Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 2 Review

November 11, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

You can stop trying to predict what’s going to happen in the MHSAA Football Playoffs this month.

The first two weeks have showed us that’s pretty much a futile endeavor – and that’s what could make these playoffs some of the most memorable of this decade soon to end.

A couple of observations quickly can be pulled from this weekend’s results. For starters, 12 teams ended their seasons with their first and only loss. Also, there were 16 rematches from the regular season – and 10 teams that lost the first meeting won this time around.

Sure, many of the heavy pre-playoff favorites are still around. But they might now be faced with stopping a few surprise contenders that have found their strides at the right time.

Below is a glance at some of the most notable District Final results from every division of 11-player, plus a thought on all eight 8-player Regional Finals. "Drive for Detroit" is sponsored by MI Student Aid.


Division 1

HEADLINER Davison 42, Lapeer 21 Although Lapeer (9-2) did defeat Davison two weeks ago to win the Saginaw Valley League Blue title, the Lightning won that meeting only 24-21 – and the Cardinals more than flipped that result two weeks later. Davison (9-2) locked up its first District title since 2008 by overcoming a Lapeer defense that was giving up only 10.8 points per game and hadn’t surrendered more than 21 (also against Davison) this season. Click for more from the Flint Journal and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.

District Digest Utica Eisenhower 27, Lake Orion 20 The Eagles (9-2) have won eight straight and their third District title in four seasons, while Lake Orion (9-2) ended its most successful season since 2012 and with both defeats this fall by just seven points apiece. Belleville 67 Brownstown Woodhaven 14 The Warriors (10-1) led into the second quarter before Belleville (11-0) scored 61 straight points over the final three to repeat as a District champion. Sterling Heights Stevenson 38, Macomb Dakota 35 A week after Dakota shocked reigning Division 1 champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Stevenson (7-4) avenged its 40-14 Week 4 loss to the Cougars (6-5) to win its first District title since 2009.

Division 2

HEADLINER Birmingham Seaholm 42, Birmingham Groves 7 While Groves (8-3) has become a playoff regular and made the Division 2 Semifinals last season and in 2016, Seaholm is two seasons removed from a 1-8 finish and had lost seven straight to the rival Falcons – including in last year’s playoff opener. This season’s defeat was only three weeks ago, 35-14, but the Maples (8-3) avenged by holding a Groves offense averaging 30 points per game to its lowest output of the fall. The District title was Seaholm’s first since 2001. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

District Digest Muskegon Mona Shores 35, Midland Dow 12 The Sailors (9-2) finished their sweep of SVL Red co-champions by holding Dow (7-4) to its second-fewest points and scoring the second-most the Chargers gave up this fall. Detroit U-D Jesuit 11, Farmington 10 The Cubs (8-3) added a first District title since 2013 to their league championship, ending the Falcons’ season at 8-2 and with both losses by a combined five points. Walled Lake Western 49, Fenton 21 The Warriors (10-1) clinched their fourth District title in five seasons by handing the Tigers (9-2) their first loss since opening night.

Division 3

HEADLINER Edwardsburg 16, Zeeland West 2 – The Eddies – last year’s Division 4 champs – passed a major Division 3 test, and did so holding West (9-2) to its fewest points since the 2014 Semifinals. Granted, Edwardsburg (11-0) also scored way under its usual output, but put up enough while bringing down its defensive average half a point to giving up just 6.9 per game this season. The District title was the Eddies’ fourth straight, continuing a streak that began in Division 3 in 2016 before the team played in Division 4 the last two seasons. Click for more from the Edwardsburg Argus.

District Digest East Grand Rapids 41, Byron Center 14 The Pioneers (8-3) locked up their first District title since 2015 by handing Byron Center (10-1) its only loss during a rebound season that saw the Bulldogs bounce back from two straight sub-.500 finishes. Chelsea 28, Coldwater 21 The Bulldogs (11-0) won their fifth District title in six seasons with their second seven-point victory in two weeks. Coldwater finished 9-2 after going 3-6 a year ago. Allen Park 42, Riverview 26 The Jaguars (9-2) won their fourth District title in five seasons by eliminating Riverview (8-3) for the second straight.

