1st & Goal: Playoff Week 2 in Review

November 9, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We’ll blame this season’s delayed start for taking a few more weeks to uncover some under-the-radar gems this football season.

But this weekend’s second-round 11-player District and 8-player Regional games allowed us to unearth a few more teams that have taken special advantage of the opportunity to get back on the field this fall.

You’ll spot them in our weekly review below (Eastpointe! Evart!), and they all don’t begin with the letter E (even if Essexville Garber does as well).

Historical context is based in part on data at Michigan-football.com.


Division 1

HEADLINER Grand Blanc 42, Clarkston 35 The indications that Grand Blanc (7-1) might be on the verge of a special run have come to fruition as the Bobcats (7-1) outpaced previously-undefeated Clarkston. Their 42 points were double what the Wolves (7-1) had given up in a game this season. The win earned Grand Blanc a rematch this week with Davison, which dealt the Bobcats their lone loss. Click for more from the Flint Journal and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.

District Digest Holt 43, Grand Ledge 36 As the Rams (4-3) mourned the death of former longtime coach Mike Smith, they avenged a one-point loss two weeks earlier to the rival Comets (5-3). Rochester Hills Stoney Creek 28, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 21 The Cougars (7-0) earned their first District Final berth, going ahead of the Big Reds (3-4) for good with a fourth-quarter score. Rockford 42, Hudsonville 7 These Ottawa-Kent Conference Red rivals missed out on playing each other during the regular season, but after the wait the Rams (6-0) ran their winning streak over the Eagles (5-3) to six. Romeo 15, Macomb Dakota 14 The Bulldogs (4-4) turned a six-point loss in Week 8 into a one-point win to reach the District Finals for the first time since 2016 and end Dakota’s season at 6-2.

Division 2

HEADLINER Muskegon Mona Shores 28, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 25 The reigning Division 2 champion Sailors (8-0) received their biggest scare of the season, holding on as these teams met in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Forest Hills Central (6-2) led by as many as 10 points. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle and see highlights below from FOX 17.

District Digest Midland 31, Midland Dow 15 The Chemics (8-0) made it two wins in three weeks over their rival, although Dow (5-3) cut the margin from 26 to 16 in the rematch. Oak Park 27, Detroit U-D Jesuit 21 Few have made a new season of the playoffs more than Oak Park (2-6), which upped its postseason scoring to a combined 62 points after scoring 45 during the regular season. Caledonia 55, Lowell 38 The Fighting Scots (4-4) have found their stride as well over the last three weeks, as they’ve won their last three games since finishing up the O-K Red schedule. North Farmington 44, Fenton 28 The Raiders (5-3) earned their first District title berth and scored their season-high points for the second-straight week while handing Fenton (7-1) its only loss.

Division 3

HEADLINER Eastpointe 57, Warren Fitzgerald 0 From 2011-18, Eastpointe (formerly East Detroit) won at most four games in a season. With this win, the Shamrocks moved to 8-0 this fall and earned their first District Final berth, and the shutout was their sixth this fall. Fitzgerald (5-3) had averaged 41 points per game. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

District Digest Marquette 21, Mount Pleasant 14 The Redmen (7-1) have tied their winningest season since 2010 and will play in a District Final for the first time since that fall as well after holding the Oilers (6-2) to their fewest points this season. Chelsea 49, South Lyon East 44 The Bulldogs (8-0) are 9-2 in the playoffs over the last three seasons, with now six wins by seven points or fewer after this challenge by the Cougars (5-3). River Rouge 38, Riverview 20 The Panthers (6-1) will play for their sixth District title in seven seasons thanks in part to locking down an offense that had scored 44.5 points per game during a 7-0 start. Detroit Martin Luther King 42, Marysville 17 After a pair of losses to title contenders to close the regular season, King (5-3) is back in stride especially defensively; Marysville (6-2) was averaging nearly 35 points per game entering this contest.

