By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
From 288 to 144 to 72, these MHSAA Football Playoffs are shaking out a little differently than the last few seasons.
All in all, this fall’s postseason over the first two weeks has included more surprises than what seem usual. This week’s action was endured through uncharacteristic stormy weather – and saw two more of last season’s finalists leave the field, meaning this month’s championship games will include at least nine teams that didn’t play for titles a year ago.
Below is a look at games from every division that especially jumped out as 11-player District champions and 8-player Regional champions were celebrated. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard, and “Drive for Detroit” is sponsored by MI Student Aid.
11-Player Division 1
Canton 28, Belleville 25
The Chiefs (10-1) ran their winning streak this fall to 10 straight and reached 10 wins for the second time in three seasons by putting up the second-most points given up by a stellar Belleville defense this fall. The Tigers (10-1) were allowing only 7.5 points per game heading into the District Final, and finished with their best record since also going 10-1 in 1995. Click for more from the Detroit News.
— STATE CHAMPS! (@statechampsnet) November 4, 2017
Holland West Ottawa 33, Rockford 28 – The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red champion Panthers (10-1) downed runner-up Rockford (7-4) the second time this season as both games were decided by five points.
Detroit Cass Tech 27, Dearborn Fordson 22 – A late score and then defensive stand gave Cass Tech (8-2) its eighth straight District title and Fordson (9-2) only its second loss of its best season since 2014.
Utica Eisenhower 10, Rochester Adams 6 – Eisenhower (11-0) crossed for the game’s only touchdowns with 1:33 to play in what was the lowest-scoring game for both teams this fall; Adams finished 9-2.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 45, Macomb Dakota 20 – Chippewa Valley (10-1) reached double-digit wins for the first time since 2003 with its second victory this season over rival Dakota (7-4).
11-Player Division 2
Traverse City Central 17, Traverse City West 14
Central ran its recent record against neighbor West to five wins in six games by avenging the 29-27 Week 3 defeat to the Titans (9-2) that ended up deciding the Big North Conference. Central (8-3) scored the eventual winning points with just under two minutes to play as the teams met in the playoffs for the second straight season. The District title was Central’s first since West opened in 1997. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
— Brett A. Sommers (@BAsportswriter) November 4, 2017
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 28, Muskegon Mona Shores 21 – The Rangers (11-0) tied a program record for wins set in 1994 by holding Mona Shores (9-2) to its fewest points this season.
Flushing 28, Fenton 21 – Flushing (9-2) hadn’t beaten rival Fenton (9-2) during their four years together in the Flint Metro League, including a 52-35 defeat in Week 7, but did so this time to win a District title after not making the playoffs the last two years.
Livonia Franklin 21, Livonia Churchill 19 – Franklin’s 14-point loss to Churchill in Week 4 ended up deciding the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold title for the Chargers (8-3), but this rematch win gave Franklin (9-2) its second District title in three seasons.
Ypsilanti Lincoln 21, Wyandotte Roosevelt 19 – Lincoln (9-2) is making history every week, first with its first playoff win ever on Oct. 27 and now with its first District title after stopping a two-point conversion that would’ve pulled previously-undefeated Roosevelt (10-1) even late.
11-Player Division 3
Riverview 38, Gibraltar Carlson 14
The Pirates (10-1) have enjoyed one of the best turnaround seasons in Michigan this fall. This win gave them their first District title since 2004 and double-digit wins in a season also for the first time since that season, to go with a Huron League title – all after finishing just 2-7 a year ago. Carlson (9-2) also has reason to be pleased despite the loss; the Marauders were 4-5 a year ago and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009. Click for more from the Southgate News-Herald.
Riverview 7 Carlson 0 pic.twitter.com/IL9xv6kiwM
— Friday Night Victors (@FNVictors) November 3, 2017
DeWitt 36, Cedar Springs 12 – The Panthers (10-1) reached double-digit wins for the 13th time in 17 seasons by stopping an offense that was scoring 40 points per game heading into the night; Cedar Springs finished 7-4.
Battle Creek Harper Creek 42, Stevensville Lakeshore 24 – Harper Creek (11-0) won a matchup of league champions to claim its first District title since 2012, also the last season it had faced (and lost to) Lakeshore (9-2).
Farmington Hills Harrison 33, Warren Woods-Tower 0 – The Hawks (8-3) secured their third District title in five years but first since 2014 by shutting down a Titans offense averaging nearly 34 points per game; Woods-Tower finished 8-3.
