By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There are a lot of ways to describe what Michigan’s football contenders will restart Saturday, and how it will be talked about for years and perhaps generations to come.
But at the end of it all, it’s pretty simple: It’s great to be talking about the football playoffs again.
Consider this as much a catching-up as a preview of the 8-Player Semifinals and glances at many of the most intriguing 11-Player Regional Finals, all to be played Saturday. Be sure to also take advantage of the opportunity to quickly find your stride this weekend by tuning in, with every game to be streamed live thanks to a variety of sources – Click for the list of broadcasts.
Visit the MHSAA Football Playoff Home for the entire schedule for this weekend, scores as they come in and what’s next as we follow these long-awaited final few weeks of the season.
Martin (8-1) vs. Adrian Lenawee Christian (9-0) at Adrian College
Two seasons ago the Clippers stormed through a perfect regular season in their first of 8-player, and this season Lenawee Christian followed the same plan. The Cougars are averaging 200 yards rushing per game on more than nine yards per carry, with Jameson Chesser averaging better than 10 yards per carry on the way to 1,055 total. Martin’s only loss was a forfeit, and also led by a 1,000 rusher in Gabe Meyers, who is averaging 11.7 per carry for a team rolling up 300 yards per game on the ground.
NOTE: Suttons Bay will advance with Indian River Inland Lakes forfeit.
Marion (8-1) vs. Powers North Central (9-0) at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome
North Central is playing to reach the championship game for the first time since claiming back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, and the Jets are paced by an excellent defense and multi-threat quarterback Luke Gorzinski – he leads the team in rushing (791 yards, 16 touchdowns) and has thrown for 1,105 yards and 17 scores. Marion’s only loss came in its season opener to Mesick on the way to the program’s first Semifinal since 1992. The Eagles also mix tough defense with dynamic quarterback play, with Mason Salisbury piling up 1,260 yards and 19 TDs rushing and 614 and 10 scores passing.
Kinde North Huron (8-1) vs. Portland St. Patrick (9-0) at Portland High School
Portland St. Patrick has been as close as anyone to winning a championship lately, with this its fourth-straight Semifinal and fifth of the last nine seasons. The Shamrocks defeated reigning Division 1 champion Colon 44-34 to advance to this round this time. This is North Huron’s second Semifinal appearance in four seasons after the Warriors fell to St. Patrick in a 2017 meeting to reach the championship game. North Huron’s only loss this fall was to a Mayville team that fell to Lenawee Christian in the Division 1 Regional Finals.
Detroit Cass Tech (9-0) at Belleville (9-0)
Five of eight teams remaining in Division 1 are undefeated, and this is one of two matchups of unbeaten teams. The Tigers have won two straight Regional titles, while the Technicians are seeking their first since 2017 but have won eight over the last decade. Yet despite their shared elite success over the last five seasons especially, this will be their first matchup at least in modern history. Belleville will see how its offense, averaging 51 points per game, stacks up against a Cass Tech defense giving up slightly more than seven.
Other Regional Finals: Saline (8-1) at Rockford (7-0), Detroit Catholic Central (9-0) vs. Davison (9-0) at Lapeer, Romeo (5-4) at West Bloomfield (8-1).
Muskegon Mona Shores (9-0) at East Lansing (8-0)
The reigning Division 2 champion Sailors must hit the road as they seek their third consecutive Regional championship. They went into the pause with two straight one-score wins and take on a Trojans team that has given up more than one score in a game only once. East Lansing’s wins all have come by double digits, but its offense must play a big role again as Shores will present the impressive defense its toughest challenge this season.
Other Regional Finals: North Farmington (7-2) vs. Traverse City Central (8-1) at Thirlby Field, Oak Park (4-5) at Livonia Churchill (6-2), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (5-4) at Warren Mott (7-1).
River Rouge (7-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (6-3)
These two matched up for one of the most memorable playoff games of 2018, as King won 7-6 in a Division 3 opener on the way to claiming the championship in that division a month later. King moved to Division 2 last season and fell to Mona Shores in the Final, while Rouge claimed the Division 3 title. As they meet again, the Panthers are hoping to find their November momentum; after losing the East Lansing in Week 5 they ran off four straight shutouts at the front end of a dominating run. King may be their toughest challenge again, having lost only to Shores and twice to Cass Tech.
