By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The summery weather may make this weekend feel like mid-September in much of Michigan.
And this weekend certainly has the feeling of playoff football as we move to 256 teams in 11-player and 32 in 8, with matchups toughening and urgency rising.
Read on for a glance at 11-player District Semifinals and 8-player Regional Semifinals of particular note in each division. Spectator limits are again in effect (check with your local school for purchasing information), but there’s an opportunity to watch one or more of 53 games being broadcast on MHSAA.tv or FOX Sports Detroit.
Games below are Friday unless noted. Historical context is based in part on data at Michigan-football.com.
Grand Blanc (6-1) at Clarkston (7-0)
This will be the fourth playoff meeting of these teams over the last 11 seasons, and Grand Blanc is seeking its first win over the Wolves since 2010. The Bobcats’ offense is averaging nearly 40 points per game – and the key matchup will be how it contends with a Clarkston defense that hasn’t given up more than seven in a game in a month.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hudsonville (5-2) at Rockford (5-0), Traverse City West (6-1) at Grandville (6-1), Howell (4-3) at White Lake Lakeland (6-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-3) at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (6-0).
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (6-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-0)
These two are meeting in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons – they didn’t see each other last year when Mona Shores made its run to the Division 2 championship. The Sailors haven’t slowed since, putting up nearly 48 points per game with their most impressive wins over Muskegon early and Detroit Martin Luther King two weeks ago. Forest Hills Central has allowed only one opponent to score more than 14 points – Byron Center, which handed the Rangers’ their lone defeat.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Battle Creek Lakeview (5-2) at Portage Northern (6-1), Midland Dow (5-2) at Midland (7-0), Birmingham Groves (4-3) at Birmingham Seaholm (5-2), Swartz Creek (5-2) at Traverse City Central (6-1).
River Rouge (5-1) at Riverview (7-0)
The reigning champion Panthers are riding a four-shutout streak since an open date Week 6, but will get their strongest test since a Week 5 loss to East Lansing. The Riverview scoring machine over six games has put up just eight points fewer than it scored over 11 games in 2019. The Pirates are scoring 44.5 per game and have broken 40 in four straight.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marysville (6-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (4-3), Battle Creek Harper Creek (5-2) at St. Joseph (6-1). SATURDAY Cedar Springs (5-2) at Muskegon (6-1), Marquette (6-1) at Mount Pleasant (6-1).
Croswell-Lexington (6-1) at North Branch (7-0)
These two decided the Blue Water Area Conference championship in Week 5, when the Broncos emerged with a 27-20 victory. Both won rematches by double digits last week, Croswell-Lexington over Imlay City and North Branch over Yale, and it’s fair to anticipate this rematch will be one of the headliners of this playoff round.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-2) at Hastings (6-1), Detroit Country Day (4-2) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (6-1), Goodrich (6-1) at Ortonville Brandon (6-1). SATURDAY Livonia Clarenceville (5-2) at Redford Union (6-1).
Portland (6-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1)
A strong playoff rivalry over the last decade will be renewed as these two meet in the postseason for the first time since 2017 and sixth time in 11 years. They’ve gotten here by similar roads this fall, both mostly dominating aside from lone losses to contenders in bigger divisions, Portland to Division 3 DeWitt and West Catholic to Division 4 Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Saginaw Swan Valley (4-3) at Essexville Garber (6-1), Belding (6-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-0), Olivet (6-1) at Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep (6-1), Almont (3-2) at Frankenmuth (7-0).
Clare (7-0) at Montague (7-0), Saturday
Clare’s road has been one of the toughest from the start, even given last week’s score over another league champion. The Pioneers defeated Kent City 41-6 but now must travel to take on a Montague team that annually is in the title mix and missed out on Ford Field last year by a one-point Semifinal loss.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Boyne City (5-2) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-2), Adrian Madison (6-1) at Michigan Center (4-1), Erie Mason (7-0) at Clinton (6-1). SATURDAY Durand (5-2) at Detroit Edison (5-2).
Sandusky (7-0) at Cass City (7-0)
These two have met the last two playoffs, Cass City winning by four points in 2018 and then 40 a year ago. This rematch should be much more like the first, in part because Sandusky’s defense is nearly matching its more impressive 2018 by giving up just under 14 points per game. Both also played Reese to nearly identical scores over the last two weeks (Cass City winning 36-26, Sandusky 36-28), perhaps a better indicator of how they might match up.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Oscoda (7-0) at Beaverton (6-1), Grass Lake (5-2) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (5-2). SATURDAY Detroit Central (5-2) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley (6-1), Homer (5-2) at Lawton (6-1).
Breckenridge (6-1) at Beal City (6-1)
Despite their proximity, these two haven’t met during the last five years of both being championship contenders. But they have taken similar paths to get here. The Huskies have gotten a good look at solid competition this fall, handing Carson City-Crystal its only loss and losing only to reigning Division 8 champion Reading. After losing to Reading in last year’s championship game, Beal City’s only defeat was by four this fall to still-undefeated McBain.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Unionville-Sebewaing (5-2) at Ubly (5-2), Mendon (6-1) at Reading (6-1), Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (5-2) at Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (6-1), Gwinn (4-3) at Iron Mountain (6-1).
Mayville (7-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (7-0)
Both are nearing relatively uncharted territory for their programs – in fact, Mayville has its most wins since 1987. This should be Lenawee Christian’s strongest challenge since handing Colon its only loss, 24-6 in Week 5. The Wildcats have been tested by tougher competition lately, but telling could be how both defeated International Academy of Flint by nearly identical scores over the last three weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Indian River Inland Lakes (6-1) at Pellston (7-0), Whittemore-Prescott (5-2) at Suttons Bay (7-0), Mesick (5-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-1), Merrill (6-1) at Morrice (7-0).
Rapid River (6-1) at Cedarville (6-1)
In Week 6, Cedarville broke a four-game losing streak against the Rockets with a 32-20 win. That was Rapid River’s only loss this season; Cedarville’s had come the week before to Division 1 contender (and last season’s Division 2 champion) Pickford. The key in this rematch could be the Trojans’ continuing defensive strength; they’ve kept four opponents to single digits and haven’t allowed more than 20 points this fall.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bay City All Saints (4-2) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (6-1). SATURDAY Brethren (5-2) at Hale (6-1), Peck (4-3) at Kinde North Huron (6-1), Lake Linden-Hubbell (4-3) at Powers North Central (7-0).
PHOTO: Fenton, here against Walled Lake Central last week, faces North Farmington tonight in a District Semifinal. (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.)