Muskegon 55, Zeeland West 20 – West (7-4) scored first, but Muskegon (11-0) scored the next 28 to claim a sixth straight District title.
11-Player Division 4
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 45, Wyoming Kelloggsville 34
The reigning Division 4 champion Cougars (11-0) held off a serious threat from Kelloggsville, which came back from a big deficit to lead in the third quarter. But the Rockets (10-1) ultimately couldn’t stop GRCC standout back Nolan Fugate, who shined again against a defense giving up only 14 points per game entering the night. Click for more from WOODTV.
TIE GAME! Catholic Central ends scoring drought with 42-yd TD, Nolan Fugate’s 4th score.
Catholic Central 28
3rd Q pic.twitter.com/F5koyavoTE
— Luke Stier (@LukeStier) November 4, 2017
Williamston 47, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 21 – It’s seemed like there was something to be said for the Hornets (7-4) losing four games this season by a combined 21 points; they made a statement winning their first District title since 2010 by putting up the most points allowed this season by Notre Dame Prep (8-3).
Belding 55, Comstock Park 49 – Belding (9-2) has won its playoff games by a combined eight points to get to its best record since 1998; Comstock Park (7-4) capped a great run coming back from 2-7 a year ago.
Edwardsburg 30, Three Rivers 12 – The best of the Wolverine Conference have been taking turns dealing each other heartache, but Edwardsburg (10-1) ended up with the league and now also a District title by avenging a Week 7 loss to Three Rivers (8-3).
River Rouge 35, Chelsea 10 – The Panthers (9-2) clinched their fourth straight District title while denying Chelsea (9-2) the same accomplishment.
11-Player Division 5
Frankenmuth 42, Marine City 23
This wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Frankenmuth’s first-round win over Almont, when the Eagles (11-0) scored the winning points with just more than two seconds to play. But a second-half comeback still was required to get this District Final win, which helped Frankenmuth tie its record for victories in a season. Marine City finished 8-3, bouncing back from 4-5 a year ago and with its best record since 2014. Click for more from the Saginaw News.
Menominee 24, Kingsford 21 – The Flivvers (8-2) were the best of the Great Northern Conference during the regular season, but Menominee (8-3) is moving on with a ninth straight District title thanks to avenging its 42-21 loss to Kingsford from Week 8.
Portland 35, Lansing Catholic 0 – The Raiders (10-1) avoided a similar fate in facing rival Lansing Catholic (8-3) for the second time, posting a third straight shutout to claim their first District title since 2012.
Algonac 24, Ida 16 – The Muskrats (10-1) have won 10 or more games now for the third straight season, this time by outlasting an Ida team hoping to accomplish the same; the Bluestreaks finished 8-3 and are 20-6 over the last three seasons.
Reed City 34, Clare 7 – The Coyotes (10-1) made it six 10-win seasons over the last seven with a third District title in four seasons; Clare (9-2) still finished with its best record since 2012.
11-Player Division 6
Montague 37, Kent City 13
For the second time in three weeks, Montague dealt an opponent the first loss of its season – and in this case, the only loss this fall for Kent City. The Eagles (10-1) hadn’t given up more than 29 points in a game, and Montague (11-0) also shut down a Kent City offense averaging 43 points per contest entering the weekend. The District title was Montague’s first since 2011. Click for more from Local Sports Journal.
Traverse City St. Francis 13, Maple City Glen Lake 0 – Although closer in the rematch, St. Francis (10-1) finished a sweep of the Lakers (7-3), last year’s Division 6 runner-up.
Watervliet 58, Delton Kellogg 50 – After three weeks scoring only 36 points in each game, Watervliet (11-0) popped back over 50 for the eighth time this season and just in time to hold off a second try from league foe Delton (6-5) – which earned its most wins this fall since 2001.
Blissfield 27, Brooklyn Columbia Central 17 – The Royals (7-4) also finished a sweep of a league mate, downing Columbia Central (7-4) for the second time to win a first District title since 2007 and after going only 4-5 a year ago.
Warren Michigan Collegiate 38, Detroit Central 34 – The Cougars (11-0) tied their school record for wins, and this was a big one for the Charter School Conference as well against a Detroit Public School League tournament winner in Central (8-3).
11-Player Division 7
Pewamo-Westphalia 35, New Lothrop 14
Reigning Division 7 champion P-W has won 24 of its last 25 games, and the Pirates leapt another giant obstacle on their repeat quest by handing New Lothrop (10-1) its lone defeat of the fall. The Hornets had won four straight District titles but were held to their fewest points since last season’s Regional Final loss. P-W has won six straight District titles. Click for more from FOX17.
