Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 2 Preview

October 31, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The field of 288 a week ago became 144 teams still playing. Starting tonight, 11-player teams will compete for District titles and 8-player contenders will aim to celebrate Regional championships.

And this round presents more than a few familiar matchups from either earlier this fall or recent MHSAA Playoffs.

There again are ample opportunities to watch playoff games from the comforts of home if you do not choose to take a seat in the stands. FOX Sports Detroit’s Prep Zone matchups this week are Detroit Catholic Central at West Bloomfield in Division 1, Birmingham Brother Rice at Birmingham Groves in Division 2 and Flint Powers Catholic at Williamston in Division 4. Those all will stream free of charge on and on the FOX Sports app. At least five more games will be viewable on, either live with subscription or free after 72 hours.

Below are a few notes on games of particular intrigue in each division. Games are tonight unless noted. “Drive for Detroit” is powered by MI Student Aid

Division 1

Macomb Dakota (8-2) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (10-0)

The Big Reds beat Dakota 24-17 in Week 5 on the way to the Macomb Area Conference Red title and their first perfect regular season since 1975. After winning another MAC Red rematch last week over Utica Eisenhower, Chippewa Valley will look to remain the only conference team still alive – but must avoid a 2016 scenario, when it beat Dakota during the regular season and lost to the Cougars in the playoffs.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Oxford (8-2) at Lapeer (10-0). SATURDAY East Kentwood (9-1) at Saline (9-1), Dearborn Fordson (9-1) at Detroit Cass Tech (10-0).

Division 2

Warren DeLaSalle (8-2) at Oak Park (9-1)

Oak Park has won at least one playoff games six of the last seven seasons and seems to be inching closer to a trip to Ford Field – but for the second straight season, DeLaSalle stands in the way. The Pilots won last year’s playoff meeting, 14-7 in a Regional Final, on the way to claiming the Division 2 championship. The Knights have won four games by eight or fewer points this fall and should be prepared for another close one.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Midland Dow (6-4) at Midland (7-3), Jenison (7-3) at Muskegon Mona Shores (9-1), Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (8-2).

Division 3

Zeeland West (8-2) at Zeeland East (9-1)

East won the teams’ first meeting, 48-34 in Week 8, on the way to clinching the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title. But the Chix as well have a scenario they want to avoid: In 2012, 2013 and 2017, East won the first matchup but West won the playoff rematch. The Dux’ only losses this season were to league champions – East and Grand Rapids Christian.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Cedar Springs (9-1) at Mount Pleasant (10-0), Grand Rapids Christian (8-2) at Muskegon (10-0), Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) at Warren Woods Tower (9-1).

Division 4

Farmington Hills Harrison (7-3) at Detroit Country Day (7-2)

Of course not to slight possible Regional and Semifinal opponents, but Country Day has accomplished the most of late of any team standing between Harrison and finishing its final season at Ford Field. The Yellowjackets have reached the Semifinals four times this decade and finished Division 4 runners-up in 2016 before falling below .500 last fall for the first time since 2005. Country Day opened these playoffs by downing MAC Bronze champ Center Line 42-6.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Paw Paw (8-2) at Edwardsburg (10-0). SATURDAY Escanaba (8-2) at Alma (9-1), North Branch (8-2) vs. St. Clair (8-2) at East China Stadium.

Division 5

Clare (9-1) at Reed City (10-0)

The intrigue here is based in part on Clare’s win last week – 42-28 over Manistee, which like Reed City was perfect during the regular season. The Pioneers’ lone loss came Week 4 to Jack Pine Conference foe Roscommon, and the two ended up sharing the title with Beaverton – all three are still alive in the playoffs. Reed City, meanwhile, has won 42 of its last 46 games, including 34-7 over Clare in last season’s District Final.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lansing Catholic (9-1) at Portland (10-0), Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (8-2) at Jenison, Hopkins (9-1) vs. Kalamazoo United (10-0) at Vicksburg.

Division 6

Calumet (10-0) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (10-0) at Thirlby Field, Saturday

This is another playoff rematch from 2017, when St. Francis opened the postseason with a 28-6 win over the Copper Kings. That Calumet team entered 6-3, while this one makes the trip downstate coming off its first perfect regular season since 1996 and with a school-record 10 wins. The Copper Kings will need another big performance from a defense giving up only 5.3 points per game; St. Francis is scoring nearly 49 on average.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Michigan Center (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-0), Blissfield (6-4) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (9-1). SATURDAY Ecorse (8-2) at Flint Hamady (10-0).

Division 7

Saugatuck (9-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)

This is not only a playoff rematch, but a replay of last season’s Division 7 championship game. These two actually are meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons – P-W has won all four meetings including last season’s Final 21-0, but the Indians gave the Pirates two of their toughest games of the last four seasons in falling by six in 2016 and 10 in 2015. Get the scoreboard ready: Saugatuck’s offense has blown through 500 points for the third time in four seasons, while the Pirates with 537 points already have outscored last year’s championship team.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Loyola (7-3) at Madison Heights Madison (10-0), Centreville (9-1) at Cassopolis (10-0), Cass City (8-2) at New Lothrop (9-1).

Division 8

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (10-0) at Reading (10-0)

These two have thoroughly dominated their competition to this point. It’s tough predicting what’s going to give now that they’ll share the same field. Reigning Division 8 champion Whiteford has won 24 straight games and 37 of its last 38, this season outscoring opponents 54-8 on average. Reading is outscoring its opponents only 52-9 per game – although Pittsford may have given the Bobcats some ideas putting up 48 to Reading’s 65 in last week’s opener.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Iron River West Iron County (8-2) at Ishpeming (10-0), Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-1) at Breckenridge (10-0), Ubly (8-2) at Harbor Beach (9-1).

8-Player Division 1

Morrice (10-0) vs. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-0) at Grandville Middle School, Saturday

The Orioles blazed a trail with their first 9-0 regular season and now will play to reach their first Semifinal since 1996. Just as impressive, if not more so – Morrice hasn’t given up a point since Week 4, a stretch of outscoring their last six opponents by a combined 313-0. The Defenders are playing to reach the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. Counting last week’s win over Webberville, they’ve beaten five playoff teams and reigning champion Central Lake this fall.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Suttons Bay (9-1) at Pickford (10-0). SATURDAY Deckerville (8-2) at AuGres-Sims (10-0), Bellevue (9-1) at Colon (9-1).

8-Player Division 2

Brethren (7-3) at Onekama (8-2)

The West Michigan D League champion Bobcats keep earning respect, adding to the league title last week’s win over intriguing contender Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 42-26. Brethren has its most wins in a season since 1990, and now takes on another team with championship aspirations. Onekama’s two losses came by a combined seven points to Midwest Central Michigan Conference West foes still alive in 8-player Division 1. The Portagers are 17-4 since moving to 8-player last season after three straight making the 11-player playoffs.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (6-4) at Rapid River (7-3), Cedarville (6-4) at Posen (8-2). SATURDAY Tekonsha (6-4) vs. Portland St. Patrick (6-4) at Portland High.

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: Clarkston’s punter winds up to send the ball back to Lake Orion during last week’s Division 1 District win. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)