By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Revenge is a dish best served during the playoffs.
And a number of MHSAA title hopefuls enjoyed their shares of the buffet this weekend.
Six of nine playoff divisions saw a team win either an 11-player District championship or 8-player Regional title by avenging a loss from earlier this season. Others avenged losses from playoff runs past – or in a few cases, years of just missing against rivals.
All games at this level of the tournament are big, of course, and below are just a sampling of results that stuck out most from the second round.
Clarkston 31, Davison 14
Clarkston (9-2) handed Davison its first and only loss this season on the power of a rushing game that tallied 303 yards and nearly 9.5 per carry. Davison (10-1) scored the game’s first touchdown in the first quarter, but didn’t reach the end zone again until quarterback Brenden McRill ran for his second score midway through the fourth. The District Final was the Cardinals’ first since 2008. Click for more from the Oakland Press.
Grandville 20, Rockford 9 – The Bulldogs (10-1) broke a 14-game losing streak to the Rams (7-4), who had beaten Grandville 7-6 in Week 6 and in the playoffs three times over the last 11 seasons.
Saline 37, Canton 31 – The Yellowjackets (11-0) came back from a 10-0 deficit as quarterback Zach Schwartzenberger threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score to get Saline ahead of the Chiefs (8-3).
Detroit Cass Tech 24, Dearborn 7 – Dearborn (9-2) succeeded in holding Cass Tech (11-0) to its season low in points, but also scored its fewest since Week 5 of 2015.
Fenton 49, Midland Dow 42
Fenton scored last, with 2:10 to play, on quarterback Josh Czarnota’s second touchdown pass to go with four touchdown runs as the Tigers (9-2) won their first District title since 2011. Czarnota threw for 264 yards and ran for 166 in a dual with Dow quarterback Bruce Mann, who tossed four touchdown passes with 238 yards and also ran for 127 yards and two scores. The Chargers finished 9-2. Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Portage Central 13 – The Rangers (9-2) added a District title to their best season since 1995, and after finishing 2-7 each of the last two; Portage Central finished 9-2, one win better than a year ago.
Birmingham Groves 24, Birmingham Brother Rice 0 – These neighbors don’t play often; that said, Groves (10-1) earned its first win over the Warriors since 1963 as Rice (7-4) had won their last eight meetings.
Temperance Bedford 39, Livonia Franklin 22 – The Mules (9-2) are another who have shined after a middling go in 2015; they have as many wins this fall as the last two seasons combined and eliminated a Franklin team that made the Semifinals last season and finished this one 7-4.
Chelsea 27, Coldwater 20
This rematch of last season’s Division 3 Semifinal was much closer than Chelsea’s 35-7 victory a year ago. The Bulldogs (11-0) won their third straight District title this time by scoring a touchdown with six seconds left to break a 20-20 tie – and with the win earned a Regional matchup with also-undefeated Edwardsburg. Coldwater finished 8-3. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.
Byron Center 55, Grand Rapids Christian 28 – The Bulldogs (10-1) got to 10 wins for the first time since 2000 with a second District title in four seasons; Grand Rapids Christian finished its best season in four at 9-2.
Muskegon 28, East Grand Rapids 10 – The Big Reds (10-1) won their fifth straight District title by ending a seven-game winning streak for the Pioneers (8-3).
Allen Park 34, Romulus 0 – The Jaguars (11-0) tied their most wins since 2004 in ending the winningest season for Romulus (9-2) since 2000.
Hudsonville Unity Christian 35, Benton Harbor 34 (OT)
Unity Christian (9-2) continued the best season of its 14-year history while ending another incredible run by the Tigers. Benton Harbor followed up last season’s first-ever playoff run and 6-5 finish (after a combined 0-18 the previous two years) with a program-best 10-1 record this fall. Both teams scored in overtime, but the Crusaders stopped the Tigers’ conversion run attempt to win a second straight District title. Click for more from WZZM.
Lake Odessa Lakewood 36, Lansing Sexton 28 – These teams combined for more than 750 yards of total offense, but Lakewood (10-1) reached 10 wins for the first time by holding on despite two touchdown passes by Jackson Barnes over the final 10 minutes that kept Sexton (7-4) in the mix.
Detroit Country Day 45, Marysville 7 – Country Day (11-0) got touchdowns from six players, including one on defense after an interception to hand Marysville (10-1) its lone loss.
Adrian 28, Milan 13 – The Maples (7-4) made good on an at-large bid by claiming a District title against the team that beat them on opening night, 27-13; Milan finished 9-2 and has totaled at least nine wins four of the last five seasons.
Grand Rapids West Catholic 10, Portland 7
Offense was at a premium during this matchup of teams that previously combined to average 74 points per game this fall. But West Catholic kicker Liam Putz found a score when it mattered most, drilling a 31-yard field goal with four seconds to play to send the reigning champion Falcons (9-2) onward and end the Raiders’ season at 10-1. Click for more from WZZM.
