By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Upsets and comebacks, broken win streaks and broken hearts mending were among the storylines most prevalent from another highlight-filled first weekend of Michigan high school football.
Two reigning MHSAA champions – Romeo and Ishpeming – fell in their first games after ending last season at Ford Field. Another 2015 champ, Detroit Martin Luther King, returned to the field this fall victorious but without coach Dale Harvel, who died unexpectedly in July. He was with his players however, his name across all of their backs.
Each week during the regular season and playoffs, we’ll look back at the games from every region of our state and 8-player and discuss which results could have the biggest impacts as we move ahead. Games are organized regionally by hometown of the winning team.
And now, our season debut.
Bay & Thumb
Algonac 7, Marine City 2
Odd score, but it was a pretty impressive defensive display by an Algonac unit that had five shutouts a year ago. Last season’s 19-18 opening-night win over powerhouse Marine City seemed to spur the Muskrats to their best finish ever, and they’ll be hoping for the same momentum after scoring the game’s lone touchdown midway through the third quarter. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
Byron 29, Montrose 27 – The Eagles ended last season with a 55-18 Pre-District playoff loss to the Rams, but came back for what’s believed to be the school’s first win over Montrose.
Bay City Central 13, Swartz Creek 12 – The Wolves became the 12th team in Michigan high school football history to win 500 games, running their record since 1922 to 500-321-31.
Midland Dow 41, Mount Pleasant 14 – The Chargers ran off 10 straight wins after opening last season with a 14-point loss to the Oilers, and appear ready to keep that run going.
Almont 35, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 26 – The Raiders couldn’t have prepped better for next week’s matchup with Algonac than by beating a Seminary team that’s gone a combined 21-4 over the last two seasons.
Macomb Dakota 35, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 28
Dakota earned new coach Greg Baur arguably the most impressive win of opening weekend as it downed the two-time reigning Division 3 champion Eaglets. Dakota quarterback Brett Droski connected with receiver Jaylen Hall on two long scores as the Cougars came back from an early deficit. A year ago, Dakota opened by downing then-reigning Division 1 champ Clarkston. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.
Oxford 27, Romeo 26 – Especially after going 3-6 a year ago, knocking off the reigning Division 1 champion was Oxford’s best win in a few seasons (and its second over Romeo in three.)
Dearborn Fordson 40, Canton 35 – The Tractors avenged an opening-night loss to the Chiefs last season by rallying from 21 points down at Wayne State.
Clarkston 28, Lapeer 7 – JT King ran for two of Clarkston’s four rushing touchdowns as it handed Lapeer the first regular-season loss of the Lightning’s now three-season history.
Utica Eisenhower 28, Plymouth 7 – Eisenhower earned some momentum to take into this week's Macomb Area Conference Red tilt against league favorite Dakota by downing a playoff team from last season.
Ithaca 31, Clare 28
Ithaca hasn’t had a scare during the regular season in a long time – and the Yellowjackets kept their regular-season winning streak alive at 56 straight. Ithaca had beaten Clare by four touchdowns just a year ago, but this time the reigning Division 6 champion had to survive a comeback attempt by the Pioneers. Click to read more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
East Lansing 42, St. Johns 7 – The Trojans broke a two-year opening-night losing streak to the Redwings as reigning Lower Peninsula Division 1 110 hurdles champion Kentre Patterson showed why he might be the Lansing area’s most exciting player this fall.
Brighton 14, Detroit East English 8 – The Bulldogs took a two-score lead into the fourth quarter and held on in a Michigan Stadium matchup of teams that both won nine games a year ago.
DeWitt 42, Linden 14 – The Panthers ran their opening-night winning streak against the Eagles to three after also beating Linden during the 2012 and 2013 playoffs.
Pewamo-Westphalia 30, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 20 – Add another couple of hundred yards to Jared Smith’s pursuit of the all-time career rushing record as he leads the reigning Division 7 runner-up Pirates.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City West 42, Midland 14
The Titans got a start on reversing last season’s sub-.500 finish by nearly reversing the score of last season’s opening-night 42-11 loss to the Chemics. West stacked up 391 total yards including 271 rushing on 45 carries and jumped out to a 21-0 lead and 35-7 advantage by halftime. The Titans were 4-5 in 2015, while Midland finished 7-3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Cadillac 40, Big Rapids 6 – Cadillac’s first sub-.500 season since 2008 last fall started with a three-point loss to Big Rapids, but the Vikings put up points more like their one-loss teams of 2014 and 2013 in this victory.
Gaylord 41, Boyne City 32 – With Gaylord showing a few more new faces in key places, this result might have been a bit of a surprise – and was an impressive win for the Blue Devils against a Ramblers team that won 10 games a year ago.
Onekama 18, Hillman 0 – The Portagers are coming off two straight playoff appearances, but it’s still strong that they handed Hillman the latter’s first shutout since 2012.
