1 this fall by ending Munising’s first 8-player season at 4-3. This also was Inland Lakes’ first win in the playoffs since 1995. Click for more from the Cheboygan News.
Regional Roundup Merrill 66, Deckerville 22 The Vandals (6-1) opened their first 8-player playoffs with their highest-scoring game of the season, ending Deckerville’s season at 4-3. Gaylord St. Mary 86, Central Lake 54 By combining for 140 points, these teams earned a record book entry for fourth-highest scoring game in MHSAA 8-player history. Mesick 34, Vestaburg 0 The Bulldogs (5-2) won their first playoff game ever with their first shutout since last season. Mayville 48, Genesee 20 The Wildcats’ best season since at least the 1980s will continue as they earned a matchup with also-undefeated Adrian Lenawee Christian this week.
HEADLINER Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 59, Burr Oak 18 The Bobcats (5-2) have to celebrate a season during which they tied their most wins since 1974. But the Defenders’ offense remains potent scoring nearly 43 points per game despite the team being only 3-4. And note, all four of those defeats came to teams in Division 1 or too large for the 8-player playoffs. Click for more from JoeInsider.com.
Regional Roundup Lake Linden-Hubbell 48, Crystal Falls Forest Park 8 The Lakes (4-3) have gotten on the field for only five games, but they’ve made them count including with this big win over old rival Forest Park (4-2). Peck 30, Ashley 0 After losing 30-22 to the Bears (3-4) in Week 9, Peck (4-3) came back big a week later in the rematch. Colon 52, Climax-Scotts 14 The Magi (6-1) may have suffered a loss this season after a perfect 2019, but that hasn’t meant they’re done – especially considering that defeat came to Division 1 Lenawee Christian. Waldron 30, Tekonsha 6 The Spartans (5-2) nearly reversed a 28-point loss to Tekonsha (4-3) only three weeks ago.
PHOTO: Marquette's Kameron Karp (23) is able to get by Muskegon Reeths-Puffer's Caden Brainard (8) but is taken down by Landon Mechem (32) at the 4-yard line during their Saturday matchup. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.)