By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Four of last season's MHSAA football champions still have opportunities to repeat when the games return to Ford Field in two weeks.
But Friday and Saturday's Regional Finals laid waste to some of the seemingly safest title predictions from only a few weeks ago.
Few weekends in recent playoff history have done as much damage to the top of The Associated Press' polls. Four top-ranked teams fell in Regional Finals – leaving Rockford, Muskegon, Portland and Muskegon Catholic among those instead celebrating trips to this Saturday's MHSAA Semis. Ithaca in Division 6 is the only No. 1 team from the final polls still alive.
And then there were the 8-player Semifinals – two classics that set up what looks like another this Friday at Greenville High School.
Read on for a few lines on all 34 games played in Michigan over the weekend. And click to see this weekend's schedule of 11-player Semifinals.
Rockford 25, Clarkston 14
The Rams (10-2) advanced to their third Division 1 Semifinal in four seasons by handing Clarkston its first and only loss of the fall. Rockford has won at least 10 games in eight of the last nine seasons, and got this milestone victory after jumping out to a 13-0 lead. Clarkston finished its 10th-straight playoff season at 11-1. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Detroit Catholic Central 28, Plymouth 7 – The Shamrocks (8-4) advanced to their fourth Semifinal in the last six seasons and have given up only 39 points during the playoffs. Plymouth finished 9-3.
Detroit Cass Tech 21, Saline 14 – The reigning champion Technicians (10-2) advanced to their third straight Semifinals, while ending Saline’s best season at 10-2.
Lake Orion 51, Macomb Dakota 35 – The Dragons (11-1) had three of their last night seasons end with playoff losses to Dakota (10-2), most recently in 2007.
Muskegon 49, Midland 21
It’s fair to argue that no team has faced a tougher playoff road than the Big Reds (11-1), whose postseason opponents were a combined 24-6. Midland (11-1) was undefeated and considered a slight favorite to win Division 2. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Caledonia 42, Mattawan 28 – The Fighting Scots (9-3) have bounced back in a big way after two straight 4-5 finishes. Mattawan (10-2) finished with its single-season record for wins.
Birmingham Brother Rice 42, Walled Lake Western 12 – The reigning champion Warriors (10-2) are one win from another trip to Ford Field and have won all three playoff games by at least 21 points. Walled Lake Western finished 9-3.
Wyandotte Roosevelt 10, Oak Park 6 – Roosevelt (11-1) finally got back home, and enjoyed celebrating its first Semifinal berth since 2001. But Oak Park (9-3) also can celebrate its best finish.
Grand Rapids Christian 31, Stevensville Lakeshore 7
The Eagles (11-1) moved into their first MHSAA Semifinal by handing Lakeshore (11-1) its first and only loss this season. Grand Rapids Christian gained 410 yards, with quarterback Alex VandeVusse throwing for only 254 and two touchdowns this week (he threw for four and ran for four the week before). Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
DeWitt 29, St. Johns 27 – This was another memorable chapter to an intense Capital Area Activities Conference Red rivalry, with DeWitt (10-2) getting the sweep this fall but only after the Redwings (8-4) hung close until the very end.
Battle Creek Harper Creek 26, Tecumseh 24 – After starting this season 0-2, Harper Creek (10-2) has surged into its second straight Semifinal – although not without a good scare from Tecumseh (9-3).
Orchard Lake St. Mary 42, Detroit East English 24 – Reigning champion St. Mary (10-2) is one win from its fourth straight trip to Ford Field. East English, in its first season, finished 9-3.
Saginaw Swan Valley 35, Croswell-Lexington 13
The Vikings (10-2) will be making their third Semifinals appearance in seven seasons. But this has been the most impressive run of the three. The Vikings opened by beating first-time playoffs qualifier Saginaw Valley Lutheran, followed by beating a solid Goodrich team by 30, and then this week handed Croswell-Lexington its first and only loss. The Pioneers (11-1) did finish this fall with their most wins for one season. Click to read more from the Saginaw News.
Comstock Park 62, West Branch Ogemaw Heights 27 – The Panthers (11-1) didn't see a letdown after beating Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the District Final; their 62 points against Ogemaw Heights (8-4) was a season high by more than two touchdowns.
Grand Rapids South Christian 38, Three Rivers 14 – South Christian (9-3) is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2004 after winning five or fewer games each of the last three seasons. Three Rivers can celebrate an 8-4 finish after going just 1-8 in 2011.
Detroit Country Day 47, Grosse Ile 14 – Country Day (10-2) advanced to its ninth Semifinal by containing a Grosse Ile offense that had scored 70 points the week before. The Red Devils finished 10-2 to move to 20-5 over the last two seasons.