Division 4

HEADLINER Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 54, Ortonville Brandon 40 As an independent during the regular season, Notre Dame Prep (10-1) faced a variety of opponents from a variety of leagues. So it’s gone a little unnoticed that the Fighting Irish are enjoying what has now tied their most successful season ever (with the 2011 team that finished 10-1). This District title was the program’s first since 2004. Brandon (8-3) ended its third season in four with at least eight wins. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

District Digest Cadillac 21, Sault Ste. Marie 6 The Vikings (7-4) keep adding highlights to their first winning season since 2016, with this their first District title since 2013. The Blue Devils (7-4), meanwhile, concluded their winningest season since 2013. Grand Rapids Catholic Central 33, Sparta 7 The Cougars (10-1) reached double-digit wins for their fourth-straight season by winning their fourth-straight District title, this time ending the winningest season for Sparta (9-2) since the start of the playoff era in 1975. Milan 56, Romulus Summit Academy North 22 Both of these teams set program records for wins this season, Milan (11-0) reaching 11 for the first time and the Dragons in finishing 8-3.

Division 5

HEADLINER Kingsley 51, Muskegon Oakridge 34 The Stags have been charging since the return of coach Tim Wooer before the 2018 season, and they’re up to a combined 21-2 with two District titles over the last two years after handing Oakridge (10-1) its lone loss of the fall. The Eagles hadn’t given up more than 20 points in a game this season and not 50 since a Semifinal loss in 2013. Kingsley’s offensive performance raised its scoring average this fall to just under 46 points per game. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle and see highlights below from MI Sports Now.

District Digest Almont 22, Marine City 20 The Raiders (11-0) have put together arguably the most impressive playoff runs so far with two wins over rivals on the road, and with the Mariners (10-1) also unbeaten entering the night. A Marine City offense averaging nearly 44 points per game was stopped just enough by an Almont defense still giving up just 9.9 per contest. Lansing Catholic 21, Portland 0 The Cougars (10-1) won their first District title since 2015 by ending a six-game losing streak to the rival Raiders (8-3), the only team that had beaten Lansing Catholic over the last two seasons. Saginaw Swan Valley 21, Frankenmuth 7 The closest win of the Eagles’ perfect league title run was a three-pointer over Swan Valley in Week 5, and the Vikings (8-3) clinched their third-straight District title by taking the rematch. Frankenmuth finished 9-2.

Division 6

HEADLINER Montague 20, Ravenna 13 (OT) Another rematch reversal was as close as anticipated, with Montague avenging its 17-7 Week 6 loss. Ravenna (8-3) scored all of its points during the fourth quarter to send this game to overtime, but the Wildcats (9-2) scored the only points of the extra period. The District title was the third straight for the reigning Division 6 runner-up. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

District Digest Onsted 35, Grass Lake 21 The Wildcats (9-2) extended their first playoff season since 2014 with their first District title since 2007, while ending Grass Lake’s season also at 9-2. Calumet 39, Menominee 14 The Copper Kings (10-1) have 10 wins for the third time and a District title for the second in four seasons, and earned another home game as they seek their first Regional title. Menominee finished 7-4 after going 2-7 a year ago. Hillsdale 20, Constantine 14 League champion Hillsdale (11-0) joined Onsted as District champs from the Lenawee County Athletic Association, and now they will meet again. Constantine (8-3) ended its season with three defeats all by six points or fewer.

Division 7

HEADLINER New Lothrop 42, Beaverton 7 The legend of New Lothrop continues to grow. The Hornets (11-0) ran their winning streak to 16 going back to last year’s playoff run by handing Beaverton (10-1) its only loss – and scoring nearly half of the 100 points the Beavers gave up all season. New Lothrop has scored at least 40 points in 13 straight games dating back to last year’s Semifinals (and not counting a Week 8 forfeit this fall). Click for more from the Flint Journal.