Division 4

HEADLINER Detroit Country Day 21, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 14 The Irish (6-2) already had pushed Country Day to its closest win, a 10-0 Yellowjackets victory in Week 6. But Country Day (5-2) – the reigning Division 4 runner-up – prevailed this time with a fourth-quarter comeback to return to the District Finals. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

District Digest Paw Paw 24, Hastings 22 The Saxons (6-2) were one of the best stories of the regular season with their first winning record since 2012. But Paw Paw (6-2) has bounced back from two losses to contenders at the end of the regular season by earning a third-straight District Finals trip. Battle Creek Pennfield 63, Marshall 42 One of the highest-scoring games of the season saw Pennfield (5-3) match its winningest season since 2013. The Panthers had missed out on their annual regular-season meeting with the Redhawks (3-5) but avenged last year’s 35-point loss. Ortonville Brandon 33, Goodrich 6 The Blackhawks (7-1) claimed their second win over Goodrich (6-2) after the first eventually decided the Flint Metro League Stars title. North Branch 35, Croswell-Lexington 6 Similar story with this rematch, as the Broncos (8-0) had previously defeated the Pioneers (6-2) in the game that went on to decide the Blue Water Area Conference championship.

Division 5

HEADLINER Olivet 28, Kalamazoo United 14 The Eagles (7-1) have played in the postseason 13 years in row. After five straight first-round losses – including three by seven points or fewer – Olivet will return to the District Finals. Kalamazoo United (6-2) was averaging 44 points per game, but the Eagles still haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17. Click for more from JoeInsider.com.

District Digest Grand Rapids Catholic Central 41, Belding 6 The reigning Division 4 champion Cougars (7-0) are well on their way again; they held the Black Knights (6-2) 37 points below their average. Howard City Tri Country 40, Grant 21 The Vikings (4-4) opened this season with a one-point loss to Grant (3-4), but by winning the rematch will play in a District Final for the first  time since 2004. Frankenmuth 28, Almont 0 The Eagles (9-0) will play in a District Final for the ninth-straight season after shutting out the reigning Division 5 runner-up Raiders (3-3). Essexville Garber 21, Saginaw Swan Valley 14 The Dukes (7-1) are headed to their first District Final since 2013, adding a second win this season over Swan Valley (4-4) after two defeats to the Vikings in 2019.

Division 6

HEADLINER Montague 50, Clare 7 The Wildcats continued their playoff dominance of the last four years, claiming this matchup of undefeated league champions to advance to the District Finals for the fifth time in six seasons. Montague (8-0) of course was impressive on offense, but perhaps more so on the other side of the ball as Clare (7-1) entered the game scoring 50 points per game. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle and see highlights below from MI Sports Now.

District Digest Clinton 42, Erie Mason 24 These two switched leagues before this fall, Erie Mason (7-1) going on to win the Tri-County Conference title and Clinton (7-1) finishing second in the Lenawee County Athletic Association after they played in the opposite leagues for years prior. Boyne City 29, Maple City Glen Lake (OT) After losing to the reigning Division 6 runner-up 22-6 in their season opener, Boyne City (6-2) held on to avenge as the Lakers (5-3) went for the win after their overtime touchdown. Calumet 29, Menominee 14 The Copper Kings (4-3) made it two playoff wins in a row over Menominee (4-3) after they also met in a District Final in 2019. Negaunee 42, Ishpeming Westwood 14 These two were supposed to meet in a regular-season finale that was canceled, but two weeks later Negaunee (5-3) broke a three-game losing streak against the league rival Patriots (5-2).

Division 7

HEADLINER Evart 34, McBain 31 We see these every year, and they make high school football like no other level. Six weeks ago, McBain defeated Evart 52-16. The Wildcats (6-2) haven’t lost again and will play this weekend in their first District Final since 2012. The Ramblers had given up a total of 55 points this season before Evart’s latest 34. Click for more from the Cadillac News.