Portland 45, Flint Powers Catholic 28
This might have been the upset of the 2012 playoffs so far – not because Portland hasn't had success, but because reigning champion Powers has dominated so thoroughly this fall. No team had gotten within 25 points of the Chargers (11-1) since September, but Portland (11-1) took an early lead and ran. The Raiders last made the Semifinals in 1975 – the first season of MHSAA playoffs – and had never won more than nine games in a season before this fall. Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Menominee 28, Clare 21 – New Menominee coach Joe Noha played for and served as an assistant to recently-retired Ken Hofer, and has taken their program back to the Semifinals for the ninth time. The Maroons moved to 11-1, while Clare finished a seventh-straight playoff season 9-3.
Grand Rapids West Catholic 21, Newaygo 7 – West Catholic (9-3) has returned to the Semifinals for the third straight season despite starting 1-3. Newaygo also can celebrate a comeback story, finishing 9-3 after going 4-23 over the last three seasons.
Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 16, River Rouge 6 – In its fourth Regional appearance, Gabriel Richard (11-1) set a school record for wins while ending the best season ever for River Rouge (11-1).
Constantine 49, Hillsdale 35
The Falcons (10-2) have to love the preparation they get playing in the Kalamazoo Valley Association. They've made the Semifinals four straight seasons after joining the league five years ago, and now are playing for their second-straight Finals berth. Hillsdale was off to its best run since 2006 and finished 11-1. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Shelby 26, Negaunee 22 – Shelby has watched a number of its league mates make long playoff runs in the past, but the Tigers (10-2) are in their first Semifinal after ending the best run by the Miners (10-2) since 2004.
Ithaca 31, Montrose 0 – Make that 40 straight wins and counting for the Yellowjackets (12-0), who are known for offense but tallied their seventh shutout in stopping the Rams (10-2).
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 28, Grass Lake 21 – A great turnaround by the Falcons (10-2) continued as the 2010 and 2009 MHSAA runners-up continued to rebound from last season’s 4-5 finish. Grass Lake finished 10-2 to up its two-year record to 21-3.
Flint Beecher 19, Saginaw Nouvel 15
This followed right behind Portland over Powers in games that made the state take special notice this weekend, but this time the Flint team came out on top. The Buccaneers, under former Michigan State and NFL receiver Courtney Hawkins, advanced to their first MHSAA Semifinal by upending reigning champion Nouvel (9-3). Beecher (8-4) has made the playoffs six straight seasons, but had played in a Regional Final only once – in 1980. Click for more from the Saginaw News.
Ishpeming 28, Lake City 12 – The Hematites (11-1) made their fifth Semifinal and second in three seasons, and have allowed only 24 points in three playoff games. Lake City finished its best season at 10-2.
Pewamo-Westphalia 26, Decatur 21 – This group of Pirates (9-3) is much different than the one that made it to last season’s Final at Ford Field, but the results are coming up the same. Decatur finished 9-3, its best since 2008.
Detroit Loyola 32, Britton Deerfield 0 – The last two seasons have been the best two in the short history of Loyola (12-0), which will make its first Semifinal appearance after finishing 11-1 but falling in the Regional last season. Britton Deerfield finished 8-4.
Muskegon Catholic Central 28, Mendon 6
Although the Crusaders (9-3) are considered a statewide power, this was their first Regional title since 2009. But they’re certainly the favorites now for their first MHSAA title since 2008. Mendon (11-1) had won 25 straight games including last season’s Final and had scored fewer than 27 points only one other time this fall – in a 15-12 win over reigning Division 7 runner-up P-W. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
St. Ignace 26, Felch North Dickinson 20 – The Saints (12-0) are in the Semifinals for the sixth time and second straight, but had to outlast another previously-unbeaten team; North Dickinson finished 10-1.
Beal City 49, Johannesburg-Lewiston 16 – Beal City (12-0) is back in the Semifinals for the first time since its last championship season in 2009. Johannesburg-Lewiston’s last two seasons have been ended by the Aggies; this time the Cardinals finished 9-3.
Harbor Beach 17, Waterford Our Lady 10 – The Pirates are 11-1 for the second straight season, but this time are back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2007. Our Lady rebounded from last season’s 4-5 to finish 9-3.
Bellaire 20, Rapid River 16
Bellaire (9-3) finished only fourth in the Bridge Alliance Conference this fall, but took out league and 2011 MHSAA runner-up Rapid River to reach the second 8-player Final in MHSAA history. Bellaire opened this season 0-2 but also beat the Rockets (9-3) on Oct. 19. Click to read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Deckerville 36, Portland St. Patrick 30 (2 OT)
The Eagles (11-1) withstood a 22-point comeback by St. Patrick that pushed this game to overtime, but got the game-winning stop in the second extra period. Both of these programs played 8-player this fall for the first time, and Deckerville earned its first MHSAA Final berth after also playing in a Semifinal in 2000. Portland St. Patrick, which did win an 11-player championship in 1992, finished this fall 11-1. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
PHOTO: Rockford senior running back Sam Reinke (46) stretches for the goalline during the Rams' Division 1 Semifinal victory Saturday at Clarkston. (Click to see more, plus photos from Birmingham Brother Rice/Walled Lake Western at Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.)