Drive for Detroit: Semifinals Preview

November 18, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Ford Field is only one more win away for 32 teams playing in MHSAA Semifinals on Saturday.

Five of eight reigning champions are playing to get back. Twice as many teams are playing to reach the final round for the first time.

Below is a look at all 16 Semifinal games, powered by MI Student Aid. All games will be broadcast, four on and 12 on; click for the schedule. And stay connected all Saturday for scores as they come in on

Division 1

Romeo (9-3) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (12-0) at Howell Parker Middle School

Reigning Division 1 champion Romeo seemed out of the running for a return run with two losses over the first five weeks (although by just a combined three points) and then a big one in Week 8 to Macomb Dakota. But a defense that has given up more than 16 points only once since opening night has given up just 17 total over three playoff games. Leading rusher and receiver Kade Messner (617 yards/6 TDs rushing, 229 yards/1 TD receiving) averages 10 yards per carry. DCC fell to Romeo in a Regional Final last year, 40-29, but has churned out a perfect season to earn a rematch, with senior Nick Capatina (996 yards/13 TDs rushing) and junior Cameron Ryan (748/14) carrying a good chunk of the load.

Utica Eisenhower (12-0) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (12-0) at Troy Athens

The Eagles are making their first Semifinal appearance since 2011, when they fell to Cass Tech 6-3, and already have secured their winningest season since 2003. Junior quarterback Max Wittwer (1,574 yards/19 TDs passing, 768 yards/8 TDs rushing) and senior running back Jack Provencher (1,434 yards/24 TDs rushing) make it impossible for defenses to stack in trying to stop an offense that has scored at least 42 points in every playoff game. Cass Tech is more familiar with this round than most; this will be its seventh straight Semifinal. The Technicians feature some of the best-known playmakers in the state, including senior quarterback Rodney Hall (2,125 yards/22 TDs passing) and senior receiver Donovan People-Jones (889 yards/15 TDs receiving). 

Division 2

Walled Lake Western (11-1) vs. Lowell (12-0) at Brighton

This is a rematch of a 2015 Semifinal won by Lowell 49-34 – and the Red Arrows also beat Western 42-35 in a 2011 Semifinal. The Warriors reaching their first MHSAA championship game since 1999 likely will rest in part on the arm of senior quarterback Johnny Tracy (2,050 yards/23 TDs passing) and senior receivers Kameron Ford (1,013 yards/12 TDs receiving) and Cody White (669 yards/9 TDs receiving, 443 yards/6 TDs rushing).  Lowell also follows a talented quarterback, junior David Kruse (1,573 yards/8 TDs passing, 1,438 yards/23 TDs rushing), and his leading running back, senior Nate Stephens (1,402 yards/21 TDs.). And trust the Red Arrows are extra motivated to get back to Ford Field after watching last season’s title slip away to Detroit Martin Luther King on the final play of the game.

Birmingham Groves (11-1) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (10-2) at Dearborn

The reigning champion Crusaders have lost only to Division 1 semifinalist Detroit Cass Tech, twice, and are playing in their fourth Semifinal in six seasons. After the sudden death of coach Dale Harvel in July, King has rallied behind new coach Ty Spencer and followed sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn (1,986 yards/33 TDs passing) with major contributions by senior running back Kevin Willis (1,003 yards/13 TDs rushing) and senior receiver Ambry Thomas (766 yards/13 TDs receiving) among many others. After making its first Regional Final since 2004, Groves is playing in its first Semifinal ever. The Falcons have given up more than 15 points only once since opening night and 25 total over three playoff games while getting balanced offensive power from senior quarterback Beau Kewley (909 yards/12 TDs passing) and senior running back Ernest Allen (924 yards/11 TDs rushing). 

Division 3

Edwardsburg (12-0) vs. Muskegon (11-1) at East Kentwood

Edwardsburg will play its third Semifinal in seven seasons seeking its first championship game berth and coming off a two-point win over Chelsea, last season’s Division 3 runner-up. And this might be the most impressive team of the Eddies’ recent run. Edwardsburg gave up only 38 points over the first 10 weeks of the season before allowing 60 total over the last two; the Eddies also have run for 4,473 yards, led by juniors Nick Bradley (1,363 yards/18 TDs) and Kyle Shrider (843 yards/15 TDs). After making only the Regional Final last season, Muskegon is back in its fourth Semifinal over the last five years. The Big Reds already have set a program record with 634 points (52.8 per game) keyed by their dual quarterbacks – senior Kalil Pimpleton (714 yards/14 TDs passing, 1,314 yards/21 TDs rushing) and junior La’darius Jefferson (863 yards/9 TDs passing, 709 yards/15 TDs rushing).