District Digest Schoolcraft 47, Lawton 10 The Eagles (10-1) repeated as District champs and have now outscored two playoff opponents by a combined 104-16. Lawton (10-1) concluded a great turnaround after two straight 3-6 seasons. Cass City 28, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 2 Playing in its third-straight District Final, Cass City (10-1) made history winning its first championship during the opening round and getting to double-digit victories for the first time. Laker ended its sixth playoff season in seven years at 7-4. Traverse City St. Francis 14, McBain 6 The Gladiators (8-3) have played in four games decided by eight or fewer points, and this win pushed their record to 3-1 in those games as they got past McBain (6-5) for a sixth-straight District title.

Division 8

HEADLINER Reading 28, Cassopolis 6 A rematch of their 2017 Division 7 District Final – won by Cassopolis – was played out two years later, with Reading adding to its contender status as it looks to return to Ford Field after winning Division 8 last year. Cassopolis had given up more than 16 points only two other times over the last three seasons – and the last team to score 16 was Reading when Cassopolis won the 2017 matchup. Reading’s defense also did its part in this meeting, slowing way down a Cassopolis offense that was averaging 40 points per game. Click for more from the Hillsdale Daily News.

District Digest Ubly 34, Harbor Beach 20 The Bearcats (9-2) had lost to Harbor Beach five times over the last three seasons including 29-14 in Week 5 and in District games the last two years. The Pirates finished 10-1 and were a combined 21-3 over the last two seasons. Saginaw Nouvel 46, Breckenridge 28 The Panthers (7-4) clinched their second District title in three seasons by handing reigning Division 8 runner-up Breckenridge (9-2) its first loss since the season opener. Beal City 33, Johannesburg-Lewiston 20 The Aggies (10-1) are another team extending a great turnaround season after they finished 2-7 a year ago. The District title was their first since 2014 and ended another great run for Johannesburg-Lewiston (10-1), which hadn’t given up more than 21 points in a game this fall.


Division 1

HEADLINER Morrice 50, Deckerville 24 The reigning Division 1 champion Orioles (10-1) hadn’t been discussed much since seeing a 20-game winning streak end in Week 8 against Crystal Falls Forest Park. But they’re a big part of the conversation again after handing Deckerville (10-1) its only loss, scoring 50 of the 134 points the Eagles gave up this season and stopping an offense that was averaging 46 points per contest. Click for more from the Owosso Argus-Press.

Regional Roundup Suttons Bay 36, Gaylord St. Mary 30 The Norsemen (11-0) ended up with a Week 6 win over Gaylord St. Mary after the Snowbirds (5-6) had to forfeit that 48-47 victory. But Suttons Bay will play in the Semifinals for the first time since 2006 after holding off a late St. Mary’s comeback attempt in this rematch. Kingston 50, Mio 48 The Cardinals (9-2) are headed to the Semifinals for the first time since 1996 after finally overtaking Mio (9-2) late in the fourth quarter. Colon 56, Martin 12 The Magi (11-0) actually saw their average margin of victory fall in defeating the previously unbeaten Clippers (10-1). Colon is winning by 48 points per game with no opponent getting closer than 34.  

Division 2

HEADLINER Pickford 22, Powers North Central 14 The Panthers (10-1) avenged their only loss, a 20-14 defeat to the Jets (10-1) in Week 3, to earn a spot in the Semifinals for the fourth straight year and fourth in five seasons playing 8-player. Pickford, last season’s Division 1 runner-up, scored the go-ahead points during the final minute and held off the Jets’ final attempt to pull even. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.

Regional Roundup Hillman 48, Cedarville 44 Playing in its 14th straight playoffs, Hillman (10-1) has advanced to its first Semifinal by avenging last season’s 44-6 first-round loss to the Trojans (6-5). The Tigers also reached double-digit wins for the first time. Climax-Scotts 34, Onekama 22 The Panthers (9-2) will play in their first Semifinal since 2007 after eliminating last season’s Division 2 runner-up Portagers (7-4), whose four losses all came to teams still alive in the playoffs. Portland St. Patrick 51, Kinde North Huron 16 The Shamrocks (11-0) are headed back to the Semifinals for the third straight season after denying the Warriors (7-4) an opportunity to get back for the second time in three years.

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PHOTO: Ishpeming offensive linemen Victavian Hansen (77), Ben Pruett (14), and Dawson Delongchamp (17) make a hole for quarterback John Corkin (40), who gains several yards. (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.)