Drive for Detroit: Week 5 Preview

September 20, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

As we dive into the midpoint of the 2018 high school football regular season, there’s more than meets the eye to many of our Week 5 matchups.

Sure, we’ve got some of the usual regulars on this week’s preview list – Clinton Township Chippewa Valley vs. Macomb Dakota among them – but it’s fair to say a number of others discussed below are a bit off the usual board, but with plenty of significance upon further view.

Games below are tonight unless noted. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed. will broadcast 15 games this weekend, including our top game from the “Bay & Thumb” area. Our “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid.

Bay & Thumb

Davison (4-0) at Grand Blanc (4-0)

The Saginaw Valley League Blue is topped by three undefeated teams – these two and Lapeer – and this one will go a long way toward determining the eventual champion. But it also could have playoff implications down the road – the Bobcats are tied for fourth and Davison is tied for ninth in playoff point average among teams that traditionally fall into Division 1 for the postseason.  

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Swartz Creek (4-0) at Flint Hamady (4-0), Ubly (3-1) at Harbor Beach (3-1), Harrison (2-2) at Beaverton (3-1), Richmond (3-1) at Yale (2-2).

Greater Detroit 

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (4-0) at Macomb Dakota (4-0)

Like Davison and Grand Blanc mentioned above, these two rank highly among likely Division 1 playoff teams – Chippewa Valley first in playoff point average and Dakota tied for seventh – and they’ve seen each other in the postseason as well five of the last six seasons. The Big Reds won both meetings in 2017 and this season have handed the only losses to Saline and Roseville. Dakota is averaging 45 points per game during its best start since its 2013 league title season.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Cody (4-0) at Detroit Mumford (3-1), Garden City (3-1) at Dearborn Heights Crestwood (4-0), Auburn Hills Avondale (3-1) at Farmington (4-0), SATURDAY Detroit Catholic Central (3-1) at Birmingham Brother Rice (3-1).


DeWitt (4-0) at East Lansing (4-0)

They have two of the richest traditions in the Lansing area and will meet as members of the same league for the first time. The winner will earn a strong upper hand in an otherwise middling Capital Area Activities Conference Blue, and these two also met in the playoffs as recently as 2016. DeWitt still scores a bunch and East Lansing has offensive firepower too, but the defenses could emerge as the stars of this meeting – DeWitt has given up only 7.8 points per game, and East Lansing a respectable 16 ppg.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lansing Catholic (4-0) at Portland (4-0), Canton (3-1) at Brighton (3-1), Ovid-Elsie (3-1) at New Lothrop (4-0), Haslett (4-0) at Williamston (3-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City Central (3-1) at Gaylord (4-0)

First-year coach and former assistant Shawn Sargent has the Blue Devils off to their first 4-0 start since their last playoff season in 2015. Gaylord has some solid wins, but Central will provide the strongest test to date. The Trojans have to be revved up after a close loss to rival Traverse City West last week. Central shines especially on defense, giving up only 9.5 points per game.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Oscoda (3-1) at Rogers City (4-0), Traverse City St. Francis (4-0) at Grayling (2-2), Leroy Pine River (4-0) at McBain (2-2), Traverse City West (2-2) at Alpena (2-2).

Southeast & Border 

Athens (3-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-0)

The Southern Central Athletic Association has only four 11-player teams but two of the most intriguing matchups in the region this weekend. (Pittsford and Climax-Scotts line up on the other side.) Lenawee Christian is 4-0 for the first time ever; the Cougars are in their 11th season as a varsity program. And Athens? The Indians didn’t have an opponent Week 2, but have outscored their three this season by a combined 107-0.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Jackson (4-0) at Chelsea (3-1), Concord (3-1) at Springport (4-0), Union City (2-2) at Reading (4-0), Addison (2-2) at Grass Lake (4-0).

Southwest Corridor

Watervliet (2-2) at Kalamazoo United (4-0)

Watervliet has won outright or shared seven straight league titles, but enters Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley play with a pair of close losses – their first regular-season defeats since Week 6 of 2016. United also was 4-0 coming into this league opener a year ago, and Watervliet won 52-34. But United – giving up only 27 points total over four games this time, might have the defense to slow down a Watervliet offense averaging 43 points per game.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Paw Paw (3-1) at Three Rivers (4-0), Muskegon Catholic Central (2-2) at Cassopolis (4-0), Stevensville Lakeshore (2-2) at Portage Central (3-1), Battle Creek Central (3-1) at Benton Harbor (1-2).

Upper Peninsula 

Harbor Springs (4-0) at St. Ignace (2-2)

With their best start since 1999, the Rams have equaled last season’s win total and are lined up to chase their best record since going 6-4 in 2000. But St. Ignace, despite losing to Johannesburg-Lewiston last week, has experienced a turn as well after uncharacteristically winning just a game a year ago. The Saints not only have more wins than last season already, but with 23 more points will eclipse last year’s output.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Norway (2-2) at Calumet (4-0), Negaunee (2-2) at Ishpeming (4-0), Maple City Glen Lake (2-2) at Gladstone (2-2), Petoskey (2-2) at Marquette (2-2).

West Michigan

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (3-1) at Hopkins (3-1)

The Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver has the smallest schools of the league’s seven divisions and doesn’t get the attention of the other high-profile leagues. But the Silver’s best have had big moments too over the years, and these two teams are hoping to ride fast starts into more over the next two months. NorthPointe started 5-0 a year ago before hitting the tough part of the league schedule – but did make the playoffs. Hopkins is seeking its first playoff berth since 2014 and already has avenged Silver losses from last season to Belding and Wyoming Godwin Heights.

Others that caught my eye FRIDAY Hudsonville (4-0) at Jenison (3-1), Whitehall (3-1) at Montague (3-1), Muskegon Oakridge (4-0) at Ravenna (3-1), Grand Rapids South Christian (3-1) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (4-0).


Onekama (4-0) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (4-0), Saturday

The Portagers seemed on the verge of something special last season, when they finished 9-2 losing in the 8-Player Division 2 Regional Finals. So far this fall they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 196-6, with only reigning Division 1 champion Central Lake getting on the board. Tri-unity is coming off its first challenge of the season – a 38-27 win over Suttons Bay – and could next provide Onekama’s best test to date, and with the Midwest Central Michigan West championship perhaps on the line.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Morrice (4-0) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (3-1), Battle Creek St. Philip (3-1) at Camden-Frontier (3-1), Cedarville (3-1) at Engadine (3-1), Mayville (3-1) at Kinde-North Huron (3-1).

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: Grand Blanc quarterback Tylor Leedom pitches to a teammate during the Bobcats’ Week 3 win over Flint Southwestern. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)