1st & Goal: Week 9 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 22, 2020

Over the next 72 hours, endings will be followed by new beginnings for just about every high school football team in Michigan. 

Today and Saturday, the great majority will kick off for the final time this shortened regular season. On Sunday, for the first time, nearly all will be able to begin preparing for the start of this fall's MHSAA Playoffs. 

Pairings in 11 and 8-player will be posted to the MHSAA Website during early afternoon Sunday. In the meantime, more than 270 games will be played to help determine those postseason matchups, with more than 60 available to watch on MHSAA.tv; click the link for listings

Below are some of the games you may want to check out in your corner of the state. Find the full schedule and then results this weekend as they’re reported via the MHSAA Score Center.

Bay & Thumb

Midland Dow (4-1) at Midland (5-0)

Dow’s loss last week to Mount Pleasant rubbed some of the luster off this week’s neighborly meet-up with the Chemics. But this could still significantly impact the Saginaw Valley League Blue championship, as Midland is the only team without a league loss – but a Dow win would leave three one-loss teams (along with the Oilers) at the top of the standings. Dow won this matchup 42-7 last season, breaking a three-game losing streak to its rival.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Ortonville Brandon (5-0) at Fenton (5-0), Saline (5-0) at Grand Blanc (4-1), Davison (5-0) at Lapeer (3-2), Clare (5-0) at Sanford Meridian (4-1).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Loyola (5-0) at Detroit Catholic Central (5-0), Saturday

These teams both have won MHSAA Finals championship over the last 11 seasons, but this Detroit Catholic League Bishop Championship game will pit them against each other for the first time. This is likely a matter of significant difference in enrollment size – the Shamrocks are a Division 1 playoff team, and the Bulldogs will play in Division 7. But they are undefeated champions of the two divisions of largest schools in the league, DCC in the Central and Loyola in the AA, and their past successes no doubt will make this a much-anticipated matchup.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Livonia Churchill (4-1) at Belleville (5-0), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (4-1) at Detroit Country Day (3-1), Marine City (5-0) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (4-1). SATURDAY Clarkston Everest Collegiate (5-0) vs. Riverview Gabriel Richard (5-0) at Detroit Catholic Central.

Mid-Michigan

Mason (5-0) at Williamston (5-0)

The Bulldogs are attempting to finish a second-straight perfect run through the Capital Area Activities Conference Red. But they’re up against a Williamston team off to its best start since 2014, which is saying something extra given the Hornets’ annual success. This will match strength on strength; Williamston has given up 45 points total (nine per game), while Mason is averaging nearly 38 per contest. The Bulldogs won last year’s meeting 20-9.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Stevensville Lakeshore (4-1) at DeWitt (5-0), Pewamo-Westphalia (5-0) at Lansing Catholic (3-2), Holt (2-2) at Grand Ledge (3-2), Stockbridge (2-3) at Olivet (4-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Charlevoix (5-0) at Maple City Glen Lake (4-1)

The Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders and Legacy championships are up for grabs this weekend, and we’ll focus on the Leaders as the only loss between these two contenders was Glen Lake’s by five to unbeaten Clarkston Everest Collegiate. Glen Lake has won 12 straight league games and three straight championships, and defeated the Red Rayders 42-18 last season when they also met with the title on the line. But a dominant Charlevoix defense could give Glen Lake trouble this time; the Rayders haven’t given up a point over their last two games and only 42 total this fall.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Johannesburg-Lewiston (5-0) at Harbor Springs (3-2), Oscoda (5-0) at Houghton Lake (4-1), East Jordan (3-2) at Frankfort (2-3). SATURDAY Jackson Lumen Christi (2-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (3-2).

Southeast & Border

Addison (5-0) at Grass Lake (4-1)

The Panthers quietly have put themselves in position to clinch a second-straight Cascades Conference championship, outscoring their three league opponents so far by a combined 169-28. Grass Lake trails Addison by a game, thanks to a Week 7 loss to Michigan Center, and also will be looking to avenge last season’s 20-16 defeat that decided the Cascades title.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Chelsea (5-0) at Monroe (4-1), Clinton (4-1) at Hillsdale (4-1), Homer (4-1) and Jonesville (4-1), Brownstown Woodhaven (4-1) at Temperance Bedford (3-2).

Southwest Corridor

Paw Paw (4-1) at Edwardsburg (5-0)

The Wolverine Conference isn’t awarding a championship this season because of the abbreviated schedule, but if it was the title would be coming down to these two again. Paw Paw’s only loss was last week to Detroit Country Day; otherwise the Wolves have again dominated, outscoring their four Wolverine opponents by an average of 48-9. The Eddies, who defeated Paw Paw to claim the league title last year, have yet to be held under 52 points or allow more than 16.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY St. Joseph (4-1) at Battle Creek Lakeview (4-1), Schoolcraft (4-1) at Delton Kellogg (3-2), Saugatuck (3-2) at Lawton (4-1), Portage Northern (4-1) a Kalamazoo Central (2-3).

Upper Peninsula

Marquette (4-1) at Calumet (2-2)

At the end of an unpredictable six weeks in the Upper Peninsula, this could be a much more intriguing game than the records might indicate. These teams recently have been among the best above the Bridge, but in substantially different playoff brackets – Marquette will play in Division 3 and Calumet in Division 6 next weekend. The Copper Kings have played only three games on the field, winning two and losing the third to Kingsford by just a point. Marquette defeated Kingsford 10-0 and also has just one close loss, early to Sault Ste. Marie.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Escanaba (0-2) at Gladstone (2-2), Bark River-Harris (2-2) at L'Anse (1-4), Iron Mountain (5-0) at Manistique (1-3), Gwinn (2-3) at Bessemer (0-4).

West Michigan

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (5-0)

These two were frequent league or playoff foes until 2016, when GRCC moved for a few seasons into the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. This fall the Cougars moved back into the Gold, and they’ll face the Sailors with the championship on the line. Most notably, both have wins over Cedar Springs, and defensively they’ve given up nearly the same number of points – although GRCC is scoring eight more per game, on average.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Grandville (5-0) at Rockford (3-0), Hudsonville Unity Christian (5-0) at Allendale (3-2), Whitehall (4-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (4-1). SATURDAY Detroit Martin Luther King (3-2) at Muskegon Mona Shores (5-0).

8-Player

Portland St. Patrick (5-0) at Burr Oak (5-0)

Shortened schedule or not, Burr Oak has a lot to celebrate. The Bobcats have guaranteed a winning season, their second straight and something of a rarity for many year before that. Burr Oak has won all of its games by at least 32 points. But defeating annual power St. Patrick – and by doing so avenging last year's playoff loss – would be the best victory yet. 

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Morrice (5-0) at Deckerville (4-1), Mayville (5-0) at Kinde North Huron (5-0), Cedarville (4-1) at Rudyard (3-2). SATURDAY Indian River Inland Lakes (5-0) at Merrill (4-1).

PHOTO: Midland pulled away from Saginaw Heritage for a 42-20 win on Sept. 25. (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.)