By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sometimes it doesn’t take long to recognize a team is very good.
We’re only two weeks into this abbreviated Michigan high school football season. But we’ve seen enough to know a few things already about likely title contenders.
Take East Lansing and Adrian Lenawee Christian, which defeated reigning MHSAA Finals champions (River Rouge and Colon, respectively) this weekend. Three more teams that finished runners-up in 2019 fell, with Northville, Hastings and Muskegon Mona Shores (see photo above) among those enjoying celebrations.
Those are just five of the victors noted below in our weekly look at results that popped off the page from every region of the state.
Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER Flint Beecher 27, Flint Hamady 21 This was big for Beecher for two major reasons of likely similar importance. The Bucs (2-0) had lost three straight to rival Hamady (1-1). This win also puts them in prime position to win the Genesee Area Conference title. And to top it off, it was only Hamady’s second regular-season loss since the start of 2017. See highlights below from WJRT.
— ABC12WJRT (@ABC12WJRT) September 26, 2020
Watch list Sandusky 42, Harbor Beach 30 Last week we recognized Harbor Beach for edging Ubly, but this week it’s Sandusky (2-0) for breaking a four-game losing streak to the Pirates (1-1) and grabbing early momentum in the Greater Thumb Conference East.
Remember this one Frankenmuth 35, Saginaw Swan Valley 6 Not only the did the Eagles (2-0) avenge their 2019 playoff loss, but they have now outscored their anticipated two toughest regular-season opponents by a combined 76-9.
More shoutouts Swartz Creek 14, Linden 7 The Dragons (1-1) equaled last season’s win total in one night and avenged their 37-0 loss to Linden (1-1) from last fall. Croswell-Lexington 36, Richmond 0 The Pioneers (2-0) broke an eight-game losing streak against the Blue Devils (0-2).
HEADLINER Sterling Heights Stevenson 12, Macomb Dakota 7 While winning their first two games by just a combined nine points, Stevenson (2-0) has had a more noteworthy start than all but a few teams statewide after also defeating Utica Eisenhower in Week 1. The Macomb Area Conference Red got even stronger this year with the addition of Grosse Pointe South, and Stevenson is working its way toward the front of the line. Click for more from the Macomb Daily and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 26, 2020
Watch list Belleville 69, Dearborn Fordson 0 The last two matchups between these teams were decided by a combined four points – so now we have another reason to be plugged in to the Tigers (2-0) as they work this season to take the next step after two straight Division 1 Semifinal appearances.
Remember this one Northville 24, Brighton 14 After being shut out by Brighton (1-1) the last two seasons by a combined 55-0, the Mustangs (1-1) bounced back to down the reigning Division 1 runner-up.
More shoutouts Center Line 8, Clawson 7 The Panthers (2-0) have doubled their wins from a year ago, and in this one edged the reigning Macomb Area Conference champion. Riverview 24, Milan 12 The Pirates also avenged a 2019 loss to move to 2-0, doubling up last season’s Huron League title winner.
HEADLINER East Lansing 21, River Rouge 6 The Trojans (2-0) announced themselves as deserving of serious attention in Division 2 with an impressive win over the reigning Division 3 champion. The Panthers (1-1) hadn’t been held to single-digit scoring since their 2018 playoff loss to Detroit Martin Luther King. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Watch list Harrison 26, Beaverton 21 The Beavers (1-1) had beaten Harrison four straight seasons and are reigning Jack Pine Conference champions, but now will be chasing the Hornets (2-0) for the rest of this fall.
Remember this one Hastings 14, Jackson Lumen Christi 13 The Saxons shouldn’t soon forget it. Lumen (1-1) rarely loses during the regular season; in fact, the Titans rode a 22-game regular-season winning streak into this game and had beaten Hastings (1-1) by an average of 26 points over four straight recent wins.
More shoutouts Ithaca 39, Midland Bullock Creek 34 The reigning Tri-Valley Conference West I co-champs are in different divisions this season, but this had the back-and-forth of a title decider nonetheless. Hartland 62, Plymouth 7 The Eagles (2-0) broke a four-game losing streak against Plymouth (1-1) and after falling 35-13 a year ago.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER Kingsley 36, Ogemaw Heights 14 The Stags (2-0) ran their Northern Michigan Football League Legends winning streak to 12, with all of those wins by 19 or more points. The Falcons (1-1), previously a nonleague opponent, joined the Legends this season. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Watch list Houghton Lake 32, Lake City 14 The Bobcats (2-0) have now won eight of nine league games since moving into the Highland Conference at the start of the 2019 season.
Remember this one Frankfort 40, St. Ignace 12 Both had opened the season with defeats, but Frankfort got a nice rebound against a Saints team that made the playoffs last season.
More shoutouts Benzie Central 34, Cheboygan 14 Cheboygan had won all five meetings over the last decade, including 44-0 a year ago. Harbor Springs 30, East Jordan 8 The Rams (2-0) have opened by outscoring their first two opponents by a combined 79-8.
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER Reading 52, Breckenridge 20 If this was any indication, two-time reigning Division 8 champion Reading (2-0) isn’t leaving the elite any time soon. The 52 points represent the most Breckenridge (1-1) has given up since Week 4 of 2015. The Rangers have won 15 straight. Click for more from the Hillsdale Daily News.
