By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A new season means new beginnings on high school football fields all over Michigan.
Owosso surely is feeling a resurgence after ending a 35-game losing streak with a 23-18 win over rival Corunna. Same for Memphis, which saw a 26-game losing streak end with a 14-12 win over Burton Bentley. And don’t forget Farwell, which ended a 17-game winless streak by beating Coleman 20-18.
And how about all of 8-player, which saw both MHSAA champions from a year ago defeated this opening weekend? Just like that, those brackets seem a little wider open this fall.
Every team has a chance to create something memorable, and below are some from each region of the state that got off to the quickest starts. “Drive for Detroit” is sponsored by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER: Ortonville-Brandon 26, Fenton 21 The Blackhawks ended Fenton’s Flint Metro League winning streak at 29, earning their first win over the Tigers since 2011. Fenton has won at least a share of the league title all seven seasons this decade, but hasn’t had to play catch-up since losing its 2012 opener. Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Also of note: New Lothrop 48, Maple City Glen Lake 16 The Hornets have won 72 of their last 73 regular-season games, and this one could end up among the most impressive of the string.
Remember this one: Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 36, Hudson 6 These are both annual small-school powers, and last year Laker went on to finish 10-2 despite losing to the Tigers in Week 1.
More shoutouts: Marysville 14, Richmond 0 Beating the playoff regular Blue Devils to start the season always is a good sign, especially after Marysville lost last year and finished 4-5. Grand Blanc 38, Midland Dow 35 The Bobcats have moved to the Saginaw Valley League this fall; although Dow is in the other division, this was an impressive start.
HEADLINER: Belleville 40, Brighton 35 Brighton quarterback Will Jontz starred but Belleville prevailed, scoring during the final minute to pull ahead for good. The Tigers are considered MHSAA championship contenders coming off a one-loss season. Click for more from the Detroit News.
Also of note: Oak Park 31, Utica Eisenhower 13 Beating the reigning Macomb Area Conference champ is big, especially after Oak Park lost last year’s matchup 24-7.
Remember this one: Northville 28, Livonia Franklin 14 The Patriots went on to finish Division 2 runners-up after a close win over Northville last year in Week 3. Northville is looking to bounce back from a 3-6 finish.
More shoutouts: Detroit Martin Luther King 52, East St. Louis, Ill. 38 The Crusaders made a statement beating one of the top programs in Illinois. Detroit Cass Tech 40, River Rouge 7 Both made the MHSAA Semifinals last season.
HEADLINER: Pewamo-Westphalia 38, Ithaca 0 The Pirates ended Ithaca's 73-game winning streak in the most unexpected way, dealing the usually high-scoring Yellowjackets their first shutout since 2004. P-W may have graduated some big names from the back-to-back Division 7 championship teams, but there's still plenty of power. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Also of note: Haslett 28, Coldwater 7 The Vikings' vast improvement in 2017 is carrying over, as Haslett won big against a Coldwater team riding five straight playoff appearances.
Remember this one: DeWitt 22, Grand Rapids Christian 10 A year ago, DeWitt lost to Christian in the opener and came back to beat the Eagles in the Pre-District round. Could they meet again?
More shoutouts: Breckenridge 20, Beaverton 19 The Huskies avenged last season's opening-night loss, their only regular-season defeat of the last two seasons. East Lansing 40, St. Johns 6 After a one-point game in 2017, the Trojans more comfortably made it three straight against the Redwings.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER: Alpena 30, Escanaba 21 Beating an Escanaba team that made the Division 3 Semifinals a year ago might be the best victory for Alpena since its last playoff season in 2004. The Wildcats had lost eight of the last nine to the Eskymos and are coming off back-to-back 2-7 seasons – but have plenty to be excited about this week. Click for more from the Alpena News.
Also of note: Tawas 48, Lincoln Alcona 24 The Braves are looking to bounce back from a 2-6 finish a year ago, and what a way to start than by avenging last season’s 33-point loss to the Tigers.
Remember this one: Traverse City West 17, Midland 15 The way the maps sort out, these opening-night foes could end up in the same playoff District for the second year in a row – and West owns a 4-2 advantage in their recent series.
More shoutouts: Rogers City 20, Whittemore-Prescott 17 The Hurons fell to W-P by 37 a year ago and had lost all five games of their recent series with the Cardinals. Roscommon 44, Grayling 34 The Bucks also avenged a big 2017 loss, having fallen to Grayling by 46 a year ago.
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Grand Rapids West Catholic 12 The Titans have now won three of four recent openers against West Catholic, with this one notable as Lumen is the back-to-back Division 6 champion and West Catholic has won five straight Division 5 titles. Both have new contributors taking over key roles, but with aspirations surely high again. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Also of note: Michigan Center 29, Homer 0 The Cardinals are coming off a shared Cascades Conference title and playoff berth, and shutting out another 2017 playoff team was a great way to restart a run.
