By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Big things are ahead in Michigan high school football.
Not much will be decided this week as we cruise into the midpoint of the regular season. But teams all over Michigan are setting the foundations to celebrate soon – either as league champions or playoff qualifiers (and AuGres-Sims, 4-0 and playing eight games this season, can become our first this weekend).
Below is our weekly look at the games that appear most intriguing from every region of the state, powered by MI Student Aid. Keep these links handy for the weekend: MHSAA Score Center for scores as they come in (and links to each team’s schedule, league standings and playoff-points average), and MHSAA.tv, which again will broadcast nine games this weekend – click here for the schedule.
Bay & Thumb
New Lothrop (4-0) at Flint Hamady (3-1), Friday
The Genesee Area Conference Blue was decided last season by New Lothrop’s 51-16 Week 4 win over Hamady, and this matchup could be the eventual clincher again. The Hornets have now won 65 of their last 66 regular-season games going back to the start of 2010, and they haven’t given up a point this fall since downing GAC Red leader Lake Fenton in Week 1. But Hamady has held its last three opponents to single-digit scoring since losing to still-undefeated Cass City on opening night, signaling this might be closer than last year’s meeting.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Byron (3-1) at Lake Fenton (3-1), Midland (3-1) at Bay City Central (3-1), Flint Beecher (2-2) at Saginaw Nouvel (4-0), Harbor Beach (3-1) at Sandusky (2-2).
Birmingham Groves (3-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (3-1), Friday
After falling to Oakland Activities Association White co-leader Oak Park last week, Groves has one more chance to mix up the top of the standings as it hopes to repeat as the league champion – this time likely sharing the title. Harrison is the other team currently in first, and longtime coach John Herrington is just two wins from tying retired Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa for most wins (430) in MHSAA football history. A victory tonight for the Hawks could make Week 7 versus Oak Park the first opportunity for Herrington to break the record.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Utica Eisenhower (4-0) at Romeo (3-1), Clinton Township Clintondale (4-0) at Hazel Park (3-1), Marine City (4-0) at Madison Heights Madison (4-0), West Bloomfield (2-2) at Rochester Adams (4-0).
Portland (3-1) at Lansing Catholic (4-0), Friday
The Cougars kept this rivalry game as a potential league title decider by surviving a one-point game against Williamston last week. Portland won the last two Capital Area Activities Conference White titles after handing Lansing Catholic its lone league loss both seasons. Both teams are led by dynamic quarterbacks again – Michael Lynn III for Lansing Catholic and Austin Allison for Portland – and both also are giving up only 15 points per game.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Okemos (4-0) at Grand Ledge (3-1), Montrose (3-1) at Corunna (3-1), Clare (3-1) at Harrison (3-1), Fulton (3-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (3-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Grayling (4-0) at Boyne City (4-0), Friday
The Northern Michigan Football League’s Legends division is again loaded, with three undefeated teams and two more at 3-1 out of seven teams total. This matchup should help break up some of the top pack. These two and two-time reigning champion Traverse City St. Francis are the co-leaders, after St. Francis downed Boyne City in Week 9 last year to secure the title. Grayling’s last league title came in 2013 in the old Lake Michigan Conference and Boyne won the Legends in 2014 – making it hardly surprising they’re among those battling the Gladiators again. Grayling gets St. Francis next week; Boyne City has its shot in Week 9.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Frankfort (3-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-1), Beal City (3-1) at Lake City (4-0), Whittemore-Prescott (2-2) at Lincoln Alcona (3-1), SATURDAY Gaylord (2-2) at Traverse City Central (2-2).
Southeast & Border
Michigan Center (3-1) at Addison (4-0), Friday
Addison’s best start since 2006 has made the Cascades Conference race one of the most intriguing of the first half of the regular season. Last season’s co-champions, Grass Lake and Napoleon, remain in the mix, but Addison’s two-point win over Napoleon last week put the Panthers in first place alone. After six straight sub-.500 seasons, Addison is a win from breaking that streak. Michigan Center, meanwhile, is one of three teams tied for second in the league and only a three-point loss to Napoleon in Week 3 from being tied for first.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Adrian (3-1) at Chelsea (3-1), Quincy (3-1) at Reading (3-1), Homer (3-1) at Springport (2-2), SATURDAY Temperance Bedford (3-1) at Ann Arbor Pioneer (2-2).
Kalamazoo Hackett (4-0) at Watervliet (4-0), Friday
The Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley is another league that has enjoyed a great nonconference run – five teams are 3-1 or 4-0, and the sixth is 2-2. Watervliet has won or shared its league’s championship six straight seasons and is on pace to break 500 points offensively for the third straight year. Hackett’s path has been different – the four wins this fall tie their most in nine of the last 10 seasons. But the Fighting Irish clearly are up to the challenge this year – and both will have to be up to the challenges of Constantine, Coloma, Delton Kellogg and new league foe Schoolcraft over the next five weeks.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY White Pigeon (3-1) at Mendon (4-0), Athens (4-0) at Climax-Scotts (3-1), St. Joseph (3-1) at Mattawan (3-1), Three Rivers (3-1) at Paw Paw (3-1).
Bark River-Harris (3-1) at Norway (4-0), Friday
The Mid-Eastern Conference continues to produce some of the U.P.’s top matchups every week, and this one again could go far in figuring out the eventual champion. Norway is the only one of five teams that hasn’t played a league game; it’s also the only one undefeated and has the highest playoff-point average of the five. Bark River-Harris’ loss came to current M-EC leader Newberry; the Broncos interestingly have wins over teams from multiple states – Wisconsin and Illinois – a rarity on either peninsula.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hancock (3-1) at Calumet (3-1), Gladstone (4-0) at Ishpeming (2-2), Negaunee (1-3) at Gwinn (2-2), Newberry (3-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (0-3).
Grandville (3-1) at East Kentwood (4-0), Friday
The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red easily could be headed for another split title – three teams shared last year, two in 2015 and 2014. And there appear to be four contenders again – these two obviously included. Grandville was one of those three champs a year ago, and minus a painful defeat to Warren DeLaSalle has given up only 27 points over its three wins. The Falcons have been nearly as stellar on that side of the ball, shutting out reigning Division 3 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Week 2 and despite giving up 32 last week to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (which is averaging 30 per game).
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Cedar Springs (3-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (4-0), Coopersvile (3-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (3-1), Grant (3-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (3-1), Montague (4-0) at Whitehall (3-1).
Morrice (4-0) at Flint International Academy (4-0), Friday
Similar to last season, no one has slowed down Deckerville yet. But the winner of this game will have the most meaningful chance. All three are 3-0 in the North Central Thumb League Stars division, Morrice bouncing back from a 4-5 finish last season and Flint International picking right back up after going 6-3 in its first season of 8-player football in 2016. The Flames already have put up 190 points, more than half their total over nine games a year ago. They’ll face a great challenge in a Morrice defense that is giving up 4.5 points per game – a rarity in this high-scoring, wide-open format.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Rudyard (3-1) at Brimley (3-1), North Adams-Jerome (2-2) at Camden-Frontier (4-0), Lawrence (3-1) at Kingston (2-2), Onekama (4-0) at Suttons Bay (3-1).
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PHOTO: Bark River-Harris, right, will take on Norway in this weekend’s most intriguing game in the Upper Peninsula. (Photo by Jeff Rochefort.)
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.)