Other Regional Finals: East Grand Rapids (6-3) at Muskegon (8-1), Flint Kearsley (6-3) at Chelsea (9-0). DeWitt will advance with Stevensville Lakeshore forfeit.
Grand Rapids South Christian (8-1) at Edwardsburg (8-0)
The only loss between these two this season was South Christian’s one-point defeat versus Division 5 contender Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Otherwise, neither has faced a single-score game – the Eddies are giving up just a single score per game, on average. Before playing in Division 3 last season, Edwardsburg won Division 4 in 2018 and was runner-up in 2017. But the Sailors may be the team remaining in Division 4 best equipped to match the Eddies’ high-powered attack; the last time South Christian was this potent on offense, it won the 2014 Division 4 title.
Other Regional Finals: Ada Forest Hills Eastern (6-3) vs. Cadillac (6-2) at Traverse City's Thirlby Field, Milan (8-1) vs. Williamston (8-1) at Lansing Catholic, Detroit Country Day (6-2) vs. North Branch (9-0) at Lapeer High School.
Marine City (8-1) at Frankenmuth (9-0)
The Eagles have been looking to break through with three Regional titles over the last four seasons, and the they outscored their first three playoffs opponents by a combined 139-26. That included a 28-0 District Final win over Almont, last season’s Division 5 runner-up. Marine City opened the postseason similarly, outscoring its first three opponents by a combined 121-28 – and that only loss was a forfeit taken Week 9.
Other Regional Finals: Muskegon Oakridge (7-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (8-0), Grosse Ile (6-3) at Lansing Catholic (7-2). Freeland will advance with Reed City forfeit.
Montrose (8-1) at Montague (9-0)
After missing a trip to Ford Field by a one-point loss in last year’s Semifinal, Montague has steamrolled through the majority of this season – only Whitehall in Week 8 (34-31) has given the Wildcats a close game. Montrose’s consistency, meanwhile, deserves more attention – the Rams are picking back up their 11th-straight winning season and hoping for a second Regional title in three seasons. The lone loss this fall was to rival New Lothrop, still rolling in Division 7.
Other Regional Finals: Negaunee (6-3) at Grayling (6-3), Michigan Center (6-1) at Constantine (8-1), Clinton (8-1) vs. Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-0) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
Cass City (9-0) vs. Ithaca (9-0) at Brighton’s Legacy Center
Ithaca has had to navigate one of the most uneven playoff runs of an uneven season all around, with two of its three wins so far coming by forfeit. But the other was a 41-0 victory over Ravenna, and the Yellowjackets have put up an average of 49 points per game, an improvement of 17 ppg from a year ago. Cass City’s run-up to this game was more eventful, as it eliminated previously-undefeated Sandusky and then Hemlock in successive District games. Doing the same this week to Ithaca would put the Red Hawks in the Semifinals for the second-straight season.
Other Regional Finals: New Lothrop (8-0) vs. Detroit Loyola (8-1) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley, Jackson Lumen Christi (5-4) vs. Schoolcraft (8-1) at Portage Central. Traverse City St. Francis will advance with Oscoda forfeit.
Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-0) vs. Iron Mountain (8-1) at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome
Viewing from the statewide lens, this might be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. The Cardinals went into the pause with a 28-21 win over 2019 Division 8 runner-up Beal City, their only game closer than 30 points. Because of forfeits, Iron Mountain has played only three games on the field – but two of those three were double-digit District Semifinal and Final wins. The Mountaineers are playing to make the Semifinals for the second-straight season as well.
Other Regional Finals: Carson City-Crystal (6-1) at Ubly (7-2), Sand Creek (8-1) vs. Centreville (8-0) at Portage Central, Petersburg Summerfield (4-5) vs. Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-0) at Legacy Center.
PHOTOS: Championship contenders East Lansing, on defense, and River Rouge met Sept. 25, with the Trojans winning 21-6. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)