Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 1 Review

November 4, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Everything starts fresh in the playoffs. It’s not supposed to matter which teams have dominated during the regular season or won the first time when two rivals are set to meet again.

When coaches need a little help convincing their players of any of that, they should remember this first weekend of the 2019 postseason.

Upsets abounded, rematches reversed, and a few brackets saw some serious shake-up during the Pre-District and Pre-Regional rounds in 11- and 8-player, respectively.

Our weekly review, playoff edition, glances at some of the results from every division as we move one step closer to Ford Field and the Superior Dome.

"Drive for Detroit" is sponsored by MI Student Aid.


Division 1

HEADLINER Macomb Dakota 34, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 13 The reigning Division 1 champion Big Reds (9-1) had won 23 straight games including three during that time over rival Dakota, but this year’s first meeting was an indication of what might be possible. Chippewa Valley won the Week 6 meeting only 27-21, and unlike last year – when the Big Reds won the regular-season game by seven and the playoff rematch by 41 – Dakota flipped the result for perhaps the biggest upset from a weekend full of them. Click for more from the Macomb Daily and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.

District Digest East Kentwood 38, Rockford 12 This nearly overtook the above for biggest upset statewide. A week after Rockford (8-2) downed East Kentwood 17-7 to lock up the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title, the Falcons (6-4) stormed back to hand the Rams their earliest playoff exit since 2002. Belleville 49, Saline 10 This matchup of 2018 semifinalists went Belleville’s way big as the Tigers (10-0) achieved double-digit wins for the third straight season and held the Hornets (8-2) to their fewest points this season. Detroit Cass Tech 24, Grosse Pointe South 17 The Technicians (6-4) may have made the playoffs as an additional qualifier, but they always are tough to beat in the postseason and advanced to the District Finals for the 12th straight year. The Blue Devils finished 7-3. Davison 35, Romeo 21 The Cardinals (8-2) bounced back from a Week 9 loss to Lapeer and also a first-round playoff exit a year ago to get past Romeo (7-3) and earn a rematch this week with the Lightning.

Division 2

HEADLINER Detroit U-D Jesuit 34, North Farmington 21 The Cubs (7-3) did win the Detroit Catholic League AA title this fall, but had to beat Dearborn Divine Child a second time Week 9 to make the playoffs as an automatic qualifier. So on paper, they may not have been expected to hand North Farmington (9-1) its first and only loss – although digging deeper, it’s key to remember Jesuit’s defeats were to annual powers Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central and Warren De La Salle Collegiate – valuable preparation for games of this magnitude. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

District Digest Farmington 12, Oak Park 6 The Falcons (8-1) fell short of winning the Oakland Activities Association Blue because of a four-point loss to North Farmington, but they’ll play for a District title after this win over the OAA White champion Knights (8-2). Midland Dow 27, Traverse City Central 24 The Chargers (7-3) are riding as hot a streak as any team in the state and followed up a league title-clinching win Week 9 by edging the Big North Conference champion Trojans (8-2). Muskegon Mona Shores 20, Midland 13 The Sailors (8-2) began a march they hope leads to a second-straight trip to Ford Field with a second straight win over the Chemics (8-2) after also defeating them in last year’s Semifinal. Port Huron 27, Port Huron Northern 21 The Big Reds (7-3) broke a three-game losing streak against their crosstown rival as they continued their best season since 2014. Northern (8-2) had won the first meeting Week 7, 29-26, but lost star defensive end Braiden McGregor to a season-ending injury in that victory.

Division 3

HEADLINER St. Johns 17, Mason 7 The Redwings (7-3) have made nice strides under first-year coach Andy Schmitt this fall, with their best record since 2015. But they’ve also made big improvements over just the last five weeks – St. Johns had fallen to Mason 46-7 in Week 5, and the Bulldogs (9-1) went on to achieve their first undefeated regular season. The rematch win gave the Redwings a 6-2 advantage on Mason since the teams became part of the same league in 2014. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal and see highlights from WILX.

