By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Two months from now, the majority of successes and failures from the opening weekend of high school football won't have made or broken most of the more than 600 teams playing in the MHSAA this fall.
But players, coaches and fans all over the state will still be talking about some of the tremendous matchups that once again marked the first nights of the season.
To identify the best of those games, it was easy to simply point toward Detroit or Grand Rapids. But that would've been too easy; below, the most significant results from every corner of our expansive state.
Detroit Cass Tech 25, Birmingham Brother Rice 18
A late start was worth the wait for those who stuck around for the finale of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State. Not that anyone was doubting Cass Tech’s defense, but it was especially impressive given the standouts the Technicians graduated after last season’s Division 1 championship run. The loss will no doubt pay off for the reigning Division 2 champion Warriors too – they’ve made the playoffs with at least three losses the last four seasons, and made it to at least the Semifinals in two of those four. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.
Southfield 21, Martin Luther King 20 (2 OT) – The Bluejays edged another Detroit PSL favorite in the second-best game of the Classic; the teams combined for 17 wins last season.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 17, Almont 14 – University of Michigan women’s soccer prospect Taylor Timko drilled a 35-yard field goal for the final lead with 2:48 to play.
Troy 24, Romeo 20 – Romeo has made the playoffs eight straight seasons, so Troy has additional reason to be glad after a losing season in 2011.
Carleton Airport 25, Adrian 24 – After finishing last season with a 28-21 playoff-opening loss to Adrian, Airport edged the Maples in a game that will no doubt have rankings implications.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 59, Zeeland West 58
The Dux hadn’t lost since the 2010 playoffs after going undefeated in winning Division 4 last season. But Forest Hills Central got a start on its drive for a third-straight playoff berth as these teams combined for 117 points – tied for 11th in the MHSAA record book for games in which the losing team scored at least 40. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 33, East Grand Rapids 14 – Interesting “did you know” ... the Cougars were 2-10 against East Grand Rapids going back to 1987 before this impressive win.
Fruitport 21, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 20 – The Trojans hung on for their fourth straight opening-night win over the Rockets.
Lowell 16, Rockford 6 – Lowell had a new quarterback and Rockford was missing its starter, but both will no doubt be putting up many more points as the fall goes on.
Muskegon 21, Orchard Lake St. Mary 14 – The Big Reds’ first four opponents include three of the best teams in the state regardless of division, but they got off to a quick start by downing the reigning Division 3 champion.
DeWitt 38, Mount Pleasant 14
The Panthers stacked impressive offensive numbers against the reigning Division 3 runner-up Oilers, who had won 32 straight regular-season games. New quarterback Jordan Johnson, a sophomore, threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for two scores for DeWitt.
Farwell 61, Coleman 54 – This ranks 13th in the MHSAA record book for total combined points in games in which the losing team scored at least 40.
Mendon 27, Fowler 7 – This replay of last season’s Division 8 Final again went Mendon’s way, but was much closer throughout.
Holt 24, Hudsonville 21 – With its annual game against Rockford no doubt a little on their minds, Holt’s Rams went to Hudsonville and first avenged another 2011 loss.
Lansing Catholic 45, Pewamo-Westphalia 21 – The Cougars look to be the quicker of the two reigning MHSAA runners-up to rebuild, with plenty of points potential despite a new quarterback and a number of other first-year starters.
Bay and Thumb
Richmond 25, Marine City 24
Knocking off the reigning Division 4 runner-up is a great way for Richmond to get rolling after two straight losing seasons. The Blue Devils recovered an on-side kick to get the ball back for the go-ahead drive. Read more from the Port Huron Times-Herald.
Midland 29, Canton 28 (OT) – This big-time matchup might’ve gotten lost in the Detroit and Grand Rapids area slugfests, but Midland’s win was one of the most solid of the weekend as both teams stand to be among the best in Division 1 this fall.
Deckerville 32, Carsonville-Port Sanilac 12 – The Eagles might find themselves fans of the 8-player game quickly after beating the reigning MHSAA champion in their first game since switching from 11 players.
