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.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)