By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Opening week of this high school football season predictably fulfilled anticipation and expectation.
Up this week is a rematch of last season’s Division 1 championship game, which also is among a number of league openers matching conference title favorites all over Michigan. Reigning Division 3 champ Muskegon won’t be starting league play for a few more weeks, but again might be hosting the most intriguing game statewide as another Detroit-area powerhouse comes to town.
Nearly all of this week’s games will be played Thursday night in advance of the Labor Day holiday. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed, and if you’re not watching in person check out one of eight games live on MHSAA.tv.
“Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid. Games below are Thursday unless noted.
Bay & Thumb
Frankenmuth (1-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (1-0)
Big-time rivals during the 1980s (when they shared a league), Swan Valley and Frankenmuth will meet again for the first time since 2010 and this time as statewide contenders. Swan Valley is the reigning Division 5 runner-up and Frankenmuth was a Division 5 semifinalist a year ago as both fell to champion Grand Rapids West Catholic during the playoff’s final rounds. Both are coming off big wins over bigger competition last week; the Vikings downed Cedar Springs by nine, and the Eagles defeated Bay City Central by 23.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (1-0) at Reese (1-0), Goodrich (1-0) at Ortonville Brandon (1-0), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (1-0) vs. Midland (0-1) at Northwood, St. Clair Shores South Lake (1-0) at Marine City (1-0).
West Bloomfield (1-0) at Clarkston (1-0), Friday
This is a rematch of last season’s Division 1 championship game, when these two combined for the second-lowest scoring Final in MHSAA football history – Clarkston winning 3-2. Not telling by the score, West Bloomfield’s offense was loaded with future Division I college players – but the retooled Lakers scored 39 in a win last week over Birmingham Groves, while Clarkston’s defense looked stingy again in downing Grandville 12-9. And don’t forget: These two also both play in the Oakland Activities Association Red, and West Bloomfield won that matchup last season 37-16.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Waterford Our Lady (1-0) at Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (1-0), Oak Park (1-0) at Birmingham Groves (0-1), Livonia Churchill (1-0) at Belleville (1-0), Warren Fitzgerald (1-0) at Auburn Hills Avondale (1-0).
Haslett (1-0) at Lansing Sexton (0-1)
In finishing 8-3 a year ago, Haslett posted its best record since 2006. The Vikings picked up on the same foot last week, opening with a 28-7 win over Coldwater – and they’ll now try to make it two in a row over 2017 playoff teams. Sexton just missed giving new coach Johnel Davis his first win, falling to Gaylord by 23-19. But the Big Reds would love to pick up some steam heading into a new league, the Capital Area Activities Conference White, and it’s already possible to forecast this as a key game if Sexton is to qualify for the playoffs in two months.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Lincoln Alcona (0-1) at Breckenridge (1-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (1-0) at Leslie (1-0), Walled Lake Northern (0-1) at DeWitt (1-0), Ann Arbor Huron (0-1) at Williamston (1-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City St. Francis (1-0) at Maple City Glen Lake (0-1)
St. Francis had a lot to enjoy about a 42-3 opening-night win over Marquette last week, while Glen Lake ran into a regular-season superpower in falling to New Lothrop. But a win over the Gladiators would certainly heal the grief of that 32-point defeat. These teams have met in both the regular season and playoffs two of the last three seasons, with St. Francis claiming last year’s regular-season meeting 35-9 – but then the District Final rematch only 13-0.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Tawas (1-0) at Rogers City (1-0), Lakeview (1-0) at Lake City (1-0), Gladstone (1-0) at Gaylord (1-0), Marquette (0-1) at Traverse City Central (1-0).
Southeast & Border
Napoleon (0-1) at Addison (1-0)
Last season’s Cascades Conference race saw Addison beat Napoleon by two, Napoleon beat Michigan Center by three and Michigan Center beat Addison by 12 – and all three share the league title. It wouldn’t be shocking if this matchup played a big part in the chase again. Addison opened last week with a big win over Dearborn Heights Star International and Napoleon fell to Brooklyn Columbia Central – both repeats of 2017 results and not necessarily telling of what to expect.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Jackson Lumen Christi (1-0) at Parma Western (1-0), Hudson (0-1) at Morenci (0-1), Lake Fenton (1-0) at Ida (1-0) FRIDAY Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1-0) at Saline (0-1).
Saugatuck (1-0) at Watervliet (1-0)
Both saw their 2017 seasons end against eventual MHSAA champions, Watervliet in a Division 6 Regional Final to Jackson Lumen Christi and Saugatuck at Ford Field where it fell to Pewamo-Westphalia in the Division 7 Final. Watervliet scored at least 50 points in its first seven games last season, and opened this one with another 50-pointer last week against Lawton. Saugatuck actually was more of a defensive force a year ago – but started this one with a 55-pointer that’s been the expectation most other seasons this decade.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Dowagiac (1-0) at Three Rivers (1-0), Portage Northern (1-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (0-1), St. Joseph (0-1) at Niles (1-0), Kalamazoo United (1-0) at Lawton (0-1).
Iron Mountain (1-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (1-0), Friday
Iron Mountain’s one-win finish in 2017 was quite a rarity – the Mountaineers had made the playoffs 16 of the previous 18 years and not had a one-win season on the field since 1990. So it made sense that they equaled last fall’s win total last week with a 12-9 victory over Negaunee. Westwood, meanwhile, is coming off its winningest season ever at 9-2 – and started its campaign last week to show that wasn’t a one-hit wonder with a 42-0 shutout of Houghton.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Negaunee (0-1) at Calumet (1-0) FRIDAY Lake Linden-Hubbell (0-1) at Ishpeming (1-0), Petoskey (0-1) at Escanaba (0-1), Iron River West Iron County (1-0) at Bark River-Harris (0-1).
Detroit Martin Luther King (1-0) at Muskegon (1-0), Friday
When Muskegon opens with back-to-back home games against Warren DeLaSalle and now Martin Luther King, it’s hard to not tout them as the biggest games of many exciting matchups from the west side of the Lower Peninsula. Quarterback Cameron Martinez showed what he’s capable of in last week’s 36-21 win over the reigning Division 2 champion, and expectations will only continue to grow. But King – which fell to DeLaSalle by a point in their Division 2 Semifinal in November – could be an even tougher test coming off a 52-38 win over Illinois powerhouse East St. Louis.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Rockford (0-1) at Lowell (0-1), Lansing Catholic (1-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (0-1), Benton Harbor (1-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-0), Holland West Ottawa (1-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (1-0).
Eben Junction Superior Central (1-0) at Cedarville (0-1)
Superior Central stunned the 8-player community with a 46-24 win over reigning Division 2 champion Crystal Falls Forest Park last week, and the Cougars can start 2-0 for the first time since 2012 by following up against another perennial power. But Cedarville surely is eager to get back on the field as well after putting up 40 in a six-point loss to Stephenson. Don’t be surprised if this turns into an offensive display.
Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Central Lake (0-1) at Onekama (1-0), Engadine (1-0) at Pickford (1-0), Powers North Central (0-1) at Rapid River (1-0), Bellaire (1-0) at Suttons Bay (1-0).
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: A Flint Beecher linebacker readies for the snap during last week’s win over Flint Southwestern at Atwood Stadium. (Photo by John Johnson.)
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.)