Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 3 Review

November 12, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The results are fewer at this stage of the MHSAA Football Playoffs, but the headlines are louder with more on the line and the best of the best running into each other with only a few weeks left to play.

This third round saw our 8-Player Finals pairings set – with those championship games taking place this Saturday at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome. Morrice will face Pickford in Division 1, while Rapid River will take on Onekama in Division 2.

Meanwhile, in 11-Player Regional Finals, we saw history made for Belleville, Holton and Breckenridge to name a few. We also saw the end to Pewamo-Westphalia’s attempt at making a fourth a straight MHSAA championship game, and said good-bye to one of Michigan’s most prominent high school programs and the winningest coach in state history.

Click to check out the scores through the first three weeks of the tournament and the pairings for the weekend ahead. “Drive for Detroit” is powered by MI Student Aid

Division 1

HEADLINER: Saline 13, Rockford 12 (OT) The Hornets’ impressive body of work this season grows by the week. By outlasting Rockford with a 2-point conversion stand, they advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since finishing Division 1 runner-up in 2014. Add to this one to wins over East Kentwood two weeks ago and Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Week 2 – and giving unbeaten Clinton Township Chippewa Valley its closest game of the season in a five-point Week 1 loss – and it continues to be quite a run. Rockford also should be proud; after opening 1-3 this fall, the Rams not only extended a record 24-year playoff streak but won their first District title since 2015. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News and see below for highlights from FOX 17.

Regional Recap: Clarkston 13, Lapeer 0 The reigning Division 1 champion Wolves (10-2) locked down their fourth Regional title in six seasons and eliminated Lapeer (11-1) for the third time over the last five – and second time during that string where the Lightning entered the game undefeated. Belleville 13 West Bloomfield 10 The Tigers (12-0) have broken through with their first Regional title, defeating last season’s Division 1 runner-up West Bloomfield (9-3) to make their first Semifinal. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 42, Dearborn Fordson 7 The Big Reds (12-0) are headed to the Semifinals for the first time since 2003 after shutting down a Tractors team that finished 10-2 and was averaging 38 points per game.

Division 2

HEADLINER: Birmingham Groves 53, Livonia Franklin 29 The Falcons (10-2) are headed to their second Semifinals in three seasons after downing Franklin (7-5), a semifinalist a year ago. Groves has run off 10 straight victories since opening this fall 0-2, and the 53 points were a season high. Franklin led at the end of the first quarter 2-0 before the Falcons ran off 21 unanswered points during the second. Click for more from the Oakland Press and see highlights below from State Champs Sports Network.

Regional Recap: Muskegon Mona Shores 58, Portage Northern 28 The Sailors (11-1) also scored a season high to win their second Regional title ever and first since 2014, over a Northern team that at 9-3 tied its program record for wins set in 1981. Midland 43, Walled Lake Western 0 The Chemics (9-3) won their first Regional title since 2007 with one of the most impressive victories of the weekend, handing Western (8-4) its first shutout since the 2016 Division 2 Final. Warren DeLaSalle 21, Port Huron Northern 3 The reigning Division 2 champion Pilots (10-2) ended the winningest season since 1986 for Northern (10-2), which did hold DeLaSalle to its third-fewest points of this fall.

Division 3

HEADLINER: Muskegon 34, Cedar Springs 18 The reigning Division 3 champion Big Reds (12-0) withstood one of their toughest challenges of this season, as Cedar Springs (10-2) trailed by only a point, 13-12, at halftime. Muskegon quarterback Cameron Martinez – who broke La’Darius Jefferson’s school season record of 2,095 rushing yards during the game – ran for 32 and 75-yard scores during the third quarter. The Red Hawks finished with their most wins since going 11-2 in 2000. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle and see highlights below from WZZM.

