By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Opening night of MHSAA football season never disappoints.
This weekend’s first games of 2014 again produced plenty of discussion fodder. But they also included a couple interesting rarities worth pointing out.
- We figured Stevensville-Lakeshore’s 2-0 win over Battle Creek Central on Thursday had to be a forfeit when the score came in. Actually, Lakeshore’s defense scored a safety with less than a minute to play.
- Although we don’t tout a team’s losing streak, we certainly can celebrate the end of one – so congrats to Pinconning, which won for the first time since Week 7 of 2010, 27-8 over Caro; Clio, which won for the first time since Week 8 in 2009 by beating Mount Morris 24-14; and to Bay City All Saints for its first win since Week 7 of 2011, 45-14 over Bellevue.
Those two certainly raised a few eyebrows among the 300-plus scores reported from Thursday-Saturday. Read below for more of the most significant results from every corner of Michigan.
Detroit Cass Tech 27, Oak Park 26
Those following live or over the Twittersphere had to think Cass Tech was in trouble early as it trailed by two scores. But the Technicians came back to take the final lead with 2:16 to play at Wayne State University. The game featured two of the state’s top running backs – Cass Tech’s Mike Weber and Oak Park’s John Kelly – and an impressive debut by Technicians sophomore quarterback Rodney Hall. Click to read more from MLive-Detroit.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's 21, Southfield 19 – The Eaglets are coming off a rare playoff miss but began bouncing back by beating a Bluejays team coming off its third straight postseason appearance.
Clarkston 24, Macomb Dakota 21 – The reigning MHSAA Division 1 champion looked strong in beginning its title defense, edging a Dakota team that had won 17 straight regular-season games.
Birmingham Groves 42, Birmingham Seaholm 19 – Groves won this battle of rivals for the first time since 2011 and after falling to Seaholm by seven and six points, respectively, the last two seasons.
Dearborn Fordson 41, Temperance Bedford 21 – Fordson is seeking a ninth-straight playoff berth and got rolling by beating a Bedford team that suffered its only 2013 loss in the Regional Final.
Muskegon 21, Detroit Catholic Central 14
This ended up everything it was billed as Muskegon scored during the final minutes to survive in arguably the most anticipated opener of this season. The Big Reds are back-to-back MHSAA Division 2 runners-up and Detroit Catholic Central has finished second in Division 1 the last three seasons. Both have a number of new key contributors, but both also are again considered contenders to reach Ford Field this November. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Grand Rapids Christian 28, Grand Rapids South Christian 14 – The Eagles have won this clash of Grand Rapids titans five seasons running, even more impressive since South Christian has played at Ford Field to finish the last two.
East Grand Rapids 17, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 14 – The Pioneers also face Lowell, Muskegon, Forest Hills Central, Caledonia and Grand Rapids Christian among others, making every win count that much more as they look to return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
Muskegon Orchard View 22, Montague 16 – Although Montague dropped down just a bit in finishing 6-4 last season, this was one of the biggest stunners statewide last weekend with Orchard View seeking its first winning season since 2009.
Muskegon Mona Shores 31, Saline 28 – Coming off its first playoff appearance, the Sailors appear headed for a return after edging another 2013 playoff qualifier.
Bay and Thumb
New Lothrop 28, Traverse City St. Francis 20 (3 OT)
New Lothrop hasn’t lost a regular-season game since Week 9 of 2009 – a stretch of now 37 – although St. Francis did its best to break the streak. Neither team scored during the first overtime, and both scored during the second overtime but missed extra points. Click to read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Montrose 52, Reese 7 – These teams combined for 20 wins last season, and Montrose is off to a great start on a fourth straight of at least 10 victories.
Saginaw Swan Valley 42, Saginaw Nouvel 0 – Alex Grace added another 195 yards to his more than 5,000 gained for the Vikings over the last two seasons.
Midland Dow 46, Mount Pleasant 16 – The Chargers broke a seven-game losing streak to Mount Pleasant and should be among favorites in the Saginaw Valley Association Blue.
Flint Carman-Ainsworth 26, Grand Blanc 14 – The Cavaliers followed up their best finish ever (11-2) by opening with a third straight win over this nonleague rival.
