By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There inevitably will be big scores put up this weekend as we roll into the third round of the 11 and 8-player football playoffs.
But it’s fair to anticipate those games will be down to a few as 96 of 144 teams remaining on the bracket are undefeated or have only one loss this season.
We’ve switched things up for this week’s preview, looking first at our 8-Player Regional Finals, where 15 of 16 remaining teams are 8-0 or 7-1, and the 16th team’s only defeats were to schools too big to qualify for the tournament. Our 11-Player District Finals are loaded as well, with six games matching undefeated opponents and many more featuring one-loss teams squaring off or attempting to tackle an unbeaten foe. See the full schedule on MHSAA.com.
Spectator limits remain in effect (check with your local school for purchasing information), but 28 games will be 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.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-0) at Morrice (8-0), Saturday
The Cougars put up a season-high 78 points against an also-unbeaten opponent last week, handing rising Mayville its only loss of a memorable run. But Lenawee Christian now runs into a more established 8-player power – Morrice is a combined 31-2 over the last three seasons, won Division 1 in 2018 and made the Semifinals a year ago. It’s tough to say how much past years’ experience will make a difference, but the Orioles definitely are familiar with this caliber of opponent – and scoring 52 points per game, they are outpacing the 2018 championship-winning offense by nearly 10 on average.
Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Pickford (7-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (7-1), Gaylord St. Mary (7-1) at Suttons Bay (8-0), Marcellus (5-2) at Martin (7-1).
Colon (7-1) at Portland St. Patrick (8-0), Saturday
Last season’s Division 1 champion, Colon is playing in Division 2 this fall with its only loss to Lenawee Christian (see above). The Magi stand in the way of a St. Patrick program that was Division 2 runner-up last season and in 2017 as well. The Shamrocks have played only one single-digit game this season, a four-point win over Merrill. Both are continuing to steam-roll opponents offensively as during their 2019 runs – but the key might be St. Patrick solving Colon’s defense, which is giving up eight points a game this fall.
Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Cedarville (7-1) at Powers North Central (8-0), Hale (7-1) at Marion (7-1). SATURDAY Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-1) at Kinde North Huron (7-1).
Belleville (8-0) at Canton (8-0)
Although both of these teams are undefeated, Belleville certainly has gotten more attention this fall with an offense scoring more than 50 points per game and a defense that’s given up 43 all season. Only Livonia Stevenson on opening night has come within 21 points of the Tigers. The Chiefs meanwhile have won three one-possession games – including against Stevenson last week. All in all, this is lining up very similarly to when these teams last met, in a 2017 District Final won by Canton 28-25 over an unbeaten Belleville team – and surely both teams are recalling that last matchup this week.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grandville (7-1) at Rockford (6-0), Grand Blanc (7-1) at Davison (8-0). SATURDAY Detroit Catholic Central (8-0) at White Lake Lakeland (7-0), West Bloomfield (7-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (7-1).
Portage Northern (7-1) at East Lansing (7-0)
The Trojans have won pretty even matchups against Northern the last two seasons, by 10 in 2018 and 35-28 a year ago. There’s only one shared opponent between the two this fall – East Lansing beat Holt 63-0, and Northern lost to the Rams 26-0 – but it’s hard to say that will play much into this matchup. What will more is how the Huskies attack one of the most successful defenses in the state this fall, as East Lansing is giving up only three points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Traverse City Central (7-1) at Midland, North Farmington (5-3) at South Lyon (6-2), Livonia Franklin (5-3) at Livonia Churchill (5-2), Oak Park (2-6) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (6-1).
Mason (8-0) at DeWitt (8-0)
This is the second time in a month Mason will be facing an undefeated team with a championship on the line. The first, in Week 9, Mason downed Williamston 40-10 to clinch the Capital Area Activities Conference Red title. DeWitt meanwhile has outscored its two playoff opponents by a combined 107-0 with a defense that has given up 50 points total this season (and 38 of those game in a Week 5 win over Grand Ledge). The Bulldogs also have been impressive on that side of the ball, giving up just more than 10 points per game – and their defense will need to play a significant role as DeWitt needs to score only 31 more points this week to equal last year’s 13-game total from a Semifinal run.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (7-1) at Chelsea (8-0), Detroit Martin Luther King (5-3) at Eastpointe (8-0). SATURDAY Marquette (7-1) at Muskegon (7-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (6-2) at St. Joseph (7-1).
