By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
With 600 high school teams in Michigan and good games always to be found, just about any week could be called “Rivalry Week” as the term is often hyped at the college and pro levels.
A number of the best rivalries – longtime or emerging – will be played out over the next two days, and we offer a glance at a number of those games below. You’ll have a chance to check out a bunch, as seven of the games mentioned in this preview are among the 32 that will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv – click here for the schedule.
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Bay & Thumb
Grand Blanc (4-0) at Davison (4-0)
These teams entered this game last season under almost identical circumstances – and Davison exited with a 49-7 win on the way to finishing second to Lapeer in the Saginaw Valley League Blue. Those three appear to be the main title contenders again, and Davison has won its first two Blue games by a combined 104-0 while Grand Blanc also opened league play last week with a shutout. Last season’s loss started a rough finish for the Bobcats, and they face a tough regular-season second half again with Lapeer, Flint Powers Catholic and Saline coming up. Obviously, a win tonight would provide a sizable lift heading into that string.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Harbor Beach (4-0) at Ubly (4-0), Saginaw Swan Valley (3-1) at Frankenmuth (4-0), Fenton (3-1) at Flint Kearsley (4-0), Breckenridge (3-1) at Merrill (3-1).
Macomb Dakota (3-1) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (4-0)
One of the best rivalries in the state again matches up the teams tied for first in the Macomb Area Conference Red. Chippewa Valley is riding an 18-game winning streak after claiming last season’s Division 1 championship and has won four straight over Dakota – with victories over the Cougars during the playoffs as well the last two seasons. Dakota’s only slip-up this fall came Week 1 against still-unbeaten Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, and it will be interesting to see how this meeting shakes out. The Big Reds won by only seven, 24-17, the first time they played in 2018 but 51-10 in the District Final rematch.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY West Bloomfield (3-1) at Lake Orion (4-0), Brownstown Woodhaven (4-0) at Allen Park (3-1), North Farmington (4-0) at Auburn Hills Avondale (3-1), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2-2) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (4-0).
Portland (4-0) at Lansing Catholic (4-0)
This one gets top billing by just a smidge over East Lansing/DeWitt, as Portland can claim supremacy in the Lansing area so far thanks to its two-point Week 2 win over the Panthers. The Raiders have otherwise dominated coming off last year’s Division 5 runner-up finish, but Lansing Catholic surely has been looking forward to this opportunity. Not only will tonight’s game likely eventually decide the Capital Area Activities Conference White champion, but Portland handed the Cougars their only two losses last season – by a combined 12 points.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY East Lansing (3-1) at DeWitt (3-1), Sanford Meridian (4-0) at Clare (4-0), St. Johns (3-1) at Mason (4-0), Laingsburg (3-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-0) at Tawas (3-1)
The Cardinals are tied for first in the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy division after winning the title outright a year ago, and they’ve dominated for most of 2019 so far. But this nonleague meeting starts a string of games against four straight playoff hopefuls. Tawas was a qualifier last season and this fall is just a two-point opening-night loss to Alcona from a perfect start as well.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Charlevoix (3-1) at Frankfort (2-2), Mancelona (2-2) at Elk Rapids (2-2). SATURDAY Alpena (2-2) at Traverse City West (2-2), Gaylord (2-2) at Traverse City Central (3-1).
Southeast & Border
Marshall (3-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0)
By nature of this kind of success, as Lumen Christi’s state-best 27-game winning streak continues to grow, every matchup will be scrutinized that much more. The Titans have beaten Marshall in three straight but scored a season low in last year’s 21-0 shutout of the Redhawks. And this is a better Marshall team; after three straight seasons winning three or four games, Marshall is a one-point opening-night loss to Freeland from 4-0. Meanwhile, another win could just about seal up the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title for Lumen – its final three league opponents are a combined 3-9.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Chelsea (4-0) at Jackson (3-1), Britton Deerfield (3-1) at Sand Creek (3-1), Hillsdale (4-0) at Hudson (2-2), Brooklyn Columbia Central (3-1) at Onsted (2-2).
Battle Creek Lakeview (4-0) at Kalamazoo Central (2-2)
Lakeview has had a nice run through the 2010s with five playoff appearances in a row from 2012-16. But last season the Spartans won two games, their fewest since 2002 – although that should be fading from memory with this start. A win tonight would bury it further, as defeating reigning champion Kalamazoo Central would earn Lakeview a share of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East title – its first since 2015. But making it happen might take the Spartans’ best performance so far. The Maroon Giants have suffered their two losses by just a combined seven points, and the last three meetings with Lakeview all have been decided by eight points or fewer.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Cassopolis (4-0) at Decatur (2-2), Portage Central (2-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (2-2), Benton Harbor (2-2) at Battle Creek Central (1-3). SATURDAY Delton Kellogg (3-1) at Schoolcraft (4-0).
Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-1) at L'Anse (3-1)
These teams are enjoying similar jumpstarts this fall but with this nonleague matchup key to their postseason hopes. The Lakes were 10-1 as recently as 2016, but won just two games last season. A two-point Week 2 loss to Ishpeming is all that’s kept them from 4-0, but their next two games are against the leaders of their Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron division. Despite opening with a loss to Hancock, the Purple Hornets have equaled their win total from all of last season as they pursue a first playoff berth since 2013 – but with a tough slate of West PAC Copper games coming up to finish the regular season.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Escanaba (3-1) at Kingsford (2-2), Iron Mountain (4-0) at Bark River-Harris (3-1), Boyne City (2-2) at Menominee (3-1), Ogemaw Heights (3-1) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-1).
Muskegon Oakridge (4-0) at Montague (4-0)
This has as much claim to being Michigan’s best matchup of the weekend as any listed above or below, after Montague won last year’s meeting 25-24 on a touchdown and 2-point conversion with no time left. Oakridge went on to win out before falling by three to eventual Division 5 champion Hudsonville Unity Christian in the District Final – meaning the Eagles’ two defeats were by a combined four points to teams that ended up at Ford Field. Montague was runner-up in Division 6 and opened 2019 by avenging last season’s loss to Reed City.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Hudsonville Unity Christian (3-1) at Grand Rapids South Christian (3-1), Byron Center (4-0) at Zeeland West (4-0), East Kentwood (3-1) at Grandville (4-0), Manistee (3-1) at Muskegon Orchard View (4-0).
Colon (4-0) at Climax-Scotts (4-0)
As expected, things got a little more competitive last week for Climax-Scotts as it continued to march through its first season of 8-player. But a 16-12 win over Camden-Frontier set the Panthers up to take on reigning Southern Central Athletic Association A champion Colon with an opportunity to win a share of the league title. The Magi have outscored their opponents by a combined 197-18 and have a few reasons to be amped. Not only does this stack up as one of the top 8-player matchups of the regular season statewide, but Climax-Scotts beat Colon in 11 straight 11-player games from 2008 through 2017.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Vestaburg (4-0) at Portland St. Patrick (4-0), Mio (3-1) at Hillman (4-0), Cedarville (2-2) at Brimley (4-0), Martin (4-0) at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (2-2).
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PHOTO: Portland edged DeWitt 29-27 in Week 2. Both play this weekend in games that eventually could decide their leagues’ champions. (Click for 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.)