Drive for Detroit: Playoff R1 in Review

October 31, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Arguably the greatest comeback season in MHSAA football history came to an end during the first round of the playoffs this weekend. 

But although Breckenridge's turnaround celebration is over, courtesy of Saginaw Nouvel, there are plenty of others that extended rebound runs for at least another week. 

Redford Union, Adrian, Kent City and Norway are just a few which have experienced similar climbs this fall. Read about their latest steps and many more from the first week as we look at some of the most intriguing results from all nine divisions. 

Division 1

Rockford 24, Hudsonville 7

The Rams (7-3) avenged their Week 9 loss to Hudsonville that cost Rockford the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title outright and awarded the Eagles (8-2) a share. Rockford now plays Grandville – the third team to earn a share of the league title with the Week 9 result – in a District Final this week. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

West Bloomfield 31, Bloomfield Hills 14 – The Lakers (6-4) just made the playoffs with an at-large bid but ended a dream season for Bloomfield Hills (9-1), which was undefeated during the regular season after going 1-8 in 2015.

Southfield Arts & Technology 24, Warren Mott 23 – The first-year Warriors (7-3) have added a first playoff win to a shared Oakland Activities Association Red title, while ending Mott’s best season in the last three at 7-3.

Clarkston 45, Lapeer 21 – The Wolves beat Lapeer 28-7 in Week 1 at Michigan Stadium and ended up responsible for two of three losses for the Lightning (7-3) this fall. 

Detroit Cass Tech 35, Dearborn Fordson 7 – These teams had one loss between them coming in, but Cass Tech (10-0) will play for a seventh straight District title after handing Fordson (8-2) its second loss in three weeks. 

Division 2

Traverse City Central 13, Traverse City West 12

A pair of field goals and the go-ahead extra point by Central kicker Gabe Pickett were difference makers as West wasn’t able to succeed in similar circumstances in the first playoff matchup ever between these rivals. The Trojans (9-1) scored their lone touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to add this victory to a 10-8 win over West (6-4) in Week 3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Also noted:

Fenton 49, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 19 – The Flint Metro League champ Tigers (8-2) won this matchup of title winners over the Saginaw Valley League Blue champ Cavaliers (6-4).

Oak Park 26, Detroit U-D Jesuit 17 – The Knights (7-3) bounced back from a Week 9 loss to hand the Cubs (6-3) their second defeat in three weeks.

Pinckney 28, Walled Lake Northern 17 – The Pirates (8-2) downed Northern (6-4) for the second straight week, this time to guarantee their best record since 1989.

Birmingham Brother Rice 35, Warren Cousino 16 – The Warriors (7-3) won their fourth straight and second in three weeks over a league champion, but the Patriots (8-2) can celebrate their best record since 2007 to go with the Macomb Area Conference Blue title.

Division 3

Redford Union 41, Warren Fitzgerald 34

This continues to be a banner season for Redford Union (7-3), which has its most wins since 2005, made its first playoff appearance since 2006, and now has its first playoff win in program history. Union scored the winning points with less than two minutes to play to add to its first winning season since 2007. Fitzgerald finished 8-2, its best record since 2008, and with its only other loss by two points to Madison Heights Madison in Week 7. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Also noted:

Coldwater 35, Battle Creek Harper Creek 14 – Harper Creek (7-3) may have won a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title, but in the end third-place league finisher Coldwater (8-2) took two games off the Beavers and will play for a District title.

Mason 35, Fowlerville 28 – What was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs (9-1) has turned into its most successful since 2011, while Fowlerville (7-3) enjoyed its best record since 2009.

Romulus 40, Trenton 14 – The Eagles (9-1) have made the playoffs three straight seasons, but this was their first playoff win since 1999; Trenton ended its third straight playoff season at 6-4.

Grand Rapids Christian 35, Zeeland West 32 – This was the kind of finish expected from traditional west side powers, with the Eagles (9-1) winning a ninth game for the first time since 2012 and West (7-3) suffering its earliest season end since not qualifying for the postseason in 2009.  

Division 4

Marysville 46, St. Clair Shores South Lake 38

The Vikings (10-0) are enjoying their first double-digit wins season since 2000, but will continue to face also-undefeated Detroit Country Day this weekend only because they survived the pesky Cavaliers. South Lake (7-3), which claimed a share of the MAC Silver title this fall, stayed close throughout – but the MAC Gold champions hung on to earn a second District title game berth in three seasons. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Also noted:

Escanaba 48, Whitehall 27 – The Eskymos (8-2) earned their first playoff win, since 2011 to give them eight total for the first time since 2009, while leaving Whitehall at 6-4 for the second straight season.  

Allendale 35, Wyoming Kelloggsville 19 – The Falcons (8-2) have enjoyed a momentous two weeks, first earning a share of the O-K Blue title with a Week 9 win and this weekend downing O-K Silver champion Kelloggsville (8-2).

Flint Powers Catholic 20, Lake Fenton 19 – Powers (6-4) scored during the final seconds to move on to a third straight District Final and end Genesee Area Conference Red champion Lake Fenton’s season at 8-2, its best record since 2013.

Adrian 27, Grosse Ile 20 (OT) – The Maples (6-4) have enjoyed one of the state’s best rebound seasons as well, with this playoff victory adding to their first winning season since 2011;  Grosse Ile also bounced back from 4-5 a year ago to finish 8-2, their best since 2012. 

