By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
High school football returned to communities all over Michigan this past weekend. Everything from mask requirements to spectator limits made games look different.
But by the end of Saturday, much more felt closer to normal as nearly 600 teams took the field.
We’re still running a little behind, but catching up quickly with our “Week 4” review briefly detailing some of the results that could end up mattering most as we quickly roll through this abbreviated regular season.
We again split the state into regions and 8-player, with links to coverage and available video highlights included if tweeted by statewide media.
Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER Frankenmuth 41, Freeland 3 Both won nine games last season and would be part of the Tri-Valley Conference Central together again this fall, but that division was split into two smaller ones for the abbreviated schedule. The Eagles got off to a fast start rolling up 312 yards rushing and holding the Falcons to only 144 yards total. Click for more from the Saginaw News.
Watch list Harbor Beach 16 Ubly 14 Harbor Beach claimed last year’s Greater Thumb Conference East title by a win over Ubly, and finds itself quickly leading the way again thanks to a late go-ahead 2-point conversion.
Remember this one Beaverton 6, Sanford Meridian 0 The Beavers started their Jack Pine Conference repeat campaign by defeating another major challenger in Meridian – and Beaverton doesn’t play last year’s runner-up Clare this season as that game previously had been scheduled for Week 3.
More shoutouts Linden 35, Flushing 21 The Eagles are coming off two straight 4-5 finishes, both of which began with losses to Flushing. Davison 48, Flint Powers Catholic 0 These teams combined for 22 wins last season, but Davison won the matchup this weekend by this score for the second straight year.
HEADLINER Detroit Cass Tech 34, Detroit Martin Luther King 26 It’s tough to think of a better season start for the Technicians than avenging last year’s 47-7 loss to their biggest rival. But this might just be round one again this fall. These two very well could meet in the Detroit Public School League championship game in four weeks. Click for more from the Detroit News and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 20, 2020
Watch list Macomb Dakota 29, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 20 Dakota already had avenged last season’s 27-21 loss to eventual Macomb Area Conference Red champion Chippewa Valley, defeating the Big Reds 34-13 in a playoff opener. But this win makes the Cougars possible league favorites.
Remember this one Armada 24, Richmond 23 The Tigers are playing for their first winning season since 2012, and breaking a nine-game losing streak against Richmond is a great way to start.
More shoutouts West Bloomfield 39, Oak Park 0 These two Oakland Activities Association 2019 division champions are playing in the same OAA Red this fall. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 28, Walled Lake Western 7 The Eaglets opened with an impressive win over a Western team that fell a one-point loss to the eventual champion short from playing at Ford Field in 2019.
HEADLINER DeWitt 37, Portland 3 After Portland’s 29-27 win in this matchup was one of the most memorable games in the Lansing area for 2019, DeWitt made one of the loudest impressions statewide to start 2020. Both programs have averaged double-digit wins over the last five seasons. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
VIDEO: Check out the highlights of the DeWitt (@DeWitt_Panthers) vs. Portland football game from Friday night.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 20, 2020
Watch list Williamston 22, Fowlerville 6 Both were among four teams from the Capital Area Activities Conference Red to make the playoffs last season, and Williamston likely jumps in among the league title contenders with this win.
Remember this one Grand Ledge 34, St. Johns 17 The Comets won just two games a year ago, but opened with a win over a 2019 playoff team.
More shoutouts Saranac 35, Fulton 6 Saranac is halfway to last year’s win total after avenging a 29-point loss to the Pirates. Ithaca 47, Saginaw Nouvel 27 This was a major win for the Yellowjackets as both 2019 playoff teams are now part of the same division of the TVC West.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER Traverse City Central 53, Traverse City West 13 This was the largest margin of victory in this rivalry game ever, after West split off from the former Traverse City High School in 1997. The Trojans have won two straight in the series. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Watch list McBain 30, Lake City 0 The Ramblers had lost five straight to Lake City, but look immediately like a contender in the Highland Conference.
Remember this one Charlevoix 58, Frankfort 14 The Red Rayders enjoyed one of the state’s most impressive turnarounds last season, and the momentum seems to be continuing as they scored their most points in a game since 2014.
More shoutouts East Jordan 14, Elk Rapids 6 The Red Devils had lost 12 straight to the Elks and hadn’t won a season opener since 2016. Harbor Springs 49, St. Ignace 0 These two were both playoff teams last season, when Harbor Springs won their matchup only 16-0.
HEADLINER Sturgis 25, Three Rivers 21 The Trojans have won just one game each of the last two seasons, but former star quarterback Chance Stewart has them off to a great start in 2020. This win in his head coaching debut was the program’s first over Three Rivers since 2015, the last time Sturgis finished a season with a winning record. Click for more including video from JoeInsider.com.
Watch list Schoolcraft 49, Constantine 14 The Eagles ran their winning streak to eight over rival Constantine, but both still have league title hopes in separate divisions after sharing a championship a year ago while playing in the same Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore.