District Digest Oscoda 33, Beaverton 27 The Owls (8-0) have won eight games for the third straight season and now earned the opportunity to play in a District Final for the first time since 2000. Beaverton finished 6-2, its defeats by a combined 11 points. Cass City 14, Sandusky 12 (OT) This was as good as expected from two undefeated teams, with Cass City (8-0) moving on with an overtime conversion stop as Sandusky (7-1) attempted to tie. Madison Heights Bishop Foley 34, Detroit Central 30 The Ventures (7-1) have won two playoff games by a total of seven points to put themselves in a District Final for the first time since 2013. Lawton 21, Homer 19 Lawton (7-1) moved to 17-2 over the last two seasons and earned a rematch this week with Schoolcraft, which defeated the Blue Devils in Week 8.

Division 8

HEADLINER Bark River-Harris 22, West Iron County 6 The Broncos (5-2) quietly have won five straight with a defense that’s held all but one opponent to 20 or fewer points. (That other opponent is Iron Mountain, up next.) They didn’t get to face West Iron County (7-1) in scheduled league play this fall because of the late season start, but took this opportunity to break a two-game losing streak against the Wyakins (7-1). Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

District Digest Beal City 31, Breckenridge 19 The Aggies (7-1) gradually broke away from the Huskies (6-2) to return to the District Finals for the second-straight season. Ubly 20, Unionville-Besewing 14 (OT) The Bearcats (6-2) ran their winning streak over USA (5-3) to seven after the teams previously missed out on their league game that was to open this fall. Petersburg Summerfield 29, Detroit Southeastern 20 The Bulldogs (3-5) have enjoyed the majority of their success this season over the last weeks, and this was a stunner as Southeastern (6-2) was scoring nearly 42 points per game. Royal Oak Shrine 28, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian 19 The Knights (6-2) will be playing for a third District title in five seasons after ending the Lancers’ run at 6-2.


Division 1

HEADLINER Adrian Lenawee Christian 78, Mayville 14 How strong might the Cougars be? Both of these teams entered unbeaten, but Lenawee Christian (8-0) actually upped its scoring average three more points to 56 ppg with the win. Regardless, take nothing away from the Wildcats (7-1), who put together their winningest season since 1987. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

Regional Roundup Morrice 38, Merrill 20 Awaiting Lenawee Christian this week will be the Orioles (8-0), who held Merrill (6-2) to its season low and scored the most the Vandals gave up this fall. Marcellus 26, Lawrence 22 The Wildcats (5-2) tied their most wins in a season since 2012 by completing a two-game sweep of the Tigers (6-2), with those victories by a combined 10 points. Indian River Inland Lakes 46, Pellston 18 This win gave the Bulldogs (7-1) as many this season as the last five years combined and came against a Pellston team that was undefeated and had allowed only one opponent to come within 20 points. Suttons Bay 44 Whittemore-Prescott 0 After winning their first meeting 39-20, the Norsemen (8-0) were even better this time posting their fourth shutout to end the season for the Cardinals (5-3).

Division 2

HEADLINER Cedarville 28, Rapid River 20 Only one Division 2 game was decided by fewer than 20 points this week, but this met expectations as Cedarville (7-1) added to a 32-20 win over the Rockets (6-2) from Week 6. The Trojans have reached the Regional Finals six of the last seven seasons. Click for more from MI Sports Now. 

Regional Roundup Marion 51, Hillman 16 The Eagles (7-1) are undefeated since opening weekend and returning to the Regional Finals for the first time since 1996 after avenging last year’s playoff loss to the Tigers (3-5). Kinde North Huron 34, Peck 14 The Warriors (7-1) have won eight straight over Peck (4-4) and with this victory reached the Regional Finals for the third time in four years. Hale 44, Brethren 8 At 7-1, Hale is enjoying its best season since 1999, with this win over the Bobcats (5-3) its most impressive yet. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 51, Bay City All Saints 12 Only two weeks ago the Irish (7-1) edged All Saints (4-3) by eight points, but apparently picked up a few things to help them advance to the Regional Finals for the first time in three seasons of 8-player.

PHOTO: Beal City (on offense) moved on in Division 8 with a 31-19 win over Breckenridge. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.) 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)