By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Whether your team's preferred final destination is Ford Field in Detroit or the Superior Dome in Marquette, the first steps will be taken this weekend during 144 MHSAA Playoff games across both peninsulas.
Someone's season is on the line in every game from here on out, and below we take a glance at a matchup in each division that is especially notable during these first rounds of the 11 and 8-player tournaments.
Don't let a little cool weather keep you out of the stands and supporting your favorite team at this most exciting time of year. But if you choose to stay in, take in one or more of the 30 games being broadcast on FOX Sports Detroit Prep Zone or MHSAA.tv. Click for listings and check back with MHSAA.com all weekend for scores and updated brackets.
"Drive for Detroit" is sponsored by MI Student Aid.
Saline (8-1) at Belleville (9-0), Saturday
This is the most power-packed opener in any division, with both teams making Division 1 Semifinals a year ago. Both have faced four playoff teams this fall, and the only loss between them was Saline’s Week 1 defeat against reigning champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley. The Hornets are familiar with this time of year with six District titles over the last seven seasons and a Division 1 runner-up finish in 2014. But Belleville has seemed on the verge of a Ford Field run with now three straight perfect regular seasons and, like Saline, all but one of its wins this fall by double digits.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Brighton (7-2) at Holt (7-2), Davison (7-2) at Romeo (7-2), Rochester Adams (7-2) at Utica Eisenhower (7-2), Detroit Cass Tech (5-4) at Grosse Pointe South (7-2).
Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2) at Midland (8-1)
This is a rematch of a 2018 Division 2 Semifinal won by the Sailors 49-28. Both of these teams were stung late this fall but should be dangerous again with fresh starts that come with the playoffs. Mona Shores, which went on last season to finish D2 runner-up, has losses to two league champions including big to rival Muskegon High two weeks ago in a matchup that determined the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black title. Midland was defeated by a similar score last week by rival Midland Dow as the two shared the Saginaw Valley League Red title. The winner of this District opener could see Dow next week – the Chargers take on Big North Conference champion Traverse City Central on the other side of the District bracket.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY South Lyon (8-1) at Fenton (8-1), Farmington (7-1) at Oak Park (8-1), Port Huron (6-3) at Port Huron Northern (8-1). SATURDAY Detroit U-D Jesuit (6-3) at North Farmington (9-0).
DeWitt (7-2) at East Lansing (7-2)
This is one of the most highly-anticipated rematches of the first week, with these two and Holt having shared the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title, and with the Panthers and Trojans finishing with the same playoff point average – East Lansing got the home game because of its 21-2 win over DeWitt in Week 5. Minus that performance, the Panthers averaged 39.6 points per game this fall – so expecting another all-out shutdown by the Trojans’ defense might be an unfair ask. But DeWitt’s defense also will have to deliver, as East Lansing’s offense (32.7 ppg) is scoring at its highest pace in decades.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lowell (5-4) at East Grand Rapids (6-3), Zeeland East (5-4) at Zeeland West (8-1), St. Joseph (6-3) at Edwardsburg (9-0), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (6-3) at Flint Kearsley (7-2).
Sparta (8-1) at Muskegon Orchard View (9-0)
Both of these teams have enjoyed banner seasons. Orchard View posted its first winning record since 2014, earned its first playoff berth since 2008, won the Lakes 8 Conference title and finished the regular season perfect for the first time since 2005. Sparta made the playoffs for the first time since 2013, tying its most wins since 2011 with its best regular-season record since 2006. The Spartans finished second in the O-K Blue to Grand Rapids Catholic Central, which faces Allendale on the other side of this District bracket. Orchard View did beat five playoff teams on the way to the playoffs. But comparing their lone shared opponent, Sparta downed playoff qualifier Spring Lake 38-3 in Week 3 after Orchard View defeated the Lakers 22-17 on opening night.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowlerville (6-3) at Goodrich (7-2), North Branch (7-2) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (8-1), Ortonville Brandon (7-2) at St. Clair (8-1).
Almont (9-0) at Richmond (8-1)
This is a rare occurrence; Almont defeated Richmond in Week 7 28-10 and went on to win the Blue Water Area Conference title outright while closing out its second-straight perfect regular season. However, the Blue Devils’ nonleague opponents both made the playoffs, and the bonus for playing those teams was enough to push Richmond past Almont into a home game this week. The Raiders, however, also won the first Richmond game this fall on the road, and their annually-awesome defense continues to play anywhere. Almont has given up 69 points this fall – 39 over five home games and 30 over four away. But take away the first Almont matchup, and Richmond is averaging a robust 33.5 points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Central Montcalm (7-2) at Portland (7-2), Olivet (8-1) at Lansing Catholic (8-1), Reed City (6-3) at Kingsley (9-0), Kalamazoo United (5-4) at Berrien Springs (8-0).