Ithaca 38, Clare 13
Ithaca stands alone with the most consecutive high school football wins in the United States. The Yellowjackets ran their streak to 57 straight, while Iowa City Regina (Iowa) – which also had won 56 in a row – fell by a point, 29-28, to Solon (Iowa) on Friday. Clare entered this season with eight straight playoff appearances and should be a favorite to remain atop the Jack Pine Conference. Ithaca has won four straight MHSAA Division 6 championships and debuted a new starter at quarterback – junior Jacob Smith, younger brother of graduated all-stater Travis – and he threw for 245 yards and four touchdowns. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Grand Ledge 28, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 24 – This says a lot about the Comets’ hoped-for turnaround this fall after they finished 4-5 a year ago; Forest Hills Central also went 4-5 in 2013, but against a similarly rigorous schedule.
DeWitt 39, Linden 0 – The Panthers return much of the team that made last season’s Division 3 Final, but this score was a little higher than most probably expected against a Linden team DeWitt beat in the playoffs the last two seasons by a combined 14 points.
Okemos 28, Mason 14 – Could this first win over the rival Bulldogs since 2011 be a sign of things to come for a Chieftains team returning 17 starters after finishing 3-6 in 2013?
Lansing Sexton 35, Detroit East English 26 – The Big Reds have MHSAA title aspirations, and beating a strong East English team at Wayne State University was a powerful step.
L'Anse 16, Houghton 14
L’Anse opened newly-dedicated Volunteer Field with a pair of late defensive stands to beat Houghton for the sixth straight opening night. The Purple Hornets are coming off consecutive 8-3 seasons, but fielded a number of new contributors who held strong against a Houghton team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001. Click for read more from the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.
Escanaba 24, Alpena 18 – Coming off its worst finish (3-6) in six seasons, Escanaba started this fall by avenging a 15-7 loss to Alpena in last season’s opener.
Cedarville 52, Posen 0 – This was little like last season’s 42-40 nail-biter opener also won by Cedarville before both went on to make the 8-player playoffs.
Iron River West Iron County 28, Munising 6 – Make that 12 straight seasons West Iron has started 1-0, and 12 straight regular-season wins dating to Week 8 of 2012.
Ishpeming Westwood 40, Stephenson 16 – Rebounding Westwood is halfway to equaling last season’s win total with this win over a program that’s made the playoffs four of the last five years.
Southwest and Border
Edwardsburg 42, Three Rivers 40 (2 OT)
Edwardsburg’s 2013 ended with a disappointing four-point loss in its first playoff game – which also ended up being the Eddies’ only loss of last season. They were faced with a similar situation Thursday – but made a series of big plays to come out on top. The Eddies blocked a field goal to help send this game into overtime and scored the winning points on their lone complete pass of the evening. Edwardsburg has beaten Three Rivers in three straight; this season the two are in separate divisions of the Wolverine B Conference for the first time. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Gobles 33, Watervliet 32 – Watervliet didn’t lose last season until the playoffs, but Gobles bounced back big after missing the playoffs in 2013 and falling to the Panthers 43-14 in last fall’s opener.
Fennville 18, Lawton 0 – Fennville is seeking its first winning season since 2010, and shutting out a Lawton team coming off its fifth straight playoff appearance is a great start.
Plainwell 28, Dowagiac 13 – Plainwell has won two straight over Dowagiac after seven straight losses to the Chieftains.
Portage Northern 28, Battle Creek Lakeview 24 – Northern’s last football game before Thursday was a 31-7 playoff loss to Lakeview last fall.
Lower Up North
Traverse City Central 34, Marquette 13
Central opened last season with a 31-23 loss to Marquette – the first of four defeats by eight or fewer points as the Trojans finished 5-4 and missed the playoffs by a win. This time, Central’s offense rolled to more than 400 yards with two backs each running for more than 100. Click to read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Hillman 39, Rudyard 33 – The Tigers opened with a close one, scoring the game-winner with 27 seconds to play as they pursue their ninth straight playoff berth.
Traverse City West 31, Midland 14 – The Titans opened with a nice turnaround after falling to Midland 16-0 in last season’s opener; Midland went on to win 10 games.
Petoskey 53, Sault Ste. Marie 14 – The Northmen lost two games last season by a combined four points and missed the playoffs for the second straight, but hope this fourth straight win over Sault Ste. Marie is a jump start back toward the postseason.
Charlevoix 13, Elk Rapids 12 – For the second straight year, the Rayders were coming off a 1-8 finish but opened with an upset of a team coming off a playoff berth.
PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech's Mike Weber (25) breaks toward an opening against Oak Park at Wayne State University. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Public School League.)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)