By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
After a slight delay, we’re back – and landing right in the heart of the 2020 Michigan high school football season.
After missing the previously-scheduled first three weeks due to COVID-19 precautions, there’s no time for teams to ease into the action. This week’s schedule is loaded with some of the major matchups we circle every fall.
Below is a look at storylines coming out of every region of the state and 8-player for this opening weekend (we’re going to continue calling it Week 4). We’ll again be tracking scores in real time with the MHSAA Score Center. And remember, attendance limits are in place – but we’ll have at least 32 games broadcast Friday and Saturday on MHSAA.tv. (Nine games kicked the varsity season off Thursday night, and you can catch one of those as well on demand.)
Records below are for the 2019 season.
Bay & Thumb
Beaverton (10-1) at Sanford Meridian (8-4)
The Beavers are coming off their best season ever, after claiming the Jack Pine Conference championship and closing the regular season with four straight shutouts. The zero streak began with a 20-0 win over Meridian, which went on to finish third in the JPC but then claimed a District title. The Mustangs are hoping to next beat Beaverton for the first time since their best season ever, in 2015.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Linden (4-5) at Flushing (5-5), Frankenmuth (9-2) at Freeland (9-3), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-7) at Grand Blanc (5-5), Ubly (10-3) at Harbor Beach (10-1).
Detroit Martin Luther King (11-3) at Detroit Cass Tech (7-5), Saturday
The Detroit Public School League kicks off with its annual game of the year. These rivals will play in different divisions of the PSL again and could meet a second time, as is frequent, in the PSL championship game in five weeks. King is coming off a big win in last season’s matchup after a similar Cass Tech victory in 2018 – so another classic may be due.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Macomb Dakota (6-5) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-1), West Bloomfield (10-2) at Oak Park (8-2), Utica Eisenhower (9-3) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (8-5) SATURDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (6-5) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (5-5).
Portland (8-3) at DeWitt (10-3)
Both will look to hit the ground running in what should again this season be one of the best matchups in the Lansing area. The Panthers’ three losses last year came by a combined 28 points, and their closest was a 29-27 defeat to the Raiders in Week 2. Portland scored the most points DeWitt gave up last fall, but arrived in a similar spot later with three losses over its final four games and by a combined 29 points.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Williamston (5-5) at Fowlerville (7-4), Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0) at Laingsburg (6-4), Saginaw Nouvel (7-5) at Ithaca (8-2), Saginaw Swan Valley (8-4) at Alma (4-5).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City West (7-3) vs. Traverse City Central (8-2) at Thirlby Field
Talk about a different look this season. The “Patriot Game” between these rivals generally brings about 10,000 fans to downtown Traverse City. But this region is allowed a maximum of 500 people (including players) at outdoor games under Phase 5 of the MI Safe Start Plan. Still, smaller crowds won’t change the meaning for the teams on the field. Central’s 32-0 win last year was the first double-digit victory in the series since 2012, and it decided the Big North Conference title.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Kingsley (12-1) at Cheboygan (4-5), Boyne City (4-5) at Maple City Glen Lake (12-2), Lake City (6-4) at McBain (6-5) SATURDAY Sault Ste. Marie (7-4) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-4)
Southeast & Border
Dexter (8-2) at Chelsea (12-1)
Dexter – remember one of the great stories of 2018 when it made the playoffs for the first time – continued its surge last fall with its most wins during at least the MHSAA playoff era. And the Dreadnaughts were close to accomplishing possibly much more, with last year’s defeats by a combined seven points. Chelsea’s 22-17 win over Dexter in Week 1 ended up deciding the Southeastern Conference White title, making this rematch potentially another of the “right into the fire” moments of this season’s start.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Ida (4-5) at Clinton (9-1), Hanover-Horton (4-5) at Michigan Center (4-5), Pittsford (4-5) at Sand Creek (8-3), Dundee (5-5) at Blissfield (6-4).
Constantine (8-3) at Schoolcraft (10-2)
These were two of three teams that shared the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore title last season, thanks to Schoolcraft’s 27-24 win of their matchup. The Eagles have won six straight meetings with Constantine, including two in the playoffs – and this game will still mean a lot to both although the teams are in different divisions of the SAC this fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Portage Northern (10-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (4-5), East Lansing (7-3) at Portage Central (5-5), Fennville (4-5) at Lawton (10-1), Jackson Lumen Christi (12-1) at Marshall (6-5).
Menominee (7-4) at Marquette (5-5)
This rematch could be one of the best regular-season games north of Mackinac Bridge this fall. Marquette is the reigning Great Northern Conference champion as both of these teams made the postseason a year ago. Marquette’s 28-21 win over the Maroons broke a seven-game losing streak against the annual league foe.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Harbor Springs (6-4) at St. Ignace (5-5), Kingsford (4-5) at Calumet (10-2), Gwinn (1-8) at Hancock (5-4), Manistique (3-6) at Negaunee (6-4).
Hudsonville (8-4) at East Kentwood (6-5)
The Eagles have had to wait all offseason and then some for a chance to avenge a painful 2019 loss. Despite falling to Rockford the previous week last season, Hudsonville came into last year’s matchup with East Kentwood still tied for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red – and then was upset 31-20 by the eventual fourth-place Falcons. Maybe it wasn’t an upset though, as East Kentwood has beaten Hudsonville in three straight and picked up a playoff win over Rockford at the end of last fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-3) vs. Grand Rapids Christian (7-3) at Forest Hills Eastern, Muskegon Mona Shores (12-2) at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (5-4), Jenison (4-5) at Rockford (8-2), East Grand Rapids (5-5) at Lowell (1-8).
Deckerville (10-1) at New Haven Merritt (8-2)
Deckerville’s only loss last season came in a Regional Final, and the Eagles yearly are one of the strongest statewide contenders. Merritt is looking to make that jump. The Mustangs have reached the playoffs five of the last six seasons, and they’ll get two serious tests – plus major postseason prep – right away this month in Deckerville and Morrice as a new member of the North Central Thumb League Stars.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Camden-Frontier (6-4) at Climax Scotts (9-3), Martin (10-1) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (5-5), Cedarville (6-5) at Engadine (8-2), Bellevue (6-4) at Colon (13-0).
PHOTO by Robert Batzloff.
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.)