By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
First-round games, and with them often familiar opponents, are out of the way as we move into District Finals for 11-player and Regional Finals for 8-player teams still alive in the MHSAA Football Playoffs.
Below is again a look at a game in each division that particularly jumps off the page, in many cases because it provides one or both teams an opportunity to show they are built for bigger games and less familiar opponents ahead as we roar toward the end of November.
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Belleville (10-0) at Brownstown Woodhaven (10-0)
The Warriors have made the second round of the playoffs three times over the years, and a big performance tonight will not only send them to the third round for the first time but make another statement for a Downriver League that has had plenty of success over the last two decades. Belleville is playing in its third-straight District Final and for its second straight title at this level. Merely coincidentally, both of these teams have won all of their games by double figures except one – both had one-point wins against the second-place finishers in their respective leagues.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Plymouth (9-1) at West Bloomfield (9-1), Davison (8-2) at Lapeer (9-1), Detroit Cass Tech (6-4) at Dearborn Fordson (9-1).
Midland Dow (7-3) at Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2)
The Sailors got past Midland by seven a week ago and now must also eliminate the other co-champion from the Saginaw Valley League North in neighboring Dow. The Chargers opened last week edging Big North Conference champion Traverse City Central by three. This could shake out as another close but low-scoring District Final, with both teams averaging just over 30 points per game but far fewer against playoff teams this season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-2) at Portage Northern (9-1), Fenton (9-1) at Walled Lake Western (9-1), Birmingham Seaholm (7-3) at Brimingham Groves (8-2).
Edwardsburg (10-0) at Zeeland West (9-1)
Moving back into Division 3 for these playoffs means a different set of challengers for the reigning Division 4 champion Eddies. Zeeland West is seeking its first District title since 2015 after losing in this round the last two years, and can be considered as close to undefeated without being so as its only loss was by a point to still-unbeaten Byron Center. Running has long been the name of the game for both of these programs, and this could be another low-scoring matchup with West giving up 17 points per game and Edwardsburg just 7.4.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Coldwater (9-1) at Chelsea (10-0). SATURDAY Cedar Springs (9-1) at Muskegon (10-0), Flint Kearsley (8-2) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (9-1).
Sparta (9-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-1)
Sparta surely was considered capable of winning last week’s opener against Muskegon Orchard View. But after the Spartans shut out the previously-undefeated Cardinals 35-0, it no doubt opened up a few more eyes as the team also reached nine wins for the first time since 1953 (per Michigan-football.com). Catholic Central annually is a formidable challenge, having made the Semifinals the last three seasons. GRCC’s only loss this fall was to a playoff team from Illinois.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ortonville Brandon (8-2) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (9-1), Marshall (6-4) at Paw Paw (9-1), Romulus Summit Academy North (8-2) at Milan (10-0).
Muskegon Oakridge (10-0) at Kingsley (10-0), Saturday
Oakridge is playing in its eighth District Final this decade and has won three of the first seven, with two of the four losses to teams that ended up reaching the MHSAA Finals – including by just three points to last season’s Division 5 champion Hudsonville Unity Christian. Kingsley won its first District title last year since 2005, traveling a different road playing in Division 6. Whichever team emerges from these paths crossing could be a serious contender to keep on rolling all the way to Detroit.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Almont (10-0) at Marine City (10-0), Lansing Catholic (9-1) at Portland (8-2), Clawson (7-3) at Detroit Denby (8-2).
Ravenna (8-2) at Montague (8-2)
Three West Michigan Conference teams are still alive – these two joining Oakridge noted above – and Ravenna won the first meeting 17-7 in Week 6. How much has changed in just over a month? The Wildcats since then can boast an 18-14 win over Portland, last season’s Division 5 runner-up. Ravenna, meanwhile, hasn’t given up a point since falling to Oakridge by seven in Week 8.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Constantine (8-2) at Hillsdale (10-0), Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1). SATURDAY Menominee (7-3) at Calumet (9-1).
Beaverton (10-0) at New Lothrop (10-0)
New Lothrop has become one of the scariest contenders in arguably the most competitive division, and not just because it’s the reigning champion. That unexpected underdog role could play well for the Beavers, who have reached 10 wins for the first time and last week gave up their first points – but only six – since Week 5. Beaverton’s 5.8-points-per-game defensive showing overall this season has come against a schedule featuring six playoff opponents, including three playing for District titles this weekend.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lawton (10-0) at Schoolcraft (9-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-3) at Cass City (9-1). SATURDAY McBain (6-4) at Traverse City St. Francis (7-3).
Cassopolis (10-0) at Reading (9-1)
This matchup has two years of recent history providing some additional build-up. These teams met in a Division 7 District Final in 2017, won by Cassopolis 31-16. Reading marched to the Division 8 title unbeaten last season – but Cassopolis was still in Division 7 and missed making that Final with a three-point Semifinal loss to Madison Heights Madison. Now these two meet again, both in Division 8, both scoring more than 40 points per game and both with incredible defensive numbers – Reading giving up 5.2 points per game and Cassopolis having given up 17 points this entire season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Beal City (9-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (10-0). SATURDAY Ubly (8-2) at Harbor Beach (10-0), Flint Beecher (6-3) at Fowler (9-1).
Martin (10-0) at Colon (10-0), Saturday
This will be the greatest challenge this fall so far for both teams. It’s tough to say Colon has been challenged yet – the Magi have scored 40 points in all but one game and average 52.2 per game, and have given up 38 total with six shutouts. Martin stacks up impressively scoring 38.6 points per game and giving up 10.8, but with a pair of single-digit wins over Bellevue and Climax-Scotts. Those could be interesting indicators for Colon, which beat both by at least 35.
Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Gaylord St. Mary (5-5) at Suttons Bay (10-0), Kingston (8-2) at Mio (9-1), Morrice (9-1) at Deckerville (10-0).
Pickford (9-1) at Powers North Central (10-0)
This rematch has been highly-anticipated since Week 3, when Powers North Central handed Pickford its only loss, 20-14, in what also turned out to be the Jets’ only close game this season. Pickford, last season’s Division 1 runner-up, did end up in Division 2 this time and brings back a team loaded with playoff experience. We’ll see how much difference that might make, although the Jets did gain a valuable boost as well in last week’s win over Crystal Falls Forest Park, its first over the Trojans in the first round in three seasons.
Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Cedarville (6-4) at Hillman (9-1), Onekama (7-3) at Climax-Scotts (8-2). SATURDAY Kinde North Huron (7-3) at Portland St. Patrick (10-0).
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PHOTO: Muskegon Oakridge edged Montague 15-13 in Week 5; both are playing this weekend for District championships. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)