Division 5

Almont 28, Richmond 27

The upset of the week statewide arguably came in this Blue Water Area Conference rematch, as the Raiders avenged a 34-21 Week 6 loss to the champion Blue Devils. Almont (7-3) has advanced to a District Final three years in a row and now will face Algonac, the BWAC runner-up which beat the Raiders 14-7 in Week 2. Richmond (8-2) hadn’t lost since falling to Marysville on opening night. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Also noted:

Remus Chippewa Hills 32, Clare 27 – The Warriors (9-1) made their third straight District Final (and earned a rematch with rival Reed City) by edging the Jack Pine Conference champion Pioneers (8-2).

Grand Rapids West Catholic 28, Lansing Catholic 6 – The reigning Division 5 champion Falcons (8-2) are on the road to start this playoffs, but didn’t seem to mind traveling to down Lansing Catholic (8-2) for the fourth straight postseason.

Dowagiac 28, Buchanan 25 – The Chieftains (7-3) guaranteed their best record since 2013 and will play for their first District title since 2011 after handing Buchanan (5-4) its second loss in three weeks.

Southfield Bradford 38, Brooklyn Columbia Central 33 – In their first playoff game ever, the Bulldogs (8-2) earned their first postseason win as well, ending the Golden Eagles’ second straight playoff run at 7-3. 

Division 6

Kent City 20, Montague 19

The Eagles’ turnaround season just keeps getting better as well. They’ve gone from 1-8 in 2015 to 8-2 with their first playoff berth and win since 2001 after also clinching a shared Central State Activities Association Silver championship. Montague (7-3) ended its season with three losses by a combined 12 points after finishing second in the West Michigan Conference. Click for more from the Local Sports Journal.

Also noted:

Calumet 42, Boyne City 8 – The Copper Kings (9-1) added a ninth win for the first time since 2009 by holding Boyne City (6-4) to only 159 yards.

Montrose 52, Laingsburg 21 – The Rams (7-3) secured their most wins since 2013 by earning their fourth straight while handing Laingsburg (8-2) only its second defeat.

Napoleon 25, Michigan Center 24 – The Pirates stayed alive in their first playoff run since 2005 by edging Michigan Center (6-4) for their first playoff win since 2000.

Detroit Central Collegiate 12, Byron 7 – The Trail Blazers have bounced back from a 1-4 start to move to 6-4 for the fourth time in five seasons; Byron finished its fifth playoff season over the last six at 7-3. 

Division 7

Gobles 50, Lawton 12

Count Gobles among the handful that have battled back from a regular-season loss to claim a playoff rematch. The Tigers (8-2) had fallen to Lawton 31-21 in Week 5 and actually had dropped four straight to the Blue Devils (8-2). Gobles now will play for its first District title since 2005.

Also noted:

Iron Mountain 46, Gwinn 32 – The Mountaineers (8-2) continued their best season since 2011 by ending the best for Gwinn (6-4) since 1999.

Unionville-Sebewaing 18, Cass City 14 – The Patriots have built from 1-8 in 2014 to 5-5 last fall and now 9-1 after defeating Cass City (6-4) for the second time this season by four or fewer points.

Concord 21, Springport 14 – A Week 6 loss to Springport cost Concord (8-2) the outright Big 8 Conference title, but this avenging ended the Spartans’ best season since 2011 at 7-3.

Detroit Loyola 45, Madison Heights Madison 12 – The Bulldogs (8-2) firmed up further their status as favorite on their side of the Division 7 bracket by eliminating the MAC Silver co-champ Eagles (6-4). 

Division 8

Saginaw Nouvel 21, Breckenridge 6

The greatest turnaround in MHSAA playoff era history came to an end with Nouvel’s ousting of Breckenridge, which finished 9-1 and was undefeated during the regular season after not winning a game in 2015. No team dating to at least the first playoff season of 1975 had accomplished a winless-to-undefeated turnaround. The Panthers (7-3) held the Huskies to their fewest points this fall. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

Royal Oak Shrine 21, Fowler 14 – Shrine (8-2) earned a chance at its first District title since 2008 by handing Fowler (6-4) its first playoff-opening loss since 2010.

Clarkston Everest Collegiate 22, Waterford Our Lady 21 – Everest (8-2) set a program record for wins by avenging a three-point Week 6 loss to Our Lady (6-4).

Newberry 16, Gaylord St. Mary 14 – The Indians (8-2) held on for their first playoff win since 2004, ending St Mary’s first playoff season since 2009 at 6-4.

Norway 15, Iron River West Iron County 14 – The Knights (8-2) continued to put last year’s 2-7 into distant memory with their first playoff win since 2006.


Engadine 38, Cedarville 30 (OT)

Their Week 7 meeting – a 52-42 Engadine win – was one of the top 8-player games statewide this season. So it made sense they’d follow with a classic. Engadine moved to 10-0 for the first time as an 11 or 8-player program after trailing by 14 points during the fourth quarter, and the Eagles also are now 3-1 against Cedarville (6-4) in playoff games over the last six seasons. Click for more from 9&10 News.

Also noted:

Portland St. Patrick 34, Camden-Frontier 28 – The Shamrocks (10-0) have won only two games by single digits this season, and becoming the latest opponent to make that push was not a bad way for Camden-Frontier (8-2) to end its first season of 8-player.

New Haven Merritt 52, Owendale-Gagetown 14 – Merritt (10-0) continued the best season of its five-year history with its first playoff win; the Mustangs handed Owendale-Gagetown (8-2) both of its losses this fall.

PHOTO: Pinckney defenders close in on a Walled Lake Northern ball carrier during Friday's Pirates win. (Photo by John Johnson.) 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs 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.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. 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.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. 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.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. 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 ShebestPam 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.)