Regional Recap: Zeeland East 50, Parma Western 24 The Chix are headed to the Semifinals for the first time since 1989 when East and West were one school. Parma Western ended its longest playoff run with a school record for wins at 10-2. DeWitt 42, Farmington 7 The Panthers (12-0) bounced back offensively after scoring nine points in the District Final and as a defense giving up eight points per game locked down the Falcons (8-4), who completed their longest run since 2002. Detroit Martin Luther King 54, Allen Park 15 The Crusaders (10-2) won their sixth Regional title in eight seasons, ending Allen Park’s at 9-3 after the Jaguars bounced back from just missing the playoffs in 2017.

Division 4

HEADLINER: Chelsea 21, Farmington Hills Harrison 14 The Bulldogs (9-3) have risen from third in their league during the regular season to win their second Regional title over the last four years, this time under first-year coach Josh Lucas. Chelsea’s win also marked the end of Farmington Hills Harrison football under coach John Herrington, who concluded as the winningest coach in MHSAA history with a 443-112-1 record since starting the program in 1970. Harrison (8-4) is closing next summer. Click for more from the Sun Times News.

Regional Recap: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 35, Escanaba 6 For the third straight season, the two-time reigning Division 4 champion Cougars (11-1) eliminated the Eskymos (9-3), this time holding Escanaba to its fewest points of the fall. Edwardsburg 56, Holland Christian 21 The Eddies (12-0) set up a rematch of last season’s Division 4 Final (a 42-31 loss to GRCC) by scoring more than 50 points for the seventh time this season, ending a nice run for Holland Christian (8-4) with its best record since 2009. Williamston 28, St. Clair 0 The Hornets (10-2) advanced to their first Semifinal since 2010 by shutting out a St. Clair team that finished 9-3 and had scored a combined 132 points over its first two playoff games.

Division 5

HEADLINER: Saginaw Swan Valley 36, Reed City 28 Swan Valley’s side of this bracket began with four of the 30 undefeated teams left in all of 11-player at the end of the regular season, and the Vikings (12-0) remained one by edging another over the weekend. Reed City (11-1) gave Swan Valley its closest game this season and a closer one than when the two met and the Vikings won 29-14 in a Semifinal a year ago. How close was it? Reed City ended the game on Swan Valley’s 2-yard line. Click for more from the Saginaw News and see highlights below from WJRT.

Regional Recap: Hudsonville Unity Christian 39, Kalamazoo United 14 The Crusaders (10-2) advanced to their second Semifinal in three seasons by locking down a Titans offense averaging 53 points per game heading into Saturday. United finished 11-1, its best since the co-op between Hackett and Kalamazoo Christian was formed in 2014. Portland 40, Frankenmuth 6 The Raiders are headed to their first Semifinal since winning Division 5 in 2012 after stopping Frankenmuth (9-3) in its quest to win a third straight Regional title. Marine City 40, Detroit Denby 32 (2OT) The Mariners also finished third in their league during the regular season, but are headed to the Semifinals for the first time since winning Division 4 in 2013. Denby (9-3) concluded its winningest season and longest playoff run both since 2006, with its losses this fall by a combined 18 points.

Division 6

HEADLINER: Montrose 37, Flint Hamady 6 As noted above, this weekend was good to teams finishing third in their leagues this fall. The Rams (10-2) did so in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference, but with this victory won their first Regional title since 2013 and ended the longest run and winningest season ever for Hamady (11-1). Click for more from the Flint Journal and see highlights below from WEYI.

Regional Recap: Montague 30, Schoolcraft 14 The Wildcats (10-2) reached double-digit wins for the third time in four seasons with their first Regional title since 2009 – when it went on to win the Division 6 title. Schoolcraft (9-3) finished by playing in its first Regional Final since 2013. Traverse City St. Francis 41, Kingsley 20 The Gladiators (12-0) won their third Regional title in four seasons, although Kingsley (10-2) cut the deficit after St. Francis won their first meeting by 35 in Week 4. Jackson Lumen Christi 33, Blissfield 0 Two-time reigning Division 6 champion Lumen Christi (11-0) won its third straight Regional title with its third shutout of the season. Blissfield (7-5) was held scoreless for the first time since 2016.

