By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The final stretch of this season's Drive for Detroit has begun.
And if Friday and Saturday's MHSAA Finals are like the Semifinals this past weekend, we should be in for an incredible season-ending series at Ford Field.
Six Semifinals were decided by seven points or fewer as the final 16 11-player teams earned their spots in championship games.
Below is just a little on all 16 Semifinals, with links to media coverage. Check back Wednesday for game-by-game previews of all eight Finals, and then full coverage of each throughout the weekend.
Clarkston 35, East Kentwood 13
The first quarter wasn’t over Saturday and reigning champion Clarkston (13-0) had already built a three-touchdown lead East Kentwood wouldn’t threaten. The Wolves earned the opportunity to repeat and extend their 26-game winning streak, while the Falcons (11-2) can still celebrate their best finish since 2003. Click for more from The Oakland Press.
Saline 30, Detroit Cass Tech 15
The Hornets (12-1) earned their first MHSAA Finals berth by holding a potent Cass Tech offense to its fewest points since last season’s Semifinal loss to Detroit Catholic Central. Saline allowed Technicians standout running back Mike Weber 135 yards on the ground, but kept an offense averaging 34 points per game out of the end zone for most of the afternoon. Cass Tech did finish 12-1 and is 59-8 over the last five seasons. Click for more from AnnArbor.com.
Muskegon Mona Shores 25, Farmington Hills Harrison 24
The good news: Mona Shores defeated 13-time Finals champion Harrison after a late two-point conversion. The bad news: Mona Shores (12-1) did so without star quarterback Tyree Jackson, who was sidelined with a knee injury. The other good news: That the Sailors still pulled off this historic win said plenty about the team’s strength as a whole, in addition to its most well-known player. Harrison (10-3) finished with at least 10 wins for the fourth season in five. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Warren DeLaSalle 31, Southfield 7
With Detroit Catholic Central, Birmingham Brother Rice and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the same Detroit Catholic League Central, DeLaSalle (10-3) can end up in the background of the football conversation at times. But the Pilots earned their third MHSAA Finals trip in nine seasons by holding a Southfield squad (9-4) filled with college prospects to its fewest points since Week 2 of 2012. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.
Muskegon 20, Zeeland West 0
The Big Reds (12-1) will return to the Finals for the third straight season, this time in Division 3 after solving reigning champion West’s offense like no opponent in that school's history. The Dux (12-1), in existence for 10 years, had never been shut out and hadn’t been held to single digits since Week 4 in 2010 – they entered Saturday averaging 50 points per game this season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 51, New Boston Huron 3
Huron (11-2) took a lot of steps as a program this fall, winning five more games than in any season in more than 60 years and six more than a year ago. But St. Mary’s (11-2) has played in 11 MHSAA championship games and surely has had extra motivation this fall after a rare playoff miss in 2013. Click for more from MLive Detroit.
Grand Rapids South Christian 50, Edwardsburg 48
The Sailors (11-2) are headed to Ford Field for the third straight season, but it was hardly that simple. Edwardsburg (11-2) came back from two touchdowns down in the second quarter and a 22-point deficit in the third as it fell one win shy of the Finals for the second time in five seasons. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Lansing Sexton 28, Detroit Country Day 14
The Big Reds (13-0) advanced to the MHSAA Finals for the first time after coming up just a touchdown shy in 2013. Sexton will be the first Lansing public school to play in a championship game, thanks in part to a group of seniors who scored all of the team’s touchdowns Saturday and helped it rise from 5-4 only two seasons ago. Country Day (8-5) finished with all of its losses to teams that advanced to at least Regional Finals. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Grand Rapids West Catholic 42, Menominee 24
These two have seen each other in the playoffs every season beginning in 2010. This rematch of last season’s Division 5 Final went similarly, with West Catholic winning by 18 after doing so 27-14 in 2013. The Maroons (12-1) hadn’t been held to fewer than 28 points since West Catholic in that game at Ford Field – and hadn’t given up more than 25 since West Catholic (13-0) defeated them 55-34 in a 2011 Regional Final. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Lansing Catholic 21, Almont 14
High-powered Lansing Catholic will return to Ford Field for the second time in four seasons after escaping one of the toughest defenses it had seen this fall. Almont held the Cougars (13-0) to a season low points total. But Lansing Catholic’s unheralded defense did the same to the Raiders (12-1), who were averaging 50 per game entering Saturday and set a team record for wins this fall. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Ithaca 20, Boyne City 16
The Yellowjackets (13-0) extended their winning streak to 69 – but for the second straight week, not without a dramatic fourth quarter. Boyne City (12-1) reached the 3-yard line with 13 seconds to play, but was stopped by an Ithaca defense that isn’t often noted but gives up only 8.4 points per game. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 28, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 0
The Falcons (12-1) earned their first Finals appearance since 2010 and a rematch with Ithaca after falling by 10 to the Yellowjackets in that previous championship matchup. St. Mary gained this weekend's opportunity with its fifth shutout of the season, against a NorthPointe Christian (11-2) team in its seventh of existence and first topping eight wins. Click for more from the Monroe Evening News.
Ishpeming 22, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 18
These are not the Hematites of the last two seasons; most of the standouts who carried the program to two straight MHSAA titles graduated. But this group has been similarly strong and is now a win from just as good after its closest win since Week 7 of 2013. Ishpeming (12-0) made it 33 straight victories by pulling away midway through the fourth quarter. Click for more from the Marquette Mining Journal.
Detroit Loyola 41, Pewamo-Westphalia 21
Pewamo-Westphalia (10-3) made it harder on Loyola than any playoff opponent aside from Ishpeming since 2010, but still couldn’t completely slow the Bulldogs’ running back duo of Marvin Campbell and Mideyin Wilson. The ran for four touchdowns together and nearly 270 yards to put Loyola (13-0) back in the championship game for the third straight season. Click for more from MLive Detroit.
Munising 10, Beal City 7
Munising’s best season since 1980 continued with perhaps its most stunning win of an incredible run as it edged the two-time reigning runner-up Aggies (10-3) on a 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. An interesting tie-in: Munising coach Jeff Seaberg was on that 1980 team that won the Class C title but hadn’t won more than seven games in a season since. The Mustangs are 12-1. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.
Muskegon Catholic Central 42, Harbor Beach 6
The Crusaders’ run continued to roll as impressively as expected – their playoff wins were 56-8 over Fulton, 42-0 over Fowler and 48-7 over Mendon before handing 2012 champion Harbor Beach its lone loss this fall. The Pirates (12-1) hadn’t been held to single-digit scoring since their 2011 Division 7 Regional loss to Saginaw Nouvel. MCC (13-0) has won 25 straight. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
PHOTO: Ithaca (white with yellow) edged Boyne City in their Division 6 Semfinal to extend its winning streak to 69. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)