District Digest DeWitt 21, East Lansing 13 On the other side of the District from St. Johns, DeWitt (8-2) avenged its only Capital Area Activities Conference Blue defeat by downing the Trojans (7-3) in a matchup of two of the three teams that shared the league title. Flint Kearsley 20, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 19 The Hornets (8-2) made their first playoff game since 1998 count winning a game that saw both teams score during the final minutes. Rice finished 6-4. Cedar Springs 34, Mount Pleasant 7 The Red Hawks (9-1) will play for a District title for the third-straight season after opening the playoffs for the second straight with a win over the Oilers (7-3). Zeeland West 38, Zeeland East 7 The Dux (9-1) avoided the rematch upset that had occurred between these rivals in the playoffs three of the last seven years, finishing a season sweep of the neighboring Chix (5-5).

Division 4

HEADLINER Sparta 35, Muskegon Orchard View 0 This looked on paper like potentially one of the first round’s best matchups, and Sparta (9-1) showed up big in its first playoff game since 2013. The Spartans not only handed Orchard View (9-1) its lone loss, but shut out an offense averaging 40.7 points per game entering the weekend. See highlights below from FOX 17.

District Digest Grand Rapids South Christian 31, Grand Rapids Christian 28 The Sailors had given Grand Rapids Christian (7-3) one of the latter’s two closest O-K Gold games, losing by just seven Week 7. South Christian (6-4) avenged that 27-20 defeat, hanging on after a late Eagles score. Cadillac 35, Escanaba 12 The Vikings’ first playoff win since 2013 came at Escanaba (7-3) against a team that had won three straight District titles. Cadillac (6-4) heads back over the Bridge this week to Sault Ste. Marie. Fowlerville 29, Goodrich 28 (OT) The Gladiators (7-3) went for a 2-point conversion after its overtime touchdown and knocked out a league champion in the Martians (7-3). Milan 14, Carleton Airport 13 The Big Reds (10-0) narrowly escaped joining the list of those who suffered rematch downfalls, getting past Airport (6-4) for the second time in three weeks after winning the Week 8 meeting 20-6.

Division 5

HEADLINER Almont 30, Richmond 20 The Raiders traveled to Richmond (8-2) for the second time in four weeks and came home victorious again against the team it defeated previously to clinch a share of the Blue Water Area Conference title. Almont (10-0), which then won the league outright, also reached double-digit wins for the second-straight season and will play this week for what would be its first District title since 2014. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

District Digest Kalamazoo United 16, Berrien Springs 12 The Titans (6-4) are surging, claiming a share of their league title Week 9 against previously-unbeaten Schoolcraft and this week ending the season for another undefeated team in the Shamrocks (8-1). Lansing Catholic 28, Olivet 21 The Cougars (9-1) got past Olivet (8-2) in the first round for the third-straight year to again earn a chance to avenge its only loss against rival Portland. Dearborn Heights Robichaud 29, Dundee 28 A fourth-quarter score gave the Bulldogs (8-2) their first playoff win since 2015 and sent Dundee to 5-5, still tying its winningest season since 2012. Whitmore Lake 45, Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard 28 The Trojans (8-2) earned their first postseason win since 2006 by avenging a 22-20 Week 5 loss to the Fighting Irish (5-5).

Division 6

HEADLINER Sanford Meridian 19, Ithaca 14 Talk about perseverance. The Mustangs (7-3) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and after three straight sub-.500 seasons. During their last three-year playoff stretch from 2013-15, they were eliminated by Ithaca (8-2) twice. And Meridian also put this win together on the road and coming off its third loss over the final five weeks of the regular season. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun and see highlights below from MI Sports Now.

District Digest Menominee 48, Ishpeming Westwood 18 The Maroons (7-3) moved to 24-8 in playoff contests this decade and appear to be heating up with at least 47 points for the third straight game, this total the most given up by Westwood (7-3) since 2013. Harrison 38, Clare 6 The Pioneers (8-2) rarely lose during the Jack Pine Conference season, but Harrison (6-4) came back from a 42-40 Week 3 defeat to win this rematch 38-6. Constantine 58, Niles Brandywine 8 The Falcons’ best season since 2014 now includes a share of a league title and handing the only loss to Brandywine (9-1). Constantine (8-2) increased its points per game average to 42.3. Millington 21, Flint Hamady 14 The Cardinals (6-4) extended their playoff season streak to 16 as an additional qualifier, then opened the postseason by defeating a league champion in Hamady (7-2).