Dearborn Divine Child (10-2) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (8-4) at West Bloomfield

This is the first meeting between these Detroit Catholic League contenders since 2008. The Falcons have built their strongest effort since 1985 with a six-game winning streak after suffering back-to-back losses in Weeks 5 and 6. Divine Child avenged one of those, to Division 7 semifinalist Detroit Loyola, in Week 9, and last week handed Allen Park its only loss of the season. Junior quarterback Theo Day has thrown for 1,508 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead the way. Reigning Division 3 champion St. Mary’s advanced to its seventh Semifinal in eight seasons with a comeback win at DeWitt last week. The Eaglets move the ball with junior running backs RaShawn Allen (1,833 yards/21 TDs rushing) and Ky’ren Cunningham (860 yards/13 TDs), who both average at least eight yards a carry.

Division 4

Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-2) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) at Greenville

Unity Christian’s best season ever moves on to its first Semifinal, thanks to an overtime win over previously undefeated Benton Harbor last week. The Crusaders won’t be intimidated by the annually successful Cougars after navigating the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green, one of the most competitive leagues in the state this season. They cover a lot of ground with senior running back Parker Scholten (1,353 yards/14 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Mitchell Dykstra (924/15). GRCC is making its first Semifinal appearance since winning Division 4 in 2010. But the Cougars have a chance to do some great things next year too with juniors the top playmakers this fall. Quarterback Jack Bowen has thrown for 2,329 yards and 24 touchdowns and running back Nolan Fugate is the leading rusher with 1,359 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

River Rouge (11-1) vs. Detroit Country Day (12-0) at Hazel Park

River Rouge just missed its first MHSAA championship a year ago, falling to Grand Rapids West Catholic by six in the Final, and hasn’t really been slowed this fall. The Panthers at one point shut out seven straight opponents and eight over nine games including the first of the playoffs, and they’ve gone over 600 points for the second season in a row led by senior quarterback Jairus Grissom (1,369 yards/18 TDs rushing, 1,967 yards/23 TDs passing). Country Day is playing its fourth Semifinal in five seasons seeking its first championship game berth since 2012. The Yellowjackets are incredibly balanced on offense, with a pair of quarterbacks (senior Steven Mann and sophomore Jalen Graham) both having success. But the defense stands out most; led by senior linebacker Kolin Demens, Country Day is giving up only 8.6 points per game and has allowed more than 14 only twice.  

Division 5 

Frankenmuth (11-1) vs. Menominee (11-1) at Northern Michigan’s Superior Dome

The Eagles have had only four sub-.500 finishes over the last 32 seasons, and 22 playoff appearances during that time. But they broke through again for their first Semifinal berth since 1997, handing Ithaca last week its first loss not in an MHSAA Final since 2008. Senior running back Kris Roche (1,005 yards/16 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Jared Davis (922 yards/16 TDs rushing, 1,169 yards/11 TDs passing) give Frankenmuth multiple threats. As it has done for decades, Menominee is again trampling opponents, although lead back Keifer Rasner (1,372 yards/20 TDs rushing, 410 yards/3 TDs passing) was reportedly hurt two weeks ago and isn’t expected to play. Ethan Mileski (584 yards/5 TDs rushing, 1,066 yards/14 TDs passing) is another offensive standout to watch.

Algonac (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek  

Algonac’s best two seasons in program history have been this one and last, and they’ve taken the next step with their first Semifinal appearance. Senior quarterback Brendan Piper is a two-way threat, throwing for 1,086 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall and running for a team-high 903 yards and 14 scores. Three-time reigning champion West Catholic has had to play three road games this playoff run, but outscored those opponents by a combined 78-20. Veteran duo David Fox and Gaetano Vallone are again big reasons why; the senior running back sometimes quarterback Fox had thrown for 1,286 yards and 17 touchdowns and run for 689 yards and eight scores, while junior quarterback Vallone has thrown for 889 yards and seven TDs.