Division 7

HEADLINER: New Lothrop 26, Pewamo-Westphalia 14 It’s rare that the loudest headline from a football weekend comes from one of the divisions pitting the state’s smaller schools. But it certainly was noticed when New Lothrop (11-1) ended the two-time reigning champ Pirates’ 24-game winning streak. P-W (11-1) had beaten New Lothrop 35-14 in a District Final only a year ago, but now the Hornets will return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2015. Click for more from the Flint Journal.  

Regional Recap: Lake City 34, Roscommon 28 The Trojans (12-0) held off Roscommon (10-2) to make the Semifinals for the second straight season and extend their run of the last two years to a combined 24-1. Cassopolis 23, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 22 The Rangers’ defense, giving up now 4.3 points per game, was tested for the first time. But Cassopolis (12-0) won its second Regional title in three years by stopping St. Mary (9-3) on a goal line stand to finish the game. Madison Heights Madison 44, Riverview Gabriel Richard 7 The Eagles (12-0) are returning to the Semifinals after handing a playoff defeat to Gabriel Richard (7-5) for the second straight season.

Division 8

HEADLINER: Holton 14, Mendon 6 The Red Devils’ first playoff season since 2007 now includes its first Regional title ever. Holton (8-4) outlasted annual power Mendon to move on after both reached the playoffs as additional qualifiers at 5-4 to end the regular season. The Hornets, after winning their 10th District title in 12 seasons, finished 7-5. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Regional Recap: Breckenridge 12, Ishpeming 6 The Huskies (12-0) have taken the steps from first playoff berth in 2016 since 1993, to first District title ever last season to now first Regional championship. Breckenridge drove north and handed Ishpeming (11-1) its only defeat by locking down an offense averaging 42 points per game entering the weekend. Harbor Beach 35, Flint Beecher 0 The Pirates (11-1) are back in the Semifinals for the first time since making three straight trips from 2012-14. Beecher (8-4) closed its longest playoff run since 2012 in Division 7. Reading 54, Detroit Southeastern 0 The Rangers (12-0) now have shutouts in half of their games this season and their first Regional title since 2008. It was a memorable fall for Southeastern (8-4), which made the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and only two years removed from a 3-24 three-year string.  

8-Player Division 1

SEMIFINAL: Pickford 40, AuGres-Sims 20 The Wolverines (11-1) were giving up only 7.5 points per game and hadn’t scored fewer than 50 this season. But Pickford (12-0) dominated on both sides of the ball, breaking through for its first MHSAA championship game berth after missing in Semifinals the last two seasons. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News and see highlights below from MI Sports Now.

SEMIFINAL: Morrice 40, Colon 8 The Orioles (12-0) will continue their deepest playoff run ever, with this victory securing their first MHSAA Finals berth. Morrice locked down a Colon offense averaging 44 points per game, and the Magi (10-2) gave up a season high. Still, it was a strong 8-player debut for Colon, which went 2-7 in 11-player a year ago and was playing in its first Semifinal in either format. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

8-Player Division 2

SEMIFINAL: Onekama 28, Portland St. Patrick 14 The Portagers will play in their first MHSAA football championship game after doubling up last season’s Division 2 runner-up. Onekama (10-2) also set a program record for wins, piling up 20 straight points to hold off the Shamrocks (7-5). Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

SEMIFINAL: Rapid River 36, Cedarville 30 One more third-place success story from the weekend. Rapid River (9-3) downed Cedarville 28-20 in Week 7 to eventually lock up that spot in the Great Lakes Conference East, and edged the Trojans (7-5) a second time to reach the 8-Player Finals for the third time this decade and first since 2013. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

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: Breckenridge seniors give a thumbs up while celebrating their Division 8 Regional championship in Ishpeming. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)