By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Let’s start our first weekly review of MHSAA football action with some of the results you won’t see among our list of most significant from opening weekend:
Kent City’s first opening night win over Ravenna in 15 tries and Beal City’s incredible 61-0 win over rival Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Kalamazoo Central’s 14-13 win over neighbor Loy Norrix and Kinde-North Huron’s 28-14 win over reigning MHSAA 8-player champion Deckerville.
All are big-time results, no doubt. But below I’ve tried to tell you about five more from each region of our state, organized by the winner in each game, that might have bigger impacts as we move immediately forward with most leagues schedules kicking off in three days.
Zeeland West 44, Detroit Country Day 28
Country Day came into this season with plenty of deserved hype returning most of its star power from last season’s run to the MHSAA Division 4 Final. But Zeeland West has plenty of championship experience too, and its tough running proved too much for the Yellowjackets. Click to read more from the Oakland Press.
East Grand Rapids 24, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 7 – The Pioneers began making up for last season’s first playoff miss since 2000 with a solid win over another perennial power.
Grand Rapids Christian 41, Grand Rapids South Christian 13 – New faces abound, but the reigning Division 3 champion won big over last season’s Division 4 title winner.
Muskegon Oakridge 31, Grand Rapids West Catholic 25 – The Eagles are soaring high to start this fall after finishing 2012 with a 13-6 District Final loss to West Catholic.
Rockford 23, Utica Eisenhower 6 – Given these teams’ histories, no one would be stunned if they met again in 13 weeks in the MHSAA Division 1 Final.
Oak Park 25, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 20
Oak Park entered its opener with the opportunity to show last season’s historic run wasn’t over with 2012’s final horn. Four touchdowns during the second half against the reigning MHSAA Division 3 runner-up proved the Knights will be talked about plenty again in 2013. Read more in the Detroit Free Press.
Detroit Cass Tech 18, Southfield 14 – Two-time reigning Division 1 champion Cass Tech and quarterback Jayru Campbell edged an improved Bluejays team to start 1-0.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 27, Dearborn 20 (2 OT) – Chippewa Valley also beat Dearborn on opening night last season on the way to its first playoff berth in three seasons; this one could be prove just as important.
Rochester Adams 12, Clarkston 7 – Coming off its first playoff miss since 1996, Adams won for the first time in its last four tries against one of the biggest and best programs in the state.
Lake Orion 35, Oxford 30 – If this was an indication, these two should again be contenders in their respective divisions of the Oakland Activities Association. Lake Orion has held the Double "O" Pigskin Trophy three of four seasons since the series was restarted in 2010; the teams formerly played for the prize from 1962-83.
Southwest and Border
Battle Creek Harper Creek 27, Mattawan 7
Both of these teams should be contenders in their respective divisions of the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference, and both will run their way to success again this fall. It will be interesting to see in eight weeks just how similar their paths finish after a game that would’ve been much closer if not for some untimely Mattawan turnovers. Click to read more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Battle Creek Central 15, Benton Harbor 0 – The Bearcats ended their 18-game winless streak with their first shutout since 2007.
Portage Central 55, Sturgis 0 – Sturgis has a Division 1 college prospect in quarterback Chance Stewart, which made this arguably the most impressive defensive performance statewide.
Watervliet 43, Gobles 14 – Simply put, this was a solid nonleague matchup between teams that each won eight games last season. Watervliet has the head start on repeating that feat.
Edwardsburg 34, Otsego 7 – Different teams, same story as above as both are playoff regulars that should again be in the mix by the end of the season.
Bay and Thumb
Saginaw Swan Valley 27, Saginaw Nouvel 20
Both might end this season at Ford Field after Swan Valley missed by one win a year ago and Nouvel missed by two after winning Division 7 in 2011. But as for the best in Saginaw, it looks like the Vikings at this point after running back Alex Grace ran for more than 200 yards in one of the state’s most intriguing openers. Click to read more from the Saginaw News.
New Lothrop 28, Traverse City St. Francis 7 – The Hornets traveled north for a tough opener and came back with plenty of momentum for the Genesee Area Conference Blue schedule.
Hemlock 19, Frankenmuth 12 – Hemlock, the 2012 Tri-Valley Conference Central champion, held on to beat the 2012 TVC East winner.
Montrose 38, Reese 8 – This looked to be a close game between 10-win teams from a year ago, but Montrose instead avenged last season’s 21-point loss to the Rockets in a bigger way.