Ortonville Brandon (7-1) at North Branch (8-0)
Last week saw these league champions both defeat their strongest regular-season challengers for the second time, Brandon over Goodrich and North Branch over Croswell-Lexington. Both also are making a run this weekend at history, as neither has won a District title since that round of the tournament was introduced in 1999. The only loss between them this season was Brandon’s to Division 2 Fenton in a Flint Metro League crossover of first-place teams.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sault Ste. Marie (6-2) at Cadillac (5-2), Detroit Country Day (5-2) at Madison Heights Lamphere (8-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (5-3) at Williamston (7-1). SATURDAY Milan (7-1) at Redford Union (7-1).
Kingsley (8-0) at Reed City (8-0)
These two are crossing paths for the second straight season, but with different circumstances than what led up to last year’s 48-36 Stags first-round playoff win. The Coyotes were only 6-4 in 2019, compared to this fall when they secured their fourth perfect regular season over the last six years. But Kingsley also is coming off a second-straight perfect regular season plus a Semifinal run a year ago, and this Stags team has been arguably better – they’re scoring just as much but giving up nearly a touchdown less than last season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Olivet (7-1) at Lansing Catholic (6-2), Grosse Ile (5-3) at Romulus Summit Academy North (7-1), Essexville Garber (7-1) at Freeland (7-1), Detroit Denby (5-3) at Marine City (7-1).
Montague (8-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-0)
Over the illustrious history of Muskegon-area football, these two have met only once before – in a 2017 regular-season finale, won by the Wildcats. MCC was strong that season but this will be an even better test of their mutual powers. The Crusaders put together their first perfect regular season since 2016 and haven’t allowed a point in five weeks (and 18 total this fall). Montague is coming off a 43-point win over another league champ in Clare and averaging 51 points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Millington (7-1) at Montrose (7-1), Constantine (7-1) at Buchanan (8-0), Michigan Center (5-1) at Jonesville (7-1), Clinton (7-1) at Blissfield (8-0).
Cass City (8-0) at Hemlock (8-0)
After a series of successful seasons, Cass City took the next playoff step last fall making the Semifinals, and the Red Hawks haven’t slowed pushing their combined record over the last two years to 19-2. Arguably their best win this fall was their closest, 14-12 over also-undefeated Sandusky a week ago, while Hemlock also won close –20-17 over Bad Axe, a Cass City league foe. That was a good test for the Huskies, who also are in position to take another step as they’ve won eight games for the third season in a row and are seeking their first District title since 2011.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lawton (7-1) at Schoolcraft (7-1), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-4) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-2), Traverse City St. Francis (6-2) at Charlevoix (8-0). SATURDAY Madison Heights Bishop Foley (7-1) at Detroit Loyola (7-1).
Reading (7-1) at Centreville (7-0)
Centreville has followed a path similar to Reading’s of a few years ago, improving substantially the last two seasons and eliminating the close losses for a perfect run this fall. The Bulldogs, after losing four games by a combined 28 points in 2019, have given up only 15 points total this season. Reading’s next step came in 2018 when it won the first of two straight Division 8 titles. A Week 6 loss to Division 6 Jonesville quieted things down for a minute this fall, but anticipation should be high again. Both teams have solid wins over Mendon, Reading’s coming last week and Centreville’s earlier to eventually clinch a league title.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Beal City (7-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-0), Sand Creek (7-1) at Addison (7-0), Ubly (6-2) at Flint Beecher (7-1). SATURDAY Royal Oak Shrine (6-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (8-0).
PHOTO: DeWitt earned the opportunity to play for a fifth-straight District title with last week’s win over Lansing Waverly (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.)