Division 6

Leroy Pine River (9-2) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (10-2) at Traverse City Thirlby Field

Pine River’s first run to a Semifinal has included a ninth win for the second time ever and first time since 1999. Senior quarterback Mason Powell has had quite a final campaign, bringing the Bucks back from 4-5 last season by throwing for 1,047 yards and 15 touchdowns and running for 1,259 yards and 17 scores. The Lakers have had a little more recent success but still are making their first Semifinal appearance since 1996. Junior running back Nick Apsey carries a lot of the load offensively and has scored 22 times. But the defense also has been outstanding, giving up more than 14 points only twice and 112 points total this fall.

Jackson Lumen Christi (10-2) vs. Millington (11-1) at Lansing Catholic

Lumen Christi is back in the Semifinals for the first time since winning Division 5 in 2009; the Titans have won nine straight games to get here. Running back Bo Bell was the star in last week’s Regional Final win over Napoleon, and all season as well; he’s run for 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns. Quarterback Troy Kutcha has added 1,313 yards and 10 scores through the air and run for six touchdowns. Millington is playing in its fifth Semifinal and seeking to reach the championship round for the first time. Junior quarterback Bryce Bearss (2,212 yards/25 TDs passing) and senior running back Brady Payne (1,196 yards/14 TDs rushing) give the Cardinals a strong 1-2 punch as well.

Division 7

Ubly (12-0) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) at Mount Pleasant

Reigning Division 7 runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia will face its third straight undefeated opponent after handing first and only losses to Saugatuck and Traverse City St. Francis the last two weeks. Senior running back Jared Smith fell short of 100 yards rushing last week for the first time since his sophomore year, but continues to inch toward the MHSAA career rushing record and now has 2,403 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground this season and more than 8,000 yards rushing for his career. Ubly also is a recent visitor to the Finals, its last trip coming in 2008. The Bearcats have controlled the ball with a rumbling ground game as well; senior Derek Brown has run for 1,226 yards and 19 touchdowns and senior Jonathan Brandel has gained 980 yards and 15 scores rushing.

Detroit Loyola (10-2) vs. Cassopolis (11-1) at Jackson

Loyola is another regular in this round, playing in its fifth straight Semifinal. The Bulldogs have beaten a league champion every week of the playoffs this time, and Cassopolis would be the fourth. Loyola averages 34 running plays per game and brings three 1,000-yard rushers – Malcolm Mayes (1,240 yards/14 TDs), D’Anthony Robinson (1,208 yards/18 TDs) and quarterback Price Watkins (1,010 yards/8 TDs rushing, 659 yards/7 TDs passing). Cassopolis is playing in his first Semifinal after setting a program record for wins last week. The Rangers roll with a loaded backfield; senior quarterback Shane Los has thrown for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns, while junior Brandon Anderson has run for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns and scored six more receiving. Sophomore Tyrese Hunt-Thompson has run for 811 yards and 10 scores and is the leading receiver with 533 yards and five TDs.

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central (12-0) vs. St. Ignace (11-1) at Petoskey

This is a rematch both of last season’s Semifinal (33-20 MCC win) and Week 2 of this fall (Crusaders 21-6), as St. Ignace gave MCC easily its closest game this season. The Crusaders have won three straight Division 8 titles and after facing mostly bigger schools during the regular season have given up only seven points over three playoff games. Senior LaTommy Scott (820 yards/8 TDs rushing) has starred for a few seasons and is one of five who have rushed for at least 370 yards. The Saints attack in multiple ways; senior running back Mitchell Peterson has run for 1,275 yards and senior quarterback Steve Seccia has thrown for 1,530 and 23 touchdowns.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) vs. Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-2) at Dearborn Edsel Ford

Whiteford’s best two seasons also were the last two, with the Bobcats winning 10 games for the first time in 2015 and this their second straight Semifinal. Whiteford has set school records with 545 points, 222 first downs, 552 carries and 3,729 rushing yards this fall. Leading the way are running back Jessie Kiefer (1,057 yards, 27 touchdowns rushing, 287 yards/5 TDs receiving) and freshman Conner Hoogendoorn (811 yards/15 TDs). Michigan Lutheran Seminary is playing in its second Semifinal in three seasons to reach its first championship game since 1986. The Cardinals have given up only 13 points over three playoff games and force an average of two turnovers per game. Senior Casey Williams is the main scorer with 24 touchdowns, with 19 on the ground (and 1,226 yards).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews 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: Muskegon Catholic Central's LaTommy Scott (20) breaks away for a touchdown against Frankfort in last week's Regional Final. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.