Saginaw Arthur Hill 24, Goodrich 14 – Arthur Hill has struggled since it last playoff berth in 2008, but appears on the rebound with this reversal of a 41-6 loss to Goodrich in 2012.
Ithaca 57, Williamston 13
This wasn’t really close, but was significant nonetheless. The win was Ithaca’s 43rd straight, tying the record for longest victory streak in MHSAA history in which all games were won during the playoff era. This week, the Yellowjackets face rival St. Charles with a chance to move up the list again. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Jackson Northwest 35, Hillsdale 20 – Only a record performance by Ithaca could trump what might be Northwest’s best football win since the mid-2000s. Hillsdale is coming off an 11-win season, and Northwest has won one game in each of the last three years.
Lansing Sexton 21, Chelsea 14 – Beating a team with 14 straight playoff berths will no doubt help the Big Reds return to the postseason after missing last season.
Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Lansing Catholic 7 – This reversed a 24-point loss to the Cougars last season as the Pirates began their quest for a third straight MHSAA Semifinals run.
Eaton Rapids 44, Leslie 0 – New Greyhounds coach Mike Smith, most known from his success at Holt, started his Eaton Rapids rebuilding effort with the team’s biggest win since 1996.
Negaunee 36, Manistique 30
Negaunee had to be on its game for a tough Mid-Peninsula Conference opener against another playoff team from 2012. But the Miners held on through a late Manistique run and scored last to open league play and the season 1-0. Big plays were key, as Negaunee scored on an 80-yard kickoff return and 66-yard run. The Miners continued claim of the Oscar Wassberg Trophy, named for the former coach of both teams. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.
Cedarville 42, Posen 40 – The Trojans didn’t feel much of a challenge until Week 8 last season, but survived this one to kick off its 8-player season.
Ishpeming 36, Iron Mountain 0 – The reigning MHSAA Division 7 champion kept rolling with a win over another playoff team from last season.
Bessemer 28, Hancock 26 (OT) – The last three games between these two have been decided by a touchdown or less, but all in favor of the Bessemer-led co-op.
Marquette 31, Traverse City Central 23 – Marquette should get a solid boost at playoff selection time from this win as it goes for a fourth straight postseason berth.
Lower Up North
Reed City 39, Big Rapids 26
As stated earlier last week, this game eventually decided last season’s Central State Activities Association title in favor of Reed City. This was the fourth straight opening-night win for the Coyotes over rival Big Rapids. This game is played for the Pioneer Trophy. Click to read more from the Cadillac News.
Alpena 15, Escanaba 7 – Alpena has won only one game in each of the last two seasons and was outscored by Escanaba by a combined 72-0 over 2011 and 2012.
Hillman 55, Gaylord St. Mary 54 – These teams combined for only 41 points when they met to open 2012. This time, they qualified for the MHSAA record book.
Charlevoix 20, St. Ignace 0 – Coming off one win in 2012, and against a team that was 24-2 combined over the last two seasons, Charlevoix pulled off one of the biggest upsets statewide.
Maple City Glen Lake 27, Boyne City 13 – Glen Lake continued rolling off last season’s best finish in more than a decade by beating again the team it defeated to open the 2012 playoffs.
Each week the MHSAA highlights trophy games played across the state. A few were mentioned above, with these the rest we knew about heading into the weekend.
- Bull Bowl – This is one of our newest trophies, established in 2011 for the opener between Fremont and Sparta. The Spartans gained a 2-1 advantage in the series last week. Final: Sparta 6, Fremont 0.
- Battle of 127 Trophy – Hudson and Addison have met for a number of years for this trophy sponsored by a local insurance company and local automotive group. Final: Hudson 46, Addison 0.
- Battle for The Paddle – Neighbors Sanford Meridian and Bullock Creek have met on opening night for the last dozen seasons. Bullock Creek owns a 7-5 advantage during that time. Final: Meridian 26, Bullock Creek 22.
- State Bank Traveling Trophy – Linden and Fenton have played for this prize dating to 1976, including on opening night the last two seasons. Final: Fenton 39, Linden 27.
- Little Brown Jug – Two games were played for these last week: Napoleon and Brooklyn Columbia Central continuing a series begun in 1967, and Manton and Mesick. Finals: Manton 29, Mesick 0; Columbia Central 26, Napoleon 18.
- Border Battle Cheese Trophy – Hurley (Wis.) made it eight straight opening-night wins over rival Ironwood. Final: Hurley 47, Ironwood 7.
PHOTO: Grand Ledge made this stop, but fell a few short in a 16-14 opening-night loss at home against East Kentwood.
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.)