Menominee (6-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (7-2), Saturday
Menominee is the smallest of Great Northern Conference schools and will play in Division 6 this playoffs after years in Division 4 and then Division 5. That has the Maroons matching up with many of the best from the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference, including Westwood for the first time. The Patriots finished third in the Iron, the strongest of the two West PAC divisions this fall – and they also beat Copper champion Ishpeming 38-0 in Week 4. But Menominee presents an all-new challenge, and the Maroons are on a roll after putting up 48 points last week in handing Division 5 contender Hopkins its only loss this fall.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake City (6-3) at Maple City Glen Lake (8-1), Ravenna (7-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (6-2), Jonesville (6-3) at Hillsdale (9-0), Constantine (7-2) at Niles Brandywine (9-0).
Detroit Loyola (4-4) at Detroit Central (8-1)
While Cass Tech and Martin Luther King always get the bulk of attention out of the Detroit Public School League, Central has earned recognition too winning the PSL Division 3 title and 3/4 championship game. There are seven unbeaten teams in the Division 7 bracket, and they’re getting the most attention. But the Trail Blazers have won eight straight games (including a forfeit) since falling to Dearborn Heights Crestwood in Week 1. Loyola is a deceptive 4-4, considering the high level of competition it faces. A Central win in this one would further announce the Blazers will be tough to beat.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Harbor Springs (6-3) at Charlevoix (6-3), Byron (6-3) at Beaverton (9-0), Centreville (6-3) at Lawton (9-0). SATURDAY Houghton Lake (6-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (6-3).
Addison (7-2) at Sand Creek (7-2)
Both of these teams have faced and will be ready for top competition. Cascades Conference champion Addison is hitting the road to start the playoffs, seeking its first postseason win since 2007 and after closing the regular season against reigning Division 8 champion Reading. Sand Creek tied for second in the Tri-County Conference, but behind undefeated Division 7 contender Clinton and with the same TCC record as annual Division 8 challenger Ottawa Lake Whiteford. The Aggies also finished just ahead of Britton Deerfield thanks to a 50-22 Week 5 win – four weeks after B-D defeated Addison 28-16 to open the season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Flint Beecher (5-3) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (8-0), Mendon (7-2) at Reading (8-1), White Pigeon (7-2) at Cassopolis (9-0). SATURDAY Ottawa Lake Whiteford (5-4) at Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (7-2).
Gaylord St. Mary (4-5) at Pellston (8-1)
Pellston is one of three teams statewide making its playoff debut this weekend, boasting its first winning regular-season record since 1995. The Hornets’ only loss was the eventual Midwest Central Michigan Conference East champion Hillman, and they are riding an offense scoring just more than 46 points per game. St. Mary’s story has been well-publicized; the Snowbirds had to forfeit four wins earlier this fall but won their final two games to still make the playoffs. On the field they’ve averaged nearly 58 points per game, making this a likely offensive showdown regardless of the possible wintery weather.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mesick (7-2) at Kingston (7-2), Bellevue (6-3) at Martin (9-0), New Haven Merritt (8-1) at Morrice (8-1).
Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at Powers North Central (9-0)
One of the best Upper Peninsula rivalries of the last half-decade will play out again after the teams previously met in Week 6 – a 34-8 Jets win that helped lock up the Great Lakes Conference West title. These two have met in the playoffs as well the last three years – and combined for three straight MHSAA Finals championship from 2015-17 – and last year the Trojans avenged a 24-point regular-season loss with a 12-point win over the Jets in Pre-Regional play. The first meeting this fall, North Central contained an offense that otherwise has averaged 51.8 points per game. Not counting a forfeit win last week, the Jets had three shutouts and gave up only six points per game during this regular season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Engadine (8-1) at Pickford (8-1), Brethren (5-4) at Climax-Scotts (7-2), Kinde North Huron (6-3) at Peck (5-4).
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PHOTO: North Central clears a pylon for a score during a 54-0 win over Newberry on Oct. 11. (Photo by Jeff Rochefort.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)