Ithaca 47, Muskegon Oakridge 6 – It’s fair to call this a statement win for the Yellowjackets (11-0), as Oakridge (9-2) arguably was their strongest opponent to date; it’s also accurate to note that Ithaca suddenly has a 25-game winning streak.
Frankenmuth 49, Freeland 14 – Only two weeks ago, Frankenmuth (10-1) fell 7-3 to the Falcons (10-1); last year Freeland beat the Eagles twice in the same scenario.
Reed City 34, Remus Chippewa Hills 28 – The Coyotes (11-0) have had five 10-win seasons over the last six, but 10 was the max – until Reed City broke through with a second victory over Chippewa Hills (9-2) this season by six points or fewer.
Jackson Lumen Christi 37, Schoolcraft 34 (OT)
Abe Johnson’s 13-yard field goal in overtime clinched Lumen Christi’s third straight District title, this one over a pre-playoff title favorite in the Eagles (10-1). The Titans (9-2) are hoping to win their first MHSAA championship since 2009, and took a major step after managing to slightly slow a Schoolcraft offense that came in averaging 46 points per game and had scored fewer than 40 only once. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.
Napoleon 42, Grass Lake 21 – The Pirates (9-2) avenged a Week 2 loss to Cascades Conference rival Grass Lake (9-2) to advance to the third round of the playoffs for the first time.
Calumet 6, Negaunee 0 – The Miners (10-1) also were a popular championship favorite heading into the playoffs with their closest game coming from … Calumet (10-1), which fell to Negaunee 14-6 in Week 2.
Detroit Central Collegiate 26, Warren Michigan Collegiate 22 – The Trail Blazers (7-4) won their first District title since 2010, ending the best season for the Charter School Conference champion Cougars (9-2) since 2011.
Pewamo-Westphalia 25, Saugatuck 19
Few games in any division could match the star power generated by P-W running back Jared Smith and Saugatuck quarterback Blake Dunn, who combined as juniors to run for just shy of 6,000 yards. Smith ran for 222 yards and two scores Saturday to help the Pirates (11-0) hold on against the previously undefeated Indians (10-1) for their sixth straight District title. Click for more from the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.
Detroit Loyola 46, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 7 – The Bulldogs (9-2) eliminated a league champion for the second straight round, following up last week’s victory over Madison Heights Madison with this one over Michigan Independent Athletic Conference winner Liggett (10-1).
Concord 48, Homer 32 – The Yellowjackets (9-2) could’ve fallen victim to revenge, but stretched out the margin a little after beating Homer (8-3) only 28-26 in Week 2.
Ubly 24, Unionville-Sebewaing 16 – The story was similar for Ubly (11-0), which kept its best season since 2010 going with another win over opening-night opponent USA (9-2).
Norway 40, Lake Linden-Hubbell 16
Opportunities for upset get fewer later in the tournament, but this may fall into that category based on past history. Norway (9-2) continued to forget last year’s 2-7 finish and five straight sub-.500 seasons with a first District title since 2006, earning it against a Lakes team that finished the regular season undefeated for the second season in a row and at 10-1 posted its most wins since 2009. Click for more from the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.
Royal Oak Shrine 49, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 25 – The Knights (9-2) started their four-game winning streak last month against Everest Collegiate and won their first District title since 2008 with a second win over the Mountaineers (8-3).
Climax-Scotts 28, Mendon 14 – For the second straight season, undefeated Climax-Scotts (11-0) downed playoff rival Mendon (8-3), this time for a second straight District title.
Frankfort 38, Lincoln Alcona 34 – The Panthers (11-0) have had only a few scares this season, and needed a touchdown during the final minute to avoid falling to the Tigers (9-2).
Powers North Central 60, Crystal Falls Forest Park 50
Forest Park (9-2) made the margin in this growing Upper Peninsula rivalry even closer in this season’s rematch, but the Jets still pulled away. North Central (11-0) had beaten the Trojans by 18 in Week 2, but scored twice during the fourth quarter to keep its perfect record as an 8-player program intact at 24-0. The teams combined for 1,022 yards of total offense, and the stars shone brightly; Jets quarterback Jason Whitens threw for 286 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 114 yards and four more scores, while Forest Park running back Dan Nocerini capped his high school career with 50 carries for 260 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.
Other Regional Finals:
Pickford 30, Engadine 28 – The Panthers (10-1) earned a 10th win for the first time since 1991, avenging a 10-point loss to Engadine in Week 3 by handing the Eagles (10-1) their lone defeat.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 28, Portland St. Patrick 10 – The Defenders’ first playoff run now includes handing St. Patrick (10-1) its only loss while improving to 11-0.
Deckerville 58, New Haven Merritt 12 – The Eagles (10-0) arguably have been even more dominant than North Central, and only seemed to be getting stronger in handing Merritt (10-1) its first loss.
PHOTO: Fenton (orange helmet) bulled through a tough matchup with Midland Dow to advance in Division 2. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)