By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
After an opening weekend highlighted by showcases in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, Michigan high school football fans should look west, north and really far north for the most colossal matchups of Week 2.
Arguably the top teams in the Lansing and Grand Rapids areas and all of 8-player football will face off as the most intriguing games of this week’s Drive for Detroit, powered by MI Student Aid. A number of leagues also begin play, with matchups in at least three conferences likely playing a part in which favorite eventually is crowned champion.
Check out our previews below – and visit the MHSAA.com Score Center tonight and all weekend for scores as they are reported and links to updated schedules and standings.
Bay & Thumb
Almont (1-0) at Algonac (1-0)
The water should be boiling for this Blue Water Area Conference opener. Rewind to Week 6 of last season, when upstart Algonac broke reigning league champ Almont’s 16-game BWAC winning streak with a 21-7 victory. Algonac went on share the league title with Richmond (with Almont a win short of also sharing), then beat Almont again, 13-0, in their Division 5 District Final. Both earned impressive victories last week, Algonac over Marine City and Almont over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary.
Others that caught my eye: Chesaning (1-0) at Freeland (1-0), Midland Dow (1-0) at Bay City Central (1-0), Harbor Beach (1-0) at Beaverton (1-0), Flint Powers Catholic (0-1) at Saginaw Heritage (1-0).
Allen Park (1-0) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (1-0)
Allen Park shared the Downriver League championship last season by winning its final seven regular-season games after falling to Roosevelt 23-14 in Week 2. The Bears, meanwhile, ended up missing out on any share of the league title by going on to lose two games by a combined four points. Roosevelt has won seven of eight meetings against Allen Park – including once in the playoffs – since the two became league foes in 2009.
Others that caught my eye: Walled Lake Western (1-0) at Canton (0-1), Utica Eisenhower (1-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (1-0) at Romeo (0-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (0-1) at Detroit Loyola (1-0) on Friday.
DeWitt (1-0) at Grand Ledge (0-1)
Lansing-area fans have been anticipating this matchup not just since schedules were announced for this season, but for many years. These two have been the most successful programs in the Capital Area Activities Conference for most over the last two decades and nearly are neighbors, although Grand Ledge has about 700 more students. The Comets made the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago; DeWitt’s most recent of five MHSAA Finals appearances came in 2013. Both are led by standout quarterbacks – DeWitt by Will Nagel and the Comets by Nolan Bird – although playmakers JD Ross and Antonio Rush, respectively, could be the difference-makers for those teams on offense. DeWitt dominated at Linden last week, while Grand Ledge fell a score short at Hudsonville.
Others that caught my eye: Lansing Catholic (1-0) at Lansing Everett (0-1), Dansville (1-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (1-0), Hillsdale (1-0) at Portland (1-0), Davison (1-0) at Mount Pleasant (0-1) on Friday.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Maple City Glen Lake (1-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (1-0) on Friday
St. Francis is fresh off a trip to the Upper Peninsula and a 40-14 win over frequent playoff team Marquette. Glen Lake certainly is a more familiar opponent – the teams were in the same division of the Northern Michigan Football Conference during the league’s first two seasons, although they are in different divisions this fall. Glen Lake made headway in its two matchups with St. Francis last season, coming off a 41-7 Week 7 loss to fall only 21-3 in a Division 6 playoff opener. A four-touchdown win over Kingsley last week should be a good sign of things to come for the Lakers.
Others that caught my eye: Charlevoix (1-0) at Boyne City (0-1), Lincoln Alcona (0-1) at Hillman (0-1), Whittemore-Prescott (1-0) at Tawas (1-0), Central Lake (1-0) at Frankfort (1-0).
Edwardsburg (1-0) at Vicksburg (1-0)
Although Edwardsburg won this matchup 58-25 a year ago, the fact remains that Vicksburg is still the only team to hand the Eddies a regular-season loss over the last three seasons – winning 16-14 in 2014. That’s enough to make this intriguing. But add in a solid 17-7 win for the Bulldogs over Dowagiac last week, and it appears they’re up to the task of challenging the Wolverine Conference frontrunners again.
Others that caught my eye: Marshall (0-1) at Coldwater (1-0), Schoolcraft (1-0) at Watervliet (1-0), Niles (1-0) at Mattawan (0-1), Kalamazoo Central (0-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (1-0).
Southeast & Border
Morenci (1-0) at Hudson (1-0)
An early key moment in Morenci’s turnaround over the last three seasons was a 2014 win over the rival Tigers, who had mostly dominated their annual game over the previous decade and a half. Morenci made it two straight on Hudson by winning 26-20 last year and is coming off a solid 34-7 win over 2015 playoff qualifier Pittsford. The Tigers are coming off their first sub-.500 finish last year since 2006 and have plenty to prove – and also to benefit from by winning this one with an increasingly tough Lenawee County Athletic Association schedule ahead.
Others that caught my eye: New Haven (1-0) at Ida (1-0), Milan (1-0) at Flat Rock (1-0) on Friday, New Boston Huron (1-0) at Carleton Airport (1-0) on Friday, Ypsilanti Community (0-0) at Monroe (0-1) on Friday.
Lowell (1-0) at Rockford (0-1) on Friday
After three seasons off, these Grand Rapids-area powers will face off again; Lowell won both the 2011 and 2012 meetings when the teams first brought this matchup back after nearly four decades. Aside from these being two of the best-known programs in the state, last week’s events should draw a few more statewide eyes west. Lowell, the reigning Division 2 runner-up thanks to a last-play touchdown in the 2015 Final by Detroit Martin Luther King, blazed out of the gates with a 36-19 win over Warren DeLaSalle. Rockford, meanwhile, was forced to forfeit to Saline last week because an illness sidelined a good portion of the team. The Rams made the Division 1 Regional Finals last fall.
Others that caught my eye: Benton Harbor (1-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-0), at Hudsonville; St. Ignace (1-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (1-0), Zeeland West (1-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0), Caledonia (1-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (1-0) on Friday
Negaunee (1-0) at Calumet (1-0)
Calumet is one of the most consistently solid teams on either peninsula, with seven or more wins nine of the last 11 seasons. And the Copper Kings broke through one of their toughest annual obstacles at the end of last fall, downing Negaunee 24-14 in a Division 6 playoff opener after losing all five of the teams’ recent meetings. Still, the Miners’ 7-3 finish last fall was similarly solid but a little deceptive – those three losses came over the final four weeks and by a combined 17 points. This could be a statement win for a team looking to take those next small steps back to elite.
Others that caught my eye: Petoskey (0-1) at Escanaba (1-0), Gwinn (1-0) at Iron Mountain (1-0), Bessemer Gogebic (1-0) at Bark River-Harris (1-0) on Friday, Newberry (1-0) at Munising (0-1) on Friday.
Powers North Central (1-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (1-0) on Friday
Forest Park, 11-player until this fall, has taken a deep dive immediately into 8-player football, opening up last week against annual power Rapid River (and winning 64-22) and now hosting reigning champion Powers North Central. The Jets opened last week just as explosively as they played all of last season, putting up 60 on Luck, Wis. This one could be telling in how the Western Eight Conference standings eventually shake out – and also indicate where Forest Park sits in relation to the 8-player elite.
Others that caught my eye: Posen (1-0) at Cedarville (1-0), Lawrence (1-0) at Morrice (1-0).
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews 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: Kalamazoo Central, here on offense against St. Joseph last week at Michigan Stadium, will face Stevensville Lakeshore seeking its first win this season. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)