By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Most years, we’d talk this weekend about Michigan high school football teams being in midseason form.
They’re getting there quickly – and with another series of big-time matchups these next few days helping all of us get back up to speed.
Major rivalries will play out again in Muskegon, Flint and Metro Detroit among various communities all over the state. Some of the most noteworthy games are briefly previewed below. Check out the MHSAA Score Center beforehand for kickoff times and locations of all games, and come back Friday and Saturday for scores as they’re reported.
This week we’ll also have 53 varsity football games broadcast on MHSAA.tv; click the link for listings.
Bay & Thumb
Flint Hamady (1-0) at Flint Beecher (1-0)
Anthony Branch’s coaching tenure after Courtney Hawkins left for Michigan State began with a 27-19 win over Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard last week. The Bucs’ biggest game of the regular season is up next, and Branch has plenty of experience in Hamady matchups after serving previously as an assistant coach and having played in the Beecher program. The Hawks have won all three regular-season matchups with the Bucs since the teams rejoined the same league in 2017.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Davison (1-0) at Grand Blanc (1-0), Frankenmuth (1-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (1-0), Sandusky (1-0) at Harbor Beach (1-0), Saginaw Nouvel (0-1) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (1-0).
Sterling Heights Stevenson (1-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-0)
These two finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the Macomb Area Conference Red in 2019. But together last week they defeated reigning champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (Dakota 29-20) and runner-up Utica Eisenhower (Stevenson 7-3). Dakota owns a five-game regular-season winning streak against the Titans, including last year by a 40-14 score. But Stevenson may be continuing a surge that took it to last year’s Division 1 Semifinals – a run which included a 38-35 win over Dakota in the District Final.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Dearborn Fordson (0-1) at Belleville (1-0), Detroit Mumford (1-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (1-0). SATURDAY Detroit Catholic Central (1-0) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (1-0).
Midland Bullock Creek (1-0) at Ithaca (1-0)
These two are in different divisions of the Tri-Valley Conference West this fall. But a year ago they were in the same division and shared the championship, breaking Ithaca’s streak of nine straight outright league titles. The Yellowjackets won last year’s matchup 35-21, but Bullock Creek was able to grab a championship share after Ithaca fell to Hemlock 30-6 in the league finale. Both opened last week with wins over 2019 playoff teams, Ithaca over Saginaw Nouvel and Bullock Creek over Carrollton.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY DeWitt (1-0) at Grand Ledge (1-0), LeRoy Pine River (1-0) at Beal City (1-0), Leslie (0-1) at Stockbridge (1-0), St. Johns (0-1) at Williamston (1-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Ogemaw Heights (1-0) at Kingsley (1-0)
Ogemaw Heights is coming off its first winning season since 2013 after going 8-3 a year ago. Kingsley, meanwhile, posted its best finish since 2005 at 12-1 and with a run to the Division 5 Semifinals. A 36-19 Week 2 win over Ogemaw Heights was among seven victories total the Stags posted against teams that finished with winning records. And this matchup should mean more in the future as Ogemaw Heights has joined Kingsley in the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends division.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY East Jordan (1-0) at Harbor Springs (1-0), Traverse City St. Francis (0-1) at Grayling (1-0), Petoskey (1-0) at Traverse City Central (1-0), Oscoda (1-0) at Rogers City (1-0).
Southeast & Border
Breckenridge (1-0) at Reading (1-0)
Added just this week, this might be one of the top small-school matchups in the state this season. Reading has won the last two Division 8 championships and defeated Breckenridge 39-20 in the 2018 title game. This could be a preview of another playoff matchup to come. Together they defeated their season-opening opponents last week by a combined score of 95-6.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Blissfield (1-0) at Hillsdale (1-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (1-0) at Clinton (1-0), Riverview (1-0) at Milan (1-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (1-0) at Parma Western (1-0).
Saugatuck (1-0) at Schoolcraft (1-0)
This might have gotten a little more attention a year ago, as these two frequently are the best or near the top of their divisions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Schoolcraft was a co-champion in the Lakeshore last season, but Saugatuck finished sub-.500 overall for the first time since 2006. Saugatuck got off to a winning start last week, however, as did Schoolcraft – and this fall both are in the SAC Valley.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Marshall (0-1) at Coldwater (1-0), Portage Northern (1-0) at Mattawan (1-0), Decatur (0-1) at Cassopolis (1-0), Coloma (1-0) at Kalamazoo United (1-0).
Sault Ste. Marie (1-0) at Marquette (1-0)
Granted, it’s just one week to go on. But based on early returns, these might be the best in the Upper Peninsula this fall. Sault Ste. Marie opened with a seven-point win over Traverse City St. Francis, while Marquette downed Menominee by 23. Marquette has beaten the Blue Devils in four straight including 31-0 a year ago, but despite last year’s defeat Sault Ste. Marie went on to its winningest season since 2013. A win tonight could end up the Sault’s highlight of this shortened season.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY West Iron County (1-0) at L'Anse (1-0), Hancock (1-0) at Bessemer Gogebic (0-1), Menominee (0-1) at Marinette, Wis. (0-0), Norway (0-1) at Houghton (1-0).
Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0) at Muskegon (1-0)
This easily is the headliner of the week, matchup up a pair of teams that reached Ford Field a year ago. A 53-0 Muskegon win over Shores in Week 8 was among dominating victories that pushed the Big Reds to a Division 3 runner-up finish. The Sailors, meanwhile, didn’t lose again after that night, stringing together a series of mostly close wins on the way to the Division 2 title. Muskegon has a five-game winning streak in this rivalry matchup, but a much closer finish than last year’s has to be the expectation this time.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Montague (1-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (1-0), Rockford (1-0) at Caledonia (1-0), Byron Center (1-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (0-1), Hudsonville Unity Christian (1-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (1-0).
Colon (1-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (1-0), Saturday
Colon’s move to 8-player in 2018 proved beneficial and then some as the Magi went a combined 23-2 over the last two seasons and won the 8-player Division 1 title a year ago. Lenawee Christian’s move this fall could usher in similar dominance for the Cougars, who finished 10-2 and just missed defeating eventual Division 8 champion Reading in the Regional Final last year. Lenawee opened its 8-player era with a 62-0 win over another first-year 8-player team Athens last week, while Colon downed frequent playoff qualifier Bellevue 45-6.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Portland St. Patrick (1-0) at Vestaburg (1-0), Merrill (1-0) at Atlanta (1-0), Pickford (1-0) at Cedarville (1-0). SATURDAY Newberry (0-1) at Munising (1-0).
PHOTO: Johannesburg-Lewiston opened last week with a 47-14 win over Mancelona. (Photo by Robert Batzloff.)
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.)