1st & Goal: Playoff Week 4 Preview

January 8, 2021

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.


Division 1

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.

Division 2

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.


Division 1

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).

Division 2

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).

Division 3

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.

Division 4

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.

Division 5

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.

Division 6

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.

Division 7

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.

Division 8

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.) 

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)