Division 7

HEADLINER Riverview Gabriel Richard 17, Clinton 14 The Pioneers won on a field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Gabriel Richard (8-2) has had a nice run over the last five years and will play in its fourth District Final during that time and third straight. But this still likely was considered a slight upset with Clinton (9-1) undefeated for the regular season for the fifth time in eight years and having beaten all but one of its opponents this fall by double digits. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

District Digest Charlevoix 32, Harbor Springs 0 The Rayders (7-3) won in the playoffs for the first time with their first shutout of the season and after also defeating Harbor Springs (6-4) 47-27 in Week 9. McBain 14, Oscoda 12 The Owls (8-2) were playing for their first playoff win since 2000, but McBain (6-4) held on to book a return trip to the District Finals. Lawton 7, Centreville 3 These teams combined to gain only 384 yards and punt seven times, which made sense since Lawton (10-0) gives up 7.8 points per game and Centreville (6-4) gave up 8.6 per game this fall. Detroit Loyola 26, Detroit Central 12 After facing six eventual playoff qualifiers during the regular season, Loyola (5-4) made the prep pay off in handing Central (8-2) its first defeat since Week 1.

Division 8

HEADLINER Flint Beecher 52, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 25 Beecher (6-3) worked through a 1-2 start and then an open Week 7 to reach the postseason, then kickoff off the playoffs by handing the Mountaineers (8-1) their only defeat. The teams had also met in the playoffs last year, a 22-14 Buccaneers District Final win, and this time Beecher took off for its highest-scoring game of the fall.

District Digest Lake Linden-Hubbell 36, West Iron County 14 The Lakes’ first playoff win since 2016 improved them to 7-3 and avenged a 24-16 Week 6 loss to the Wykons (7-3). Saginaw Nouvel 33, Merrill 13 Three straight losses at the end of the regular season forced Nouvel (6-4) to win Week 9 to have a chance at earning an additional qualifier spot, and now the Panthers are on a two-win streak after downing the Vandals (6-4). Reading 38, Mendon 0 The reigning Division 8 champ Rangers (9-1) started this playoff run with their fourth shutout over the last five weeks, ending Mendon’s season at 7-3. Sand Creek 52, Addison 24 The Aggies (8-2) finished third in a strong Tri-County Conference and earned the league more fame by doubling up the Cascades Conference-winning Panthers (7-3).


Division 1

HEADLINER Gaylord St. Mary 48, Pellston 6 The Snowbirds (5-5) quickly ended Pellston’s first playoffs, locking down an offense that averaged 42.4 points per game. The Hornets’ only other defeat this fall came against Hillman as they finished 8-2 to end a streak of 22 straight sub-.500 seasons. Next up for St. Mary is Suttons Bay, which it beat on the field by a point in Week 6. Click for more from the Gaylord Herald Times.

Regional Roundup Mio 34, Mayville 22 The Thunderbolts (9-1) extended their first 8-player season with their first playoff win since 2010, ending what tied for the winningest season for Mayville (6-4) since 1987. Kingston 58, Mesick 22 The Cardinals (8-2) made their first Regional Final since 2014 by defeating a league champion in Mesick (7-3), which concluded its winningest season since 1995. Martin 28, Bellevue 0 The Clippers (10-0) reached double-digit wins for the first time since 1987 with their first playoff victory since 2007, handing Bellevue (6-4) its first shutout since 2016.

Division 2

HEADLINER Powers North Central 46, Crystal Falls Forest Park 28 These rivals were two of the top seven teams in Division 2 by playoff point average, with North Central tied for the top spot. After falling in the teams’ first meeting 34-8, Forest Park scored first in the rematch but couldn’t keep pace with a Jets offense averaging 53.3 points per game. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Regional Roundup Onekama 22, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 20 The reigning Division 2 runner-up escaped a quicker exit against former league foe Tri-unity (5-5), which had beaten the Portagers (7-3) by two when they last met a year ago. Pickford 57, Engadine 12 The reigning Division 1 runner-up earned its second win this season over Engadine (8-2), which lost only to Pickford (9-1) this fall. Climax-Scotts 26, Brethren 6 The Panthers (8-2) bounced back from a two-point Week 9 loss to unbeaten Martin with a nice win over a Brethren team that strung together back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time and finished this fall 5-5.

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews 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 and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: After breaking a couple of tackles and almost getting pushed out of bounds, Menominee's Keagan Moore dives for the end zone and scores. (Photo by Cara Kamps.) 

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.)