By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
From Calumet at the top of the U.P. to Michigan’s southern border, tonight’s weather is forecast as ideal for high school football.
It’s only the third week of the season, of course, but we could look back at this as the week that decided some of the state’s most high-profile league titles – and previewed some of the most anticipated playoff matchups down the road.
Games below are tonight unless noted; there also are 11 games Saturday featuring Michigan teams. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed. MHSAA.tv will broadcast nine games tonight, including three noted below.
“Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
Saginaw Swan Valley (2-0) at Freeland (2-0)
The Vikings’ early schedule is loaded; they opened with a 21-12 win over Cedar Springs (7-4 last season) and last week won 56-20 over Frankenmuth (12-1 in 2017). Now the reigning Division 5 runner-up gets Tri-Valley Conference Central rival Freeland, which has made the playoffs 10 straight seasons and fell to Swan Valley only 21-14 a year ago. The Falcons are off to a nice start as well with a three-point victory over Marshall and 23-pointer over Carrollton that avenged last season’s District loss.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Davison (2-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-0), Ubly (2-0) at Sandusky (2-0), Flint Hamady (2-0) at Flint Beecher (1-1), Carrollton (1-1) at Millington (1-1).
Farmington Hills Harrison (2-0) at Oak Park (2-0)
Many eyes are on Harrison as the 18-time MHSAA champion plays its final season before the school closes next spring. This matchup could determine if the Hawks are league champions one more time; last year, Harrison split the Oakland Activities Association White title with both Oak Park and Birmingham Groves. Oak Park beat Groves last week and Utica Eisenhower in Week 1 and will present the Hawks’ their first major challenge after back-to-back 41-0 victories. Harrison won last year’s meeting 17-14.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-0) at Utica Eisenhower (1-1), St. Clair (1-1) at Madison Heights Madison (2-0), Canton (1-1) at Plymouth (2-0), Sterling Heights Stevenson (2-0) at Romeo (1-1).
Grand Ledge (0-1) at East Lansing (2-0)
East Lansing is regarded as one of the intriguing teams emerging early from the capital area, especially after avenging a 2017 loss by defeating Dearborn Divine Child on the road last week. Grand Ledge had to replace a giant senior class this fall and opened with a loss to Hudsonville before a bye in Week 2 – but the Comets are still three-time reigning Capital Area Activities Conference Blue champions. East Lansing shared that title in 2016, and tonight could show itself to be the biggest obstacle to newcomer DeWitt becoming the next league champion.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Williamston (2-0) at Fowlerville (2-0), Lansing Sexton (0-2) at Portland (2-0), Harrison (1-1) at Clare (2-0), Leslie (1-1) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (1-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Alpena (2-0) at Gaylord (2-0)
These two have played in the Big North Conference together for nearly two decades, but it’s been a long time since this matchup potentially meant this much. Alpena is 2-0 for the first time since 2004 – the last time it won more than four games in a season – and got here in part with a Week 1 win over 2017 Division 4 semifinalist Escanaba. Gaylord opened at Lansing Sexton and came back with a win and then went to 2-0 last week by beating a Gladstone team that like the Big Reds also made the playoffs a year ago. Gaylord, which last made the postseason in 2015, has won four of the last five against the Wildcats.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Traverse City St. Francis (2-0) at Benzie Central (2-0), Kingsley (2-0) at Grayling (1-1), Lake City (2-0) at McBain (1-1), Beaverton (1-1) at Houghton Lake (1-1).
Southeast & Border
Ida (2-0) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (2-0)
A loss to Columbia Central foiled Ida’s attempt at a league title three-peat last season, and both were among four teams to represent the Lenawee County Athletic Association in the playoffs. Last week’s 28-22 win over reigning two-time Genesee Area Conference Red champion Lake Fenton was a good sign the Bluestreaks will be back in the mix. Columbia Central’s Week 1 shutout of reigning Cascades Conference co-champion Napoleon means the Eagles will be there too – with tonight playing a big part in how the rest of the LCAA race unfolds.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Reading (2-0) at Concord (2-0), Hudson (2-0) at Dundee (2-0), Coldwater (1-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (2-0), Addison (1-1) at Michigan Center (2-0).
Portage Central (1-1) at Portage Northern (2-0)
Kalamazoo Central took some bite out of this rivalry matchup last week by handing Portage Central an unanticipated 30-14 defeat. But there’s still plenty of story here. Portage Northern has its own stadium for the first time after 53 years of playing home games at Portage Central, and is coming off avenging a 2017 loss by shutting out Stevensville Lakeshore last week. Central has beaten Northern in four straight, and ending that streak would be a memorable way for the Huskies to celebrate their new home.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Paw Paw (2-0) at Edwardsburg (2-0), Three Oaks River Valley (2-0) at Martin (1-1), Fennville (2-0) at Delton Kellogg (2-0), Mattawan (2-0) at St. Joseph (1-1).
Ishpeming Westwood (2-0) at Calumet (2-0)
The Patriots are making it difficult to focus elsewhere in the Upper Peninsula. They’ve followed up a school record nine wins in 2017 with a pair this fall including 34-7 last week over Iron Mountain. But Westwood should receive its toughest challenge yet from Calumet, a playoff team 12 of the last 13 seasons. This will be the first meeting between the teams; they also are in a league for the first time, as two of the contenders in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference “large school” division.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Norway (2-0) at Ishpeming (2-0), Gladstone (1-1) at Menominee (0-2), Hancock (2-0) at Negaunee (0-2), SATURDAY Detroit Loyola (2-0) at Escanaba (1-1).
Holland West Ottawa (2-0) at Rockford (1-1)
West Ottawa’s record-setting 2017 included its first win over Rockford since 2002 and then a second defeat of the Rams in a Division 1 District Final. The Panthers are off to another great start, following last season’s 10 victories with two more against Stevensville Lakeshore and last week by a point over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central. Rockford opened with a loss to Illinois power Wilmette Loyola, but bounced back in a big way with a 36-0 shutout of Lowell – no doubt picking up momentum to carry into this highly anticipated rematch.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hudsonville (2-0) at Grand Haven (2-0), Zeeland East (2-0) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1-1), Manistee (2-0) at Ludington (2-0), Muskegon (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (1-1).
Pickford (2-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (1-1)
Pickford’s only loss last season came by two points to Forest Park in an 8-Player Division 2 Semifinal – Forest Park went on to win the championship game by 42. The Panthers have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 114-7 and meet a Forest Park team this time that was stunned by Eben Junction Superior Central in their opener but bounced back with a big win against Carney-Nadeau. These two aren’t in the same league, so this doesn’t mean anything to those hopes – but it definitely could be a preview of a postseason rematch of much significance.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Morrice (2-0) at Mayville (2-0), Camden-Frontier (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0), Battle Creek St. Philip (2-0) at Webberville (2-0), Bellaire (1-1) at Onekama (2-0).
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PHOTO: A Grand Blanc ball carrier works against the Saginaw Heritage defense during the Bobcats' 27-20 win last week over the Hawks. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
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.)