By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Don't think of tonight as the end of another warm September. Instead, consider it the start to a momentous final month of another Michigan high school football regular season.
Nine games this weekend feature teams with perfect records facing off. Add in that 72 teams statewide can clinch the first automatic playoff berths awarded this fall, and most fans won’t have to drive far to find a game with significant implications.
Check out our preview below of the best games in every corner of the state, powered by MI Student Aid. For the weekend's full schedule, check out the MHSAA Score Center. All games below are Friday unless noted.
Bay & Thumb
Holly (4-1) at Fenton (3-2)
Fenton loaded the front of its schedule with Caledonia and Temperance Bedford and came away with an 0-2 start, but bounced back nicely in pursuit of a sixth straight Flint Metro League title. The Tigers are tied for first with Holly, which also bounced back from an opening-night loss to competitive Berkley and is seeking its first win over Fenton since 2011. Regardless of tonight’s result, Fenton may still hold one more upper hand in the league race – it already has beaten Ortonville Brandon (4-1), Holly’s opponent in Week 9.
Others that caught my eye: Midland (3-2) at Davison (5-0), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-2) at Bay City Central (3-2), Corunna (5-0) at Montrose (3-2), Marine City (1-4) at St. Clair (3-2).
Detroit Martin Luther King (5-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (5-0), Saturday
These Detroit Public School League rivals have lined up for some colossal tilts over the years – see last season’s 31-28 and 27-25 King wins in their first meeting and then PSL championship game. But this might be the most hyped matchup of the series to date. Cass Tech, last season’s MHSAA Division 1 runner-up, has outscored its opponents by a combined 268-45 while giving up scores to only Oak Park and Detroit East English. Then there’s King, which has outscored its opponents 243-6, giving up its only points to Detroit Central in Week 2. This matchup with likely decide the PSL East Division 1 champion; regardless, they’ll likely meet again in the PSL tournament final in Week 9. And regardless of that as well, both could end their seasons playing again at Ford Field in MHSAA Finals for the second year in a row.
Others that caught my eye: Trenton (5-0) at Allen Park (5-0), Redford Union (4-1) at Dearborn Fordson (5-0), Birmingham Groves (5-0) at Farmington Hills Harrison (3-2), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-2) at Birmingham Brother Rice (3-2) on Saturday.
Pewamo-Westphalia (5-0) at Laingsburg (5-0)
Few think defense first when it comes to the Pirates, last season’s Division 7 runner-up. But they haven’t given up a point this season since Week 1 to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and haven’t given up more than seven in Central Michigan Athletic Conference play since 2014. Laingsburg ended up winning a District title last year after falling to P-W 50-7 in Week 7 and could be best-suited among league opponents to know how to get on the board this week. But the Wolfpack still must slow down P-W star running back Jared Smith as he attempts to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the season tonight despite carrying the ball only 73 times heading into this game.
Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (4-1) at Ithaca (5-0), Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-0) at Olivet (4-1), Durand (4-1) at New Lothrop (5-0), Williamston (3-2) at Fowlerville (3-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Maple City Glen Lake (4-1) at Frankfort (5-0)
Teams without a league loss face off this weekend in all three divisions of the Northern Michigan Football League, but this Leaders matchup is the most intriguing, arguably, based on past history and the past few weeks. Glen Lake and Frankfort have played each other yearly going back at least to the late 1950s, with their meetings often the best of the season in the old Northwest Conference. Glen Lake set up the intrigue this time by handing Charlevoix its first loss this season last week, and big, 49-7. Frankfort won the Leaders last fall, but lost 10-6 to Glen Lake, which played in the Legends division in 2015.
Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (4-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-0), Kalkaska (5-0) at Boyne City (3-2), East Jordan (4-1) at Charlevoix (4-1), Traverse City St. Francis (5-0) at Grayling (3-2).