Linden 17, Fenton 15 – These two have been playoff regulars, but this win could be especially key for Linden after it lost to Fenton by three in 2011 and just got into the postseason at 5-4.
Reese 47, Montrose 26 – Both of these teams could find themselves atop league standings when the regular season is done.
Ishpeming 34, Iron Mountain 0
Last season Iron Mountain won this matchup and finished a game ahead of Ishpeming in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference. But it appears the Hematites could be heavy favorites this fall after this dominating performance. Read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.
Rock Mid-Peninsula 26, Bellaire 22 – The Wolverines went 2-8 last season after three years without a team, making this win over an 8-player power all the more significant.
Norway 12, Niagara (WI) Northern Elite 9 – Norway scored with less than a minute remaining to avenge last season’s one-point loss.
Marquette 34, Detroit Denby 12 – The home team prevailed, but the neater part was that this game was played at all between opponents with a nine-hour drive between them.
Iron River West Iron County 19, Pittsford 16 – Opponents from even farther apart than Marquette and Denby met somewhat in the middle Saturday in St. Ignace for a hard-fought contest.
Lower Up North
Kingsley 18, Traverse City St. Francis 0
This was one of the state’s biggest stunners for a few reasons: Kingsley lost to St. Francis 57-8 last season, with the Gladiators then going on to the Division 7 Semifinals; Kingsley then lost an all-state running back early Friday. But the defense didn’t break. Read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Boyne City 22, McBain 14 – Boyne City bounced back quickly from its 2011 losing season by beating a team that had a combined 19 wins over the last two.
Manistee 36, Ludington 34 – This made two seasons in a row that Manistee won by less than a field goal; in 2011 the score was 40-39.
Johannesburg-Lewiston 28, Atlanta 26 – The Cardinals had beaten Atlanta by an average of nearly 47 points over the last three seasons before having to survive this one.
Southwest and Border
Portage Central 36, Battle Creek Harper Creek 32
The Mustangs had a hard fall last season from 9-2 in 2010 to just 3-6, and were shut out by Harper Creek 24-0; Harper Creek went on to finish 12-1 and advance to the Division 3 Semifinals. But Portage Central again could be in at least its league title mix after coming back from a three-score deficit in this opener. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Dowagiac 21, Vicksburg 7 – Dowagiac had its best finish in 15 years last season, but lost to Vicksburg 6-3; the Chieftains hope this revenge win is the start of another special run.
Quincy 7, Bronson 6 – The Orioles had lost five straight to Bronson, and missed qualifying for the playoffs last season by just a win.
Lawton 21, Cassopolis Ross Beatty 19 – Lawton made it two straight on opening night over the Rangers; both made the playoffs last season.
Each week, the MHSAA highlights trophy games around the state. Here's a list of those from Week 1.
- The Sword: Bloomfield Hills Andover and Bloomfield Hills Lahser met on the gridiron for the last time in the regular season. The two schools will merge next year. The teams annually played for The Sword. Final: Lahser 70, Andover 7.
- Brown Jug Games: Two such games were played last week, Mesick at Manton and Brooklyn Columbia Central at Napoleon. Finals: Manton 41, Mesick 6; Columbia Central 28, Napoleon 6.
- Totem Pole: Battle Creek Central was at Kalamazoo Central on Friday. This is said to be the longest running rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains, with the two schools playing games since 1893. Final: Kalamazoo Central 20, Battle Creek Central 0.
- Addison and Hudson met on Friday in Hudson, and the two teams have played for a trophy for a number of years sponsored by a local insurance company and a local automotive group. Final: Hudson 41, Addison 0
- Cheese Log: A border battle between Ironwood and Hurley (WI) took place at Ironwood on Friday, and a cheese log has historically been on the line in this game. Final: Hurley 49, Ironwood 7.
PHOTO: East Lansing junior running back Kenny Washington took a hand-off and looked to turn the corner during Friday's 38-18 win at Haslett.
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)