By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We finally have answers to some of the questions that have been asked all season.
Four 2012 MHSAA champions earned the opportunity Saturday to play for titles again this weekend. Five teams that finished runners-up at Ford Field last season will get another chance to finish the job.
We'll have two Finals rematches, in Divisions 2 and 7. And Clarkston and Clinton will play in the season's final games for the first time.
Read on for a few details from all 16 Semifinals, plus coverage of each from our statewide media.
Clarkston 61, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 26
Clarkston (12-1) has earned its first MHSAA championship game berth in its fourth Semifinal try, thanks in part to 355 yards and six touchdowns rushing from senior running back Ian Eriksen. Flint Carman-Ainsworth finished its best season ever in its first Semifinal and with a final record of 11-2. Click to read more from MLive Detroit.
Detroit Catholic Central 28, Detroit Cass Tech 0
The rematch of the last two Division 1 Finals went the opposite way this time as DCC (11-2) cruised against the two-time reigning champion Technicians. The loss ended an 18-game winning streak for Cass Tech (12-1), which hadn’t been shut out since 2009. Click to read more from the Oakland Press.
Muskegon 41, Portage Central 35
Big Reds quarterback Deshaun Thrower was the hero again, scoring with just under a minute remaining to put his team back in the Division 2 Final after Muskegon (12-1) finished runner-up a year ago. Portage Central (12-1) capped its best season since making the Semifinals in 1977 with its best record ever. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Birmingham Brother Rice 43, Detroit Martin Luther King 20
Brother Rice has set a school record for points with 450 this season. But its defense was equally key in getting the Warriors (13-0) back to Ford Field as it seeks to win a third straight MHSAA title. King (10-2) had averaged 33 points per game this season and scored fewer than 20 only three times. Click to read more from the Detroit News.
Zeeland West 42, Stevensville Lakeshore 7
The Dux’ offense continued to rumble in carrying West back to Ford Field for the second time in three seasons – the Dux will be attempting to add to their Division 4 title won in 2011. But the defense has to be applauded as well after holding Lakeshore (9-4) to its season low points; in fact, it was only the second time West (12-1) held an opponent to fewer than 13 this fall. Click to read more from the Holland Sentinel.
DeWitt 21, St. Clair 20
The Panthers (13-0) are headed back to the MHSAA Finals for the first time since 2004 after ending St. Clair’s longest run in program history. St. Clair (11-2) drove to DeWitt’s 5-yard line during the final minutes but could get no closer to a go-ahead score. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Grand Rapids South Christian 20, Comstock Park 6
The reigning champion Sailors (12-1) booked a return trip to Detroit by dispatching of Comstock Park (12-1) in a Semifinal for the second straight season. South Christian scored twice in the fourth quarter to earn the final advantage. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Marine City 12, Lansing Sexton 7
Marine City (12-1) is headed to the Finals for the third time in seven years after ending Sexton’s best season. Defense reigned as both held the other to their respective season low points totals. The Big Reds finished 12-1. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
Menominee 59, Muskegon Oakridge 28
The Maroons (13-0) are one win from their fourth MHSAA title and first since the retirement of legendary coach Ken Hofer two seasons ago. Menominee gave up its most points this season to Oakridge (11-2), but jumped to a 49-0 halftime lead and never looked too far back. Click to read more from the Eagle Herald Extra.
Grand Rapids West Catholic 35, Livonia Clarenceville 0
It’s been brought up plenty over the last month, but West Catholic’s season has come nearly full circle – the Falcons (9-4) are back in the Division 5 Final for the second straight season after losing to Portland by three in last year’s championship game and then barely squeaking into the playoffs this fall. Clarenceville (12-1) did complete its best season since 2001. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Ithaca 21, Montrose 20
Never during Ithaca’s 55-game winning streak has an opponent come so close to ending it – in fact, the Rams (12-1) were the first to come within 10 points of the Yellowjackets since the 2011 Regional Final. Ithaca (13-0) also stopped a last-minute drive into its territory to earn a chance to play for a fourth straight MHSAA title. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Clinton 49, Shelby 3
Clinton will play for an MHSAA championship for the first time after winning in its first Semifinal appearance since 1990. The Redskins (13-0) scored 35 points during the first half to set the tone and keep the best season in program history going one more week. Shelby (11-2) also was seeking its first championship game berth. Click to read more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.
Ishpeming 44, Harbor Beach 10
Ishpeming (13-0) earned the opportunity to repeat as Division 7 champion by eliminating the reigning winner in Division 8. The Hematites' defense continued to shine – it’s now given up a combined 23 points in four playoff games this fall – while Harbor Beach (11-2) scored its fewest points since the 2011 Regional Final. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.
Detroit Loyola 52, Homer 7
Loyola (13-0) earned a Finals rematch against Ishpeming with another incredible offensive performance – the Bulldogs have outscored their playoff opponents by a combined 205-14. The Semifinal appearance was a first for Homer (11-1). Click to read more from MLive Detroit.
Beal City 34, Crystal Falls Forest Park 18
Forest Park (12-1) did hold Beal City to a season low in points and scored the second most of any opponent. That’s how good the Aggies (13-0) have been this fall, and they’ll get a chance to finish the run after falling to Harbor Beach in last year’s Division 8 Final. Click to read more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Muskegon Catholic Central 45, New Lothrop 14
The Crusaders (11-2) are headed to the Finals for the first time since 2008 and in search of their ninth MHSAA championship. New Lothrop (12-1) was the second straight previously-undefeated team to have its season ended by Muskegon Catholic Central. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
PHOTO: DeWitt defenders swarm a St. Clair ball carrier during the Panthers’ 21-20 Division 3 Semifinal win Saturday at Goodrich High School. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stehouwer.)
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.)