— P-W Football® (@PWGRIDIRON) November 6, 2017
Lake City 25, Ishpeming Westwood 16 – The Trojans (11-0) reached 11 wins for the first time with their first District title since 2013 as Westwood (9-2) ended its winningest season.
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 18, Cass City 14 – The two meetings between the best in the Greater Thumb Conference West went similarly this season; champion Laker (7-3) won in Week 5 by six points and this time by four over league runner-up Cass City (9-2).
Cassopolis 31, Reading 16 – The Rangers (10-1) won their third straight District title by holding Reading (8-3) to only 130 yards and while gaining only 186.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 19, Hudson 16 – The Falcons (7-4) earned their first District title since 2014 on a field goal during the final seconds after Hudson (9-2) came back to tie the score late.
11-Player Division 8
Mendon 26, Muskegon Catholic Central 15
Mendon made the weekend’s biggest football splash by eliminating the reigning four-time champion in this division. The Hornets (11-0) muscled to 364 yards rushing while throwing the ball only once to win their first District title since 2014 and beat MCC for the first time since 2011. The Crusaders (8-2) did manage 338 total yards, going to the air nine times during a rainy afternoon, but were able to put up only their second-fewest points over the last two seasons. Click for more from JoeInsider.com.
Frankfort 53, Gaylord St. Mary 30 – The Panthers (8-2) broke 50 points for the fourth time but first since Week 5 to win a third straight District title and end the best season for St. Mary (10-1) since 2003.
Lincoln Alcona 56, Hillman 34 – The Tigers (9-2) secured their first District championship against a familiar opponent, having also beaten Hillman (6-5) to open the North Star League schedule in Week 2.
Saginaw Nouvel 27, Harbor Beach 26 – The Panthers (11-0) won their first District title since 2012 thanks to a fourth-down touchdown with just more than a minute to play after Harbor Beach (9-2) built a 12-point lead.
Climax-Scotts 14, Pittsford 13 – The Wildcats (9-2) handed Climax-Scotts its first league loss since 2008 in Week 8, but the Panthers (9-2) avenged to earn a third straight District title.
8-Player Division 1
Deckerville 38, Morrice 0
The Eagles (10-1) left no doubt in this rematch of North Central Thumb League Stars champions, avenging the 33-32 loss to the Orioles suffered in Week 6. The win also gave Deckerville its fifth Regional title in six seasons since making the switch from 11-player, while Morrice ended 9-2 after going only 4-5 a year ago. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.
Stephenson 30, Cedarville 24 – The Eagles (9-2) earned their first Semifinal berth as the last Upper Peninsula team standing in this division, handing Cedarville (8-3) its second loss by six or fewer points this fall.
Central Lake 58, Suttons Bay 26 – The Trojans (11-0) tied their program record for wins set in 2006 with a second victory this season over another first-year 8-player program in Suttons Bay (7-4).
Bellevue 60, Lawrence 24 – This postseason has featured Bellevue’s first playoff win since 2010 and now its first advancement ever to the third round plus its first time reaching double-digit wins (at 10-1); Lawrence ended 5-6 after opening the playoffs by upsetting Camden-Frontier.
8-Player Division 2
Pickford 26, Onekama 14
Pickford earned a second straight trip to the Semifinals with one of the most impressive defensive performances in 8-player this season. The Panthers (11-0), who are giving up only 10 points per game, held to 14 an Onekama offense that entered averaging 51. The Portagers finished their first season of 8-player at 9-2. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.
Crystal Falls Forest Park 62, Engadine 20 – The Trojans are 9-2 for the second season in a row after making the switch to 8-player and put more points on Engadine (8-3) than the Eagles had given up in a game since Week 2 of 2015.
Kinde-North Huron 38, Bay City All Saints 36 – This rematch of the NCTL Stripes’ top teams fell the same way, although closer than when champion North Huron (10-1) beat runner-up All Saints (7-4) by 10 points in Week 9.
Portland St. Patrick 50, Flint International Academy 0 – The Shamrocks (10-1) advanced to their first Semifinal since 2012 with their second shutout of the season, limiting a Blazers offense averaging 44 points per game entering the weekend; International finished 8-3.
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PHOTO: Mendon and Muskegon Catholic Central locked up for a rainy, muddy Division 8 District Final on Saturday. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)