Drive for Detroit: Playoffs R3 in Review

November 16, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

And then, once again, there were 34. 

Two undefeated 8-player finalists emerged from last week's Semifinals, while a number of moments were celebrated from another round of trophy-raising performances by 32 teams in 11-player Regional Finals. 


Powers North Central 70, Cedarville 6 – The first-year 8-player Jets will try to add a first football championship to their boys basketball title from the winter after besting last season’s runner-up, Cedarville (9-3). North Central (12-0) fell just 1.5 points shy of its previous 71.5 points per game average as it continued to dominate on both sides of the field. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.

Battle Creek St. Philip 52, Deckerville 24 – The Tigers (12-0) also earned their first championship game berth in 8-player, to go with a perfect run to the Class D title in 11-player in 1985. Running back Brayden Darr scored seven touchdowns for the second straight game as St. Philip won its first meeting ever against the 2012 champion Eagles, who finished this fall 10-2. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Division 1

Grand Ledge 36, Rockford 16

Rockford looked like it would be moving on with a 16-3 lead after three quarters. But the Comets unloaded 33 straight points over the final 12 minutes to advance to their first MHSAA Semifinal since the 2000 Division 1 championship run. Grand Ledge never has been 12-0 before now; Rockford completed its 21st straight playoff appearance at 8-4. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted:

Romeo 40, Detroit Catholic Central 29 – Romeo’s first Regional title since 1992 came as the Bulldogs (11-2) set a program record for wins with yet another impressive playoff victory to go with those over Clarkston and Lapeer; DCC finished 9-3, a nice bounce-back from 4-5 in 2014.

Canton 27, Saline 7 – It sounds odd to say a win by Canton (10-2) would count as an upset, but that’s how highly Saline (11-1) has been regarded since making the Division 1 Final a year ago.

Detroit Cass Tech 16, Macomb Dakota 10 – The Technicians (10-2) scored 16 straight points after getting down 10, and neither team scored during the second half as Dakota (9-3) was eliminated by Cass Tech for the second time in three seasons. 

Division 2

Lowell 36, Muskegon 7

This is as impressive a playoff win by Lowell as any since also beating the Big Reds by the same score during the 2011 run to Ford Field. Muskegon (9-3) entered after handing first and only losses, on the road, to both Traverse City Central and Muskegon Mona Shores. But the Red Arrows (11-1) dominated this one from the start and held the Muskegon offense to 151 yards and well below its average of 39 points per game. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Walled Lake Western 35, Midland Dow 14 – Western (12-0) piled up 424 yards of offense in ending the season for Dow (10-2) and moving on to its second Semifinal in five seasons.  

Livonia Franklin 38, Berkley 6 – Franklin (9-3) was only 2-7 a year ago, but has advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and will play its first Semifinal since becoming the first MHSAA Class A champion in 1975, when the playoffs started with Semifinals; Berkley’s 9-3 final record was its best since 2010 and tied the program record for wins.  

Detroit Martin Luther King 26, Detroit East English 12 – For the second time this fall, King (12-0) held off a challenge from Detroit Public School League rival East English (9-3) after also beating the Bulldogs 20-15 during Week 3.

Division 3

Coldwater 20, St. Joseph 6

Another week into the postseason and Coldwater’s wins keep getting more impressive. The undefeated Cardinals’ unprecedented run now includes a first Regional title to go with a program-record 12 wins. Coldwater scored 20 straight points to upend St. Joseph, which saw its best run since 2008 come to an end with a 10-2 record. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Also noted:

East Grand Rapids 35, Mount Pleasant 0 – The Pioneers (9-3) stormed into their first Semifinal since 2011 with a second straight shutout and fourth in six weeks while ending Mount Pleasant’s season also at 9-3.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 56, St. Johns 14 – For the fifth time in six seasons, St. Mary’s (10-1) has at least 10 wins, and for the sixth time in seventh seasons will play in a Semifinal; St. Johns (8-4) ended in the Regional Finals for the second time in four seasons.

Chelsea 35, Allen Park 12 – The Bulldogs (11-1) tied their program record for wins with their first Regional title, and against an Allen Park team (10-2) that has earned its most victories since 2006 and had won nine straight.

Division 4

Zeeland West 28, Hudsonville Unity Christian 21

Probably because statewide expectations are always high, Zeeland West hasn’t gotten a ton of attention as it’s rolled along to a fourth Semifinal appearance in five seasons. But this one was interesting throughout. Unity Christian gave the Dux (12-0) their closest game since Week 4 and finished its longest playoff run at 8-4. West had beaten Unity Christian 52-6 in Week 9. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Ada Forest Hills Eastern 34, Remus Chippewa Hills 7 – The Hawks’ history-making run isn’t all about offense; Forest Hills Eastern (11-1) won its first Regional title with perhaps its best defensive game and has given up only 34 points over three during the playoffs; Chippewa Hills finished its longest playoff run at 9-3.