Southeast & Border
Grosse Ile (5-0) at Milan (5-0)
While Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central has made the most noise out of the Huron League over the last few seasons, these two are regulars in the mix as well. Both have a pair of 10-win seasons this decade and could be on their ways to a third – with this meeting likely deciding the league title as both have two-win leads on the rest of the conference. Milan, last year’s league runner-up, beat Grosse Ile 44-7 in 2015 and still must see St. Mary next week and then Carleton Airport to finish the Huron slate. The Red Devils, meanwhile, have one more win already than all of last season, shut out St. Mary last week, and after tonight finish the league schedule with Airport and Riverview (which are a combined 2-8).
Others that caught my eye: Chelsea (5-0) at Adrian (3-2), Clinton (4-1) at Sand Creek (5-0), Hudson (5-0) at Hillsdale (3-2), Concord (5-0) at Springport (4-1).
Schoolcraft (5-0) at Lawton (5-0)
Lawton also got the highlighted spot from this region last week, against Gobles as both hoped for the opportunity to face Schoolcraft to decide the Southwestern Athletic Conference Central title. Lawton won 31-21 and gets first shot at the Eagles after falling to them 47-0 last season despite also entering that game 5-0. Schoolcraft quietly has built a 16-game regular-season winning streak and hasn’t allowed a SAC Central opponent to get within 21 points since joining the league a year ago.
Others that caught my eye: South Haven (3-2) at Edwardsburg (5-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-1) at St. Joseph (4-1), Portage Northern (3-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (4-1), Paw Paw (3-2) at Three Rivers (4-1).
Menominee (5-0) at Escanaba (5-0)
The best in the Great Northern U.P. Conference face off to likely decide the championship, although the winner will need another win next week to clinch at least a share of the title. It’s been a while since Escanaba was in this conversation; a win tonight would give the Eskymos their most in a season since 2011. Breaking a 17-game losing streak to Menominee and qualifying for the playoffs too would make a win tonight that much sweeter – the Maroons, in fact, haven’t lost a league game since 2012 and have won 36 straight regular-season games total.
Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (5-0) at Norway (5-0), Iron River West Iron County (3-2) at Calumet (4-1), Hurley, Wis. (5-1) at Hancock (3-2), Bark River-Harris (2-3) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-0) on Saturday.
Grandville (5-0) at Rockford (3-2)
It’s hard to give this game top billing over Reed City/Chippewa Hills (see below), but it’s explainable given the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red still has six of seven teams in contention for automatic playoff berths and these two arguably are the best. Grandville is enjoying its most successful run since 2006 – when it still lost to Rockford 28-0 to finish second in the league – and has outscored five opponents by a total of 231-31 after downing contenders Hudsonville 36-6 and East Kentwood 46-3 the last two weeks, respectively. Rockford has fought back gallantly from an 0-2 start that included a forfeit because of a team sickness Week 1. Extending a 21-season playoff streak – and more – looks a lot more possible now.
Others that caught my eye: Reed City (5-0) at Remus Chippewa Hills (5-0), Grand Rapids Christian (5-0) at East Grand Rapids (3-2), Cedar Springs (3-2) at Lowell (5-0), Whitehall (4-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (4-1).
New Haven Merritt (5-0) at Owendale-Gagetown (5-0)
These are the top teams in the Mid-Michigan 8-Man Football League, Merritt in the Inland division and Owendale-Gagetown in the Coastal. They are also two of the top teams statewide; Merritt has the fourth highest playoff-point average in 8-player, and Owendale-Gagetown’s is tied for eighth highest. All of this could change this weekend, however; the Bulldogs are 8-0 against Merritt since the Mustangs started their program five years ago. Owendale-Gagetown won last year’s meetings 72-42 and 54-30 – but Merritt, following two straight playoff appearances, is off to its best start ever.
Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (4-0) at Lawrence (5-0), Battle Creek St. Philip (4-1) at Webberville (4-1).
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PHOTO: Detroit Martin Luther King (yellow jerseys) and Detroit Cass Tech will renew their rivalry Saturday after last facing off in last season’s PSL Final at Ford Field. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
MHSAA.com's weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning 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. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)