By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It's predictable perhaps – and yet still intriguing – how the MHSAA Football Playoffs just a week into the five-week run.
Of 36 undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, including six in 8-player, 34 are still alive.
At least for now. Two matchups of undefeated opponents are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview – powered by MI Student Aid. See those below, and remember to tune in to MHSAA.com for all of this weekend's matchups, scores and next week's matchups as they're determined. All games below are Friday unless noted.
Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (10-0)
It’s been four years since these M-15 powers faced off. Clarkston has enjoyed the success since that last matchup, winning Division 1 back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and now stands in the way of Davison extending its first 10-win season since 2006. Junior Tariq Reid has run for 2,003 yards and 36 touchdowns this fall, and no doubt will be called upon heavily as the Cardinals go for their first District title since 2008.
Others that caught my eye: Rockford (7-3) at Grandville (9-1), Detroit Cass Tech (10-0) at Dearborn (9-1), Macomb Dakota (7-3) at Utica Eisenhower (10-0).
Traverse City Central (9-1) at Lowell (10-0)
This could be a history-making evening for Traverse City Central, which is looking to advance to the Regional round for the first time since old Traverse City High did so in 1991. The Trojans vanquished for good rival Traverse City West by a point last week but now face another team that has survived close games as well; reigning Division 2 champion Lowell pulled off a couple of impressive comebacks this fall on the way to a fourth straight season with at least 10 wins.
Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (9-1), Grosse Pointe North (8-2) at Grosse Pointe South (7-3), Oak Park (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) on Saturday.
East Grand Rapids (8-2) at Muskegon (9-1)
The west side of the state has earned its football reputation from high-powered matchups like this one could be; these are two of the storied programs in state history, although both also are hungry to add to their legacies. East Grand Rapids is seeking its first MHSAA championship since 2010 and Muskegon is playing to contend for its first since 2008. The Big Reds won their recent meetings in 2014 and 2015, and have yet to be challenged much aside from a Week 2 loss to Lincolnshire, Ill. East Grand Rapids has won seven straight since opening 1-2 with losses to Grand Rapids Catholic Central and later Lowell.
Others that caught my eye: Romulus (9-1) at Allen Park (10-0), Grand Rapids Christian (9-1) at Byron Center (9-1), Coldwater (8-2) at Chelsea (10-0).
Marysville (10-0) at Detroit Country Day (10-0), Saturday
Country Day is surging as it seeks its first MHSAA title since 1999; the Yellowjackets have played arguably their three toughest opponents of the season the last three weeks, and handed Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood a decisive 35-7 defeat to open the playoffs. But a defense giving up only eight points per game will face its toughest challenge from a Marysville offense led by 1,000-yard rushers Danta Chrcek (1,595) and Phillip Griffor (1,073). The Vikings are playing for their first 11-win season since 1992.
Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville Unity Christian (8-2) at Benton Harbor (10-0), Lansing Sexton (7-3) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (9-1), Detroit Mumford (8-2) at River Rouge (9-1).
Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-2) at Portland (10-0)
It’s hard to not see this as one of the key games in the entire Division 5 bracket. Reigning champion West Catholic opened with a big road win 42-20 last week over Lansing Catholic and now gets the Cougars’ main league rival in Portland, which beat Lansing Catholic by only a point way back in Week 4. The deciding matchup tonight could be the Raiders’ powerful run game and its ability to hold onto the ball (and keep the Falcons' offense off the field) against a West Catholic defense that has given up more than seven points only once since Week 3. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on FoxSportsDetroit.com.)
Others that caught my eye: Remus Chippewa Hills (9-1) at Reed City (10-0), Frankenmuth (9-1) at Freeland (10-0), Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) at Ithaca (10-0) on Saturday.
Jackson Lumen Christi (8-2) at Schoolcraft (10-0), Saturday
This could show Schoolcraft’s stature as a contender for its first MHSAA championship since 2001. The Eagles have rumbled to nearly 47 points per game and beat rival Constantine twice in the last three weeks, but can show their stuff on a grander level against one of the state’s best-known powerhouse programs. Lumen Christi hasn’t lost since Week 3 and after opening 1-2 with defeats to West Catholic and Battle Creek Harper Creek. A win this week could be a key confidence boost for the Titans too as they pursue a first Finals trip since 2009.
Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (8-2) at Roscommon (9-1), Calumet (9-1) at Negaunee (10-0), Napoleon (8-2) at Grass Lake (9-1).
Saugatuck (10-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0), Saturday
A matchup of offensive stars Jared Smith and Blake Dunn make this one of the state’s most intriguing matchups in any division, regardless of the fact it’s also a rematch of last season’s District Final. Smith is up to 2,108 yards rushing this season on just 166 carries – for a 12.7 yards per carry average – and will go down as one of the top running backs in state history after setting an MHSAA record for single-season yardage as a junior with more than 3,000 as the Pirates finished Division 7 runners-up. Dunn has run for only 1,916 yards this season – 16.1 per carry – and thrown for 729 more.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Loyola (8-2) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (10-0), Flint Hamady (8-2) at New Lothrop (9-1), Unionville-Sebewaing (9-1) at Ubly (10-0).
Mendon (8-2) at Climax-Scotts (10-0)
Climax-Scotts finally broke a four-year playoff losing streak to Mendon last season with an 8-6 first-round win, and should be confident heading into a possible repeat, this time for a District title. The Panthers haven’t been challenged much, aside from a 20-point win over Pittsford in Week 6. Mendon has had to do a little more work under first-year coach and alum Robert Kretschman, but is riding a six-game winning streak and three-win improvement from a year ago. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on FoxSportsDetroit.com.)
Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (7-3) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-2), Newberry (8-2) at St. Ignace (9-1), Lincoln Alcona (9-1) at Frankfort (10-0).
Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at Powers North Central (10-0)
Forest Park in Week 2 gave North Central its closest game in two seasons of 8-player football, which means this rematch could go a couple different ways. The Jets, who won that night 60-42 and have scored 56 or more points in every game, may need quarterback Jason Whitens to add significantly to his 36 touchdown passes on only 91 completions this fall if the offenses come out firing again. Or Forest Park and senior running back Dan Nocerini (2,181 yards/39 TDs rushing) could work to keep Whitens off the field and the score a little lower this second time around.
Other Regional Finals: Pickford (9-1) at Engadine (10-0), New Haven Merritt (10-0) at Deckerville (9-0), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-0) at Portland St. Patrick (10-0) on Saturday.
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau 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, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Lowell downed Greenville in a Division 2 playoff opener last week. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)