Remember this one: Brooklyn Columbia Central 24, Napoleon 0 Columbia Central has opened with four straight wins over Napoleon (another of the Cascades co-champs a year ago) and made the playoffs the last three years.
More shoutouts: Pittsford 28, Morenci 0 Both teams have made the playoffs the last four seasons, but in 2017 Pittsford won their meeting by just a point. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 37, Harper Woods Chandler Park 30 The Falcons closed last fall winning six of their final eight games and have to be glad to open with another victory over a Chandler Park program that’s made the playoffs nine straight seasons.
HEADLINER: Benton Harbor 19, Battle Creek Harper Creek 17 With a new coach taking over after a historic three-year run, and Harper Creek entering this season coming off one of its best finishes ever, it was tough to know what to expect for Benton Harbor last week. Expectations surely jumped after this win. Click for more from the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.
Also of note: Battle Creek Central 34, St. Joseph 27 The Bearcats haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 but enjoyed one of its best recent wins over a Bears team that has made the postseason 10 of the last 12 years.
Remember this one: Niles 32, Battle Creek Lakeview 27 The Vikings were 2-7 last season and a combined 7-20 over the last three, but avenged last season’s 31-0 defeat to a Spartans team that also is a regular in the playoff hunt.
More shoutouts: Kalamazoo United 46, Berrien Springs 7 Eric Wenzel tossed six touchdown passes for United in a meeting of 2017 playoff teams. Dowagiac 54, Vicksburg 14 The Chieftains broke a three-year losing streak against Vicksburg and could be the early pick to push annual favorite Edwardsburg in the Wolverine Conference.
HEADLINER: Iron Mountain 12, Negaunee 9 Half the Upper Peninsula will be watching as the newly-expanded Western Peninsula Athletic Conference sorts itself out this fall. But Iron Mountain quickly made ample noise after winning just one game a year ago. Negaunee is coming off a rare sub-.500 season too but was a regular contender in the old Mid-Peninsula Conference. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.
Also of note: Norway 54, Lake Linden-Hubbell 30 Coming off two straight nine-win seasons, the Knights will have lots of competition on their side of the new West-PAC, making this opening win over a frequent contender potentially key.
Remember this one: Iron River West Iron County 14, Munising 0 The Wykons are coming off a Division 8 Semifinal run last fall and might be the team Norway sees at the end of the West-PAC Small-school race – at least literally, since they meet in Week 9.
More shoutouts: Gwinn 36, Bark River-Harris 20 The Modeltowners had beaten Bark River-Harris once in the last five season – in 2016, when they made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Hancock 28, L'Anse 27 Hancock’s best season last fall since 2006 still included a two-point loss to L’Anse, now avenged.
HEADLINER: Muskegon 36, Warren DeLaSalle 21 Not much is needed to build up this game’s significance other than to remind that Muskegon is the reigning Division 3 champion and DeLaSalle last year’s winner in Division 2. The Big Reds’ running game could be in midseason form already. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.
Also of note: Reed City 34, Montague 13 Even as Reed City tied its program record last fall with 11 wins, that run started with a 21-point loss to Montague – which went on to win 11 games as well.
Remember this one: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 21, Jenison 19 The Rangers have high expectations after last season’s record 12-win season – which could be good news for a Jenison team looking for its first playoff berth since 2003.
More shoutouts: Zeeland East 36, East Grand Rapids 27 Both won nine games in 2017, and both should be in league and playoff mixes again. Holland West Ottawa 35, Stevensville Lakeshore 10 West Ottawa went from 2-7 in 2016 to 10-2 in 2017 and may not be done after handing the Lancers their first opening-night loss since 2006.
HEADLINER: Eben Junction Superior Central 46, Crystal Falls Forest Park 24 The Cougars have made significant strides the last few seasons and won their last three games of 2017. But the Trojans beat Superior Central by 42 during the regular season on the way to winning last season’s 8-player Division 2 title. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.
Also of note: Onaway 40, Central Lake 28 Last season’s 8-player Division 1 champion also began this campaign in defeat as Onaway held the Trojans to their fewest points in 14 games of this format.
Remember this one: Stephenson 46, Cedarville 40 These two have played their last two games against each other, and Stephenson has won both. A repeat playoff meeting in a few months would make for another intriguing rematch.
More shoutouts: Engadine 64, Powers North Central 34 The Eagles posted their highest point total since Week 4 of 2016 in downing the two-time champ. Hillman 34, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 27 This began the 8-player chapter for two proud small-school, formerly 11-player programs.
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Lapeer's defense swarms around a Lake Orion ball carrier during the Lightning's 17-7 win Thursday at University of Michigan. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)