Remember this one Battle Creek Pennfield 26, Battle Creek Harper Creek 20 Two good signs: The Panthers matched last season’s win total in the season debut and with their second win in seven tries against Harper Creek since the two joined the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference together.
More shoutouts Portage Northern 15, Stevensville Lakeshore 12 This has turned into one of the state’s closest annual matchups with now nine of their last 10 matchups decided by eight points or fewer; Northern has won three straight over the Lancers. Mendon 26, White Pigeon 24 The Hornets avenged last season’s two-point loss, especially key in a Southwest 10 Conference that’s down to just five 11-player teams.
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER Adrian Madison 42, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 24 The Trojans, seeking their first winning season since 2009, couldn’t have started better than with their first victory over Whiteford since 1980. The Bobcats had won last year’s matchup 42-14. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
Watch list Jackson Lumen Christi 28, Marshall 27 This was arguably the most exciting nail-biter of this week’s openers, with the Titans coming back to score the game-winning points during the final minutes.
Remember this one Hillsdale 28, Hudson 21 For the third time in five seasons, this one was decided by eight points or fewer, as the reigning Lenawee County Athletic Association champion ran its league winning streak to nine.
More shoutouts Chelsea 35, Dexter 12 The Bulldogs retained their streak in this rivalry after a much closer win a year ago. Erie Mason 54, Petersburg Summerfield 21 A capable scorer in 2019 that struggled defensively, Erie Mason opened its tenure in the Tri-County Conference giving up its fewest points in a game since Week 2 of 2016.
HEADLINER Sault Ste. Marie 14, Traverse City St. Francis 7 Many eyes likely were caught by this Blue Devils win, with St. Francis coming off a trip to last year’s Regional Finals and averaging nearly 11 wins per season over the last five. But Sault Ste. Marie quietly has been building toward an attention grabber like this one, going 7-4 a year ago and winning a Division 4 playoff game. Click for more from The Sault Evening News.
Watch list Marquette 41, Menominee 18 This first meeting of two this fall didn’t count toward the Great Northern Conference standings but did send a pretty strong message as Marquette looks to win a third-straight title.
Remember this one Kingsford 17, Calumet 16 The Flivvers moved ahead to stay with 4:35 to play, handing Calumet only its second regular-season loss since 2017.
More shoutouts Houghton 3, Bark River-Harris 0 The Gremlins won their season opener for the first time since 2016 and after earning only two victories all of last season. Negaunee 39, Manistique 8 After just edging the Emeralds by two in 2019, Negaunee was able to stretch the margin this weekend.
HEADLINER Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 21, Grand Rapids Christian 13 Forest Hills Central, which finished second last season in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, welcomed reigning O-K Gold champion Grand Rapids Christian back into the league after four seasons away. The Rangers should again be White contenders, especially with reigning champion Cedar Springs among teams that moved to a new-look Gold this fall.
Check out the highlights of the Forest Hills Central (@fhcrangerball) vs. Grand Rapids Christian football game from Friday night. Video Courtesy: WXMI
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 19, 2020
Watch list Kent City 14, Morley Stanwood 0 The Eagles avenged the loss that decided the Central State Activities Association Silver title in favor of Morley Stanwood a year ago.
Remember this one Rockford 16, Jenison 13 (OT) The Rams are reigning champs in the O-K Red but got an immediate challenge from new league member Jenison, which formerly played in the O-K Black.
More shoutouts Hopkins 43, Muskegon Orchard View 0 The Vikings enjoyed an impressive start against an Orchard View program that was undefeated last regular season. Hudsonville 21, East Kentwood 13 East Kentwood had dismantled what was left of Hudsonville’s league title hopes last season – and the Eagles also broke a three-game losing streak to the Falcons with this avenging.
HEADLINER Vestaburg 28, Onekama 6 After going 0-9 in its final season of 11-player two years ago, Vestaburg improved substantially to 5-3 with the move to 8-player in 2019. But this weekend’s opening win certainly has been its most impressive post-switch, as the Portagers are just two years removed from finishing 8-Player Division 2 runner-up and went 7-4 last fall. Click for more from the Greenville Daily News.
Watch list Posen 52, Mio 22 The Thunderbolts’ undefeated league title run last season included a 20-point win over Posen, but the Vikings opened this fall by earning an upper hand in the North Star League’s first-year 8-player standings.
Remember this one Deckerville 58, New Haven Merritt Academy 17 These two reigning North Central Thumb League division champs are in the same division this fall, and Deckerville made an early statement.
More shoutouts North Adams-Jerome 14, Battle Creek St. Philip 12 The Rams beat the Tigers for the first time in four recent tries and after falling 41-0 last season. Genesee 54, Kingston 28 The Wolves more than flipped last year’s score after losing 52-30 to Kingston in 2019.
PHOTO: Marquette’s Justin Jurmu tries to pull in a pass from quarterback Austin Ridl, with Menominee’s Brady Waara trailing. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As 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.
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.
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.”
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 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.)