Watch list Blissfield 31, Hillsdale 14 The Royals (2-0) are tied for the early lead in the Lenawee County Athletic Association after last year’s seven-point Hillsdale win in this matchup eventually led to the Hornets’ outright title.
Remember this one Clinton 54, Brooklyn Columbia Central 6 Clinton (2-0) is a new addition to the LCAA and immediately should impact the league title race – with Blissfield up this week.
More shoutouts Monroe 42, Jackson 14 The Trojans, winners of just three games a year ago, moved to 2-0 with a second victory over a team that finished above .500 last season. Ann Arbor Skyline 23, Ann Arbor Pioneer 7 Ann Arbor’s three public high schools opted to begin with Week 5, and Skyline began with equaling last season’s win total by avenging a 2019 defeat.
HEADLINER Coldwater 24, Marshall 16 After two weeks, Coldwater is one of two teams (with Parma Western) still unbeaten from what’s quickly looking like a highly-competitive Interstate 8 Athletic Conference. Marshall might be one of the best 0-2 teams in the state after also falling to Lumen Christi by just a point in Week 4. Click for more from the Coldwater Daily Reporter.
Watch list Centreville 14, White Pigeon 8 The Bulldogs lost three Southwest 10 Conference games by a combined 24 points last season. This avenged one, and the other two opponents – Cassopolis then Mendon – are up next.
Remember this one Comstock 12, Berrien Springs 6 The Colts (1-1) broke a five-game losing streak against Berrien Springs and after losing 30-0 a year ago.
More shoutouts Vicksburg 43, Three Rivers 0 After a rough start Week 4 against Edwardsburg, Vicksburg (1-1) bounced back with a big win. Battle Creek Lakeview 6, Portage Central 0 The Spartans ran their regular-season winning streak to 11 with this their closest win of the run.
HEADLINER Sault Ste. Marie 22, Marquette 16 The Blue Devils backed up the impressiveness their Week 4 opening win over Traverse City St. Francis with another that may have solidified them as the Upper Peninsula’s best this fall. Sault Ste. Marie (2-0) had lost four straight to Marquette (1-1), including 31-0 a year ago. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.
VIDEO: Check out the highlights of the Sault Ste. Marie at Marquette football game from Friday night. @upfootball
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 26, 2020
Watch list Gladstone 22, Negaunee 20 The Braves (1-0) didn’t open until this weekend, but started out with a win over a traditional power and after falling behind early.
Remember this one Menominee 42, Marinette, Wis., 8 We always note this rivalry series that goes back to 1894 and that Menominee now leads 56-51-7.
More shoutouts West Iron County 16, L’Anse 7 Two games in, West Iron (2-0) has given up a combined 13 points. Iron Mountain 42, Bark River-Harris 6 The Mountaineers (2-0) ran their regular-season winning streak to 14 with this one over a 2019 playoff qualifier.
HEADLINER Muskegon Mona Shores 21, Muskegon 14 There are only a handful of matchups in Michigan these days that can contend with this one to be called the state’s best rivalry game. This latest chapter backs that up. After falling to the Big Reds 53-0 a year ago and going on to win the Division 2 championship, Mona Shores (2-0) this time beat Muskegon (1-1) – last season’s Division 3 runner-up – for the first time since 2015. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) September 26, 2020
Watch list Montague 42, Muskegon Oakridge 6 This also belongs high on the statewide rivalry list, with this big win coming off two seasons where the matchups were decided by a combined three points.
Remember this one Byron Center 41, Grand Rapids Christian 6 The new-look Ottawa-Kent Conference White is impressive, and defeating last year’s Gold champ big could be a sign reigning Green champ Byron Center is ready to be in the mix again.
More shoutouts Hudsonville Unity Christian 39, Grand Rapids West Catholic 21 Unity (2-0) seems like a strong pick to emerge as a power in the new O-K Blue, and if tradition holds this win could mean even more in a few weeks. Manistee 34, Muskegon Orchard View 20 The 2018 Lakes 8 Athletic Conference champ avenged last season’s 58-7 defeat to the eventual 2019 title winner.
HEADLINER Adrian Lenawee Christian 24, Colon 6 Make way for the Cougars (2-0). Lenawee, in its first season of 8-player, broke reigning Division 1 champion Colon’s 14-game winning streak and dealt the Magi (1-1) only their third loss as an 8-player program (against 24 wins). Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
Watch list Whittemore-Prescott 66, Mio 16 A late add to 8-player this fall, Whittemore-Prescott has scored a combined 114 points during its 2-0 start.
Remember this one Martin 39, Bridgman 12 Last season’s Martin win in this matchup ultimately decided the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League title.
More shoutouts Pickford 20, Cedarville 0 The Panthers (2-0) appear on their way again after a fifth-straight win over the Trojans (1-1). Hale 14, Hillman 12 After falling just shy 54-42 against the Tigers last season, Hale scored just enough and rebounded after a season-opening loss.
PHOTO: Muskegon Mona Shores avenged its 2019 loss to Muskegon on Friday with a 21-14 victory. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
MHSAA.com's weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)