By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
There are some magnificent comeback seasons unfolding across Michigan this football season.
Holton is 3-0 for the first time since 1999. Leroy Pine River won one game a year ago and is 3-0 for the first time since 2004. We highlight two more 3-0 teams below in Battle Creek Central and Kingsley with similar stories to celebrate – and also big tests this week as we edge closer to the midpoint of the regular season.
Games below are tonight unless noted. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed. MHSAA.tv will broadcast 14 games tonight, including four noted below. Our “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (3-0) at Cass City (2-1)
Laker’s only single-digit regular-season win in 2017 came against Cass City, a 20-14 victory in Week 5 that eventually earned the Lakers the Greater Thumb Conference West championship. They went on to also defeat Cass City 18-14 in a Division 7 District Final – so the Red Hawks no doubt will be amped even more, if possible, as they look to break a nine-game losing streak against their neighbor from the north.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Flint Powers Catholic (2-1) at Davison (3-0), Grand Blanc (3-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-1), Croswell-Lexington (3-0) at Richmond (2-1), Carson City-Crystal (3-0) at Merrill (2-1).
Marine City (3-0) at Madison Heights Madison (3-0)
Paced by standout quarterback Austin Brown, Madison has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 116-27 in adding to a 15-game regular-season winning streak. The Eagles edged Marine City 28-24 a year ago on the way to winning the Macomb Area Conference Silver title, but the Mariners have been similarly dominant this fall outscoring opponents by a combined 122-37 – including 34-20 over an improved St. Clair Shores South Lake.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Eastpointe (2-1) at Warren Woods-Tower (3-0), Walled Lake Western (2-1) at Waterford Mott (3-0), Dearborn Fordson (3-0) at Livonia Churchill (2-1), Birmingham Brother Rice (3-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (2-1).
Lake Odessa Lakewood (2-1) at Perry (2-1)
The Perry playoff watch has been on again the last few seasons as the Ramblers have finished 5-4 in 2016 and 4-5 last fall while in pursuit of their first postseason berth. Both Perry wins this season came against programs that had winning records a year ago – but the Ramblers are 0-4 against Lakewood since the formation of the Greater Lansing Activities Conference in 2014. The Vikings have never finished lower than second in the league and won it twice.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Holt (1-2) at DeWitt (2-1), Fowlerville (2-1) at Haslett (3-0), Reed City (3-0) at Howard City Tri-County (2-1), Hemlock (2-1) at St. Louis (3-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Kingsley (3-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (3-0), Saturday
Kingsley has rebounded from 1-8 by beating two 2017 playoff teams in three games under former-now-new coach Tim Wooer, who returned this fall after a decade at Traverse City West. But this weekend will provide a different level of barometer for the Stags’ rejuvenation. St. Francis has yet to be tested, winning its three games by an average of 38 points per.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Benzie Central (2-1) at Elk Rapids (3-0), Manton (3-0) at Lake City (3-0), Clare (3-0) at Roscommon (2-1), Traverse City West (1-2) vs. Traverse City Central (3-0) at Thirlby Field.
Southeast & Border
Riverview (2-1) at Milan (3-0)
Milan’s work over the last six seasons and beginning of this one is impressive: a 50-17 record with five playoff berths and three Huron League championships. But Riverview took the spotlight last season with the Huron title, 11 wins and a trip to the Division 3 Semifinals. Will Milan take it back this weekend? Senior running back Hunter Aeschbacker ran for 197 yards in a 26-21 Week 2 victory over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and has 342 rushing yards total to go with more than 1,200 a year ago. Riverview was tripped up last week by the Falcons, 20-6.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Brooklyn Columbia Central (3-0) at Blissfield (2-1), Dundee (3-0) at Ida (2-1), Whitmore Lake (2-1) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (3-0), Chelsea (3-0) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (2-1).
Portage Central (2-1) at Battle Creek Central (3-0)
Battle Creek Central’s best start since 2003 has drawn statewide attention, but Portage Central might be the biggest test yet. The Mustangs are coming off a one-point win on the road over rival Portage Northern and own a sizable victory over Richland Gull Lake, which the Bearcats beat by just a point. Regardless of what happens tonight, both teams could end up as league champions in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference – Battle Creek Central plays in the East and Portage Central in the West.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Edwardsburg (3-0) at Dowagiac (2-1), East Lansing (3-0) at Portage Northern (2-1), Saugatuck (3-0) at Schoolcraft (2-1), St. Joseph (2-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (1-2).
Calumet (3-0) at Iron River West Iron County (3-0)
Calumet earned some valuable close-game experience with last week’s 14-12 win over Ishpeming Westwood, and now will get a look at the Wykons – who just missed making the Division 8 championship game a year ago. Having opened against three opponents with a combined 1-8 record, West Iron will be facing its toughest challenge since that three-point Semifinal loss to Saginaw Nouvel last fall – but did down Calumet 53-20 a year ago.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Gwinn (3-0) at Hancock (2-1), Ishpeming (3-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (2-1), Johannesburg-Lewiston (2-1) at St. Ignace (2-1), Iron Mountain (2-1) at Norway (2-1).
Whitehall (3-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (3-0)
Whitehall’s 28-14 win over Oakridge a year ago was a headline grabber – the Vikings hadn’t come out on top in this matchup since 1999. They fell short in their West Michigan Conference title pursuit thanks to a two-point loss to Montague the next week – but this is lining up as a similar opportunity except this time Whitehall is undefeated heading in. After scoring 50 or more points three times last season, Oakridge has done so in every game so far – but numbers are relative as tonight’s game will be the toughest challenge for both teams to date.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (2-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (1-2), Grand Rapids Christian (2-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (1-2), East Kentwood (2-1) at Holland West Ottawa (3-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (3-0) at Rockford (1-2).
AuGres-Sims (3-0) at Hillman (3-0)
The longtime North Star League foes made the jump together this fall into 8-player football. So far, so good – but Hillman surely hopes the move also includes the end of a two-game losing skid against the Wolverines, who are carrying an 11-game regular-season winning streak. They also haven’t given up a point since opening night – or faced an opponent with a win this season. Hillman’s early competition has been stronger, and things will get tougher after this for both as Onaway (2-1) and Posen (3-0) are among opponents left on both teams’ league schedules.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Bellevue (2-1) at Camden-Frontier (3-0), Onekama (3-0) at Fife Lake Forest Area (2-1), Suttons Bay (3-0) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (3-0), Rapid River (2-1) at Pickford (3-0).
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PHOTO: Howard City Tri-County picks up yardage during last week’s win against Remus Chippewa Hills; Tri-County has a key matchup this week with Reed City. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)