Tawas 35, Lincoln Alcona 30 – Alcona bounced back from an down season in 2014 to return to the playoffs a year ago, and Tawas looks like a possibility to copy with a big win coming off last year’s 2-7 finish.
Southeast & Border
Grass Lake 32, Stockbridge 18
Grass Lake is seeking its 12th straight playoff appearance this fall, so it’s not like the Warriors haven’t won their share of big games over the years. But they still made quite a defensive stand, holding down a Stockbridge offense that has scored more than 400 points each of the last two seasons and is returning its quarterback and a top receiver this fall. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.
Clinton 48, Manchester 12 – The 115th meeting between these two was not nearly as close as the 114th, which also was won by Clinton, but by only a point.
Morenci 34, Pittsford 7 – If one game is an indication, the Bulldogs are coming in on a roll again with a second straight opening-night win over a Pittsford team coming off the playoffs.
Adrian Lenawee Christian 35, Britton Deerfield 34 – Returning after the best finish in 2015 of its eight-year history, Lenawee Christian hung on to get off to another good start.
Tecumseh 15, Harper Woods Chandler Park 14 – The Indians got a much-needed opening win heading into one of the most loaded schedules from this corner of the state.
Benton Harbor 28, Marshall 7
The good times continue to roll for Benton Harbor. Last season was history-making as the Tigers secured their first playoff berth, but this win over Marshall actually made Benton Harbor 1-0 for the first time since 2011 – and came against a playoff team from a year ago. Click for more from the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.
Gobles 14, Delton Kellogg 13 (OT) – The Tigers made it two straight one-point opening-night wins in a row over Delton, this one secured with a two-point conversion in overtime.
Coldwater 33, Jackson 22 – These two both have come back from one-win seasons to make the playoffs over the last few years, but the Cardinals are still a little ahead of the Vikings as both surge forward.
Vicksburg 17, Dowagiac 7 – In a Wolverine Conference where teams play nine league games, this one right out of the gate could be a decider or at least influence the final championship result.
Stevensville Lakeshore 30, Battle Creek Central 13 – This win could prove especially important as Lakeshore goes for its 19th straight playoff appearance but faces what will likely be one of the strongest league schedules in Michigan, again.
Iron Mountain 35, Ishpeming 24
After absorbing two losses – opening night and playoffs – to Ishpeming a year ago, Iron Mountain started the climb back against its longtime Week 1 foe by breaking the Hematites’ 27-game regular-season winning streak that dated back to 2012. The Mountaineers hadn’t beaten Ishpeming since opening night 2011, and Ishpeming – the reigning Division 7 champion – didn't lose at all in 13 tries in 2015. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.
Menominee 31, Marinette, Wis. 14 – The 110th meeting in the longest interstate rivalry involving a Michigan team moved the Maroons’ all-time edge to 53-50-7 in the series.
Sault Ste. Marie 13, Cheboygan 7 (OT) – Sault Ste. Marie is 1-0 after opening night for the first time since 2007 with its third win over the last four tries against Cheboygan.
Gwinn 36, Gladstone 16 – The Modeltowners won on opening night for only the third time over the last decade and with their most points in a game since Week 7 of 2014.
Lake Linden-Hubbell 28, Hancock 26 – The Lakes didn’t come close to having a regular-season scare going 9-0 in 2015, but stopped a two-point conversion late to survive this one.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 27, East Grand Rapids 6
GRCC debuted Cougar stadium by breaking a three-year losing streak to opening-night rival East Grand Rapids. The Cougars scored twice on defense and a third time after an interception to put away the Pioneers, who like GRCC also won nine games last season. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Muskegon 51, Ann Arbor Pioneer 14 – Muskegon quarterback Kalil Pimpleton might be the player most people statewide want to see; he ran for two scores, threw two touchdown passes and caught one at Michigan Stadium.
Caledonia 55, Fenton 52 – The Scots gained the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter after the teams were tied at halftime at Grand Valley State University.
Hudsonville 21, Grand Ledge 14 – Holding off a Comets team that went 12-1 a year ago was a great way for the Eagles to start off a new season.
East Kentwood 31, Farmington Hills Harrison 24 – The Falcons added a second-straight seven-point opening-night win over Harrison, this time at Michigan Stadium.
Crystal Falls Forest Park 64, Rapid River 22
No team that’s made the switch from 11 to 8-player has brought as much championship success as three-time MHSAA title winner Forest Park did in making the move this fall. Its debut against annual power Rapid River could be a scary sign for opponents of what’s to come. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.
Pickford 56, Bellaire 6 – The Panthers did make the playoffs last season in their first of 8-player, but with a 37-26 loss to Bellaire, a regular contender in the Bridge Alliance race.
Camden-Frontier 86, Elyria Open Door Christian, Ohio 8 – The Redskins won for the first time since Week 8 of 2013, giving them immediate satisfaction in their first game of 8-player football.
PHOTO: Detroit Martin Luther King players wear jerseys showing the last name of late coach Dale Harvel during their Week 1 win over Southfield Arts & Technology. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Public School League.)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
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PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)