Flint Powers Catholic 28, Richmond 7 – Aside from Richmond’s lone score, it was playoffs as usual for the Chargers (10-2), who have now outscored three opponents by a combined 110-7; Richmond finished 10-2 for the second straight season after also winning a second straight District title.

Detroit Country Day 20, Milan 13 – This had to qualify as a major scare for the Yellowjackets (11-1), whose only close losses were to a pair of larger opponents from the Detroit Catholic League Central; Milan can celebrate a nice turnaround finishing 9-3 after going 4-5 a year ago.  

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic 24, Menominee 14

For the sixth straight season, West Catholic (10-2) ended Menominee’s with a loss – this time the Maroons’ only loss of 2015. West Catholic scored only 24 points –  but held Menominee (11-1) to its fewest since beating the Maroons in the 2013 Division 5 Final. Menominee was averaging 44 points per game heading into the weekend. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Lansing Catholic 25, Freeland 22 – The Cougars (11-1) also handed Freeland (11-1) its first and only loss with a fourth-quarter comeback that featured a defensive touchdown and earned Lansing Catholic a rematch of last season’s championship game, against West Catholic.

Ida 43, Buchanan 20 – The Bluestreaks (12-0) continued their best season, handing Buchanan (11-1) its first and only loss, and impressing against a Bucks defense that hadn’t given up more than 38 points and had given up more than 20 only twice.

River Rouge 51, Algonac 25 – Did you know River Rouge has won at least 10 games three of the last four seasons? The unheralded Panthers won their first Regional title and have outscored three playoff opponents 167-25, with Algonac (10-2) scoring the only points as it finished its best season ever.

Division 6

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 35, Constantine 34 (OT)

NorthPointe Christian (12-0) set a program record for wins and advanced to the Semifinals for the second straight year in ending arguably the most surprising playoff run regardless of division. Constantine had reached the postseason with an at-large bid and then eliminated previously-undefeated Schoolcraft and one-loss Watervliet. But NorthPointe stopped Constantine (7-5) on a 2-point conversion try after both teams scored in overtime. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Ithaca 34, Laingsburg 10 – The reigning runner-up Yellowjackets (12-0) ended the longest run ever for Laingsburg (8-4), with quarterback Jake Smith throwing two touchdown passes and running for two scores.  

Traverse City St. Francis 12, Boyne City 0 – The Gladiators (12-0) upended their rival for the second time this season to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2011; Boyne City ended its second straight season of double-digit wins at 10-2.

Clinton 49, Jackson Lumen Christi 20 – The Redskins (12-0) arguably have been the most impressive team in the playoffs, adding Lumen Christi (8-4) to a list of defeated opponents including Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and Madison Heights Madison. 

Division 7

New Lothrop 34, Sandusky 15

New Lothrop drew even with its 2011 team that also started 12-0 to advance to the Semifinals, earning its third Regional title over the last five seasons. The Hornets scored all of their points during the first half in handing the first and only loss to Sandusky, which finished its best season ever at 11-1 and did hold New Lothrop to its season low in points. Click for more from the Owosso Argus-Press.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 40, McBain 2 – The Hematites (11-0) won a fourth straight Regional title scoring their most points since September and with a defense that stopped McBain’s best season since 2011 at 8-4.

Pewamo-Westphalia 40, Cassopolis 3 – The Pirates (12-0) earned a berth in the Semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons, and junior running back Jared Smith set an MHSAA record with his 50th rushing touchdown and moved into second for yards in a season with 2,901 total; Cassopolis finished its best season since 2007 at 9-2.

Detroit Loyola 50, Dansville 0 – Loyola’s offense gets the attention, and with good reason, but the Bulldogs (10-2) held Dansville (10-2) to 25 total yards in ending the Aggies’ longest playoff run. 

Division 8

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 48, Climax-Scotts 14

This was the upset of the Regional round, but not as huge as it might appear on paper. Climax-Scotts (11-1) was a league champion and undefeated, and had beaten playoff regulars Pittsford and Mendon the first two weeks of the postseason. But Whiteford (10-2) is one of two Tri-County Conference teams in the Semifinals joining Division 6 Clinton and set a program record for wins in a season with this one. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

St. Ignace 22, Crystal Falls Forest Park 8 – The Saints (11-1) jumped to a two-score lead and hung on for their second Regional title in four seasons while ending Forest Park’s last run as an 11-player team (at least for the time being, as it will move to 8-player next year) at 7-4.

Muskegon Catholic Central 22, Frankfort 12 – MCC (10-2) held on for its closest playoff win since 2012 against a Frankfort team that posted its best finish since 2009, at 9-3, and led by five going into the fourth quarter.   

Waterford Our Lady 32, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 6 – The Lakers (12-0) have added a first Regional title since 2006 to their long history of accomplishments, while the Cardinals (10-2) ended their best two-season run after making the Semifinals a year ago.  

PHOTO: Grand Ledge players hoist their Division 1 Regional title trophy Friday after defeating Rockford. (Click for more from

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.)