By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Starting tonight, the playoff field begins to take shape.
Last week, AuGres-Sims – 5-0 but playing only eight games this regular season – clinched the first playoff berth of the 2017 MHSAA Playoffs. This weekend, 63 more teams can qualify for the 11-player tournament.
Below are the games of most intrigue in every region of the state, not counting 21 games played Thursday night. Go to the MHSAA Score Center to find those and for scores as they come in tonight and Saturday (and for links to each team’s schedule, league standings and playoff points average). Check out MHSAA.tv for six live broadcasts – click here for the schedule.
Bay & Thumb
Almont (4-1) at Richmond (5-0), Friday
The Blue Water Area Conference appears to be a two-team race with Richmond and Algonac tied at 4-0 in league play. But Almont can make it a three-team race again by avenging last season’s 34-21 loss to the Blue Devils. Almont already fell to Algonac in Week 2 28-7; Richmond gets its turn against the Muskrats in Week 8.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Corunna (3-2) at Goodrich (4-1), St. Clair Shores Lake Shore (3-2) at Port Huron Northern (4-1), Unionville-Sebewaing (3-2) at Reese (3-2), SATURDAY Bay City Central (3-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-2).
Belleville (5-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-0), Friday
Not only are these teams tied for first in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red, but Belleville has the second-highest playoff points average among teams projected to be in Division 1, and Fordson’s average is tied for fourth-highest. Fordson won the WWAC Blue last season and has given up no more than 14 points in a game this fall. The Tigers came into the Red from the Blue with Fordson after finishing second to the Tractors in that league last season – the result of a 34-25 loss in their meeting. The Tigers are riding a streak of three straight shutouts and after giving up only six points in Week 2.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Martin Luther King (4-1) at Detroit Denby (4-0), Canton (4-1) at Livonia Stevenson (4-1), Southfield Arts & Technology (3-2) at Rochester Adams (4-1), Dearborn Divine Child (5-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (4-1)
Freeland (4-1) at Alma (5-0), Friday
The Falcons’ 24-game regular-season win streak came to an end in Week 4, and Alma will now try to end Freeland’s Tri-Valley Conference Central title streak at two in a row after finishing second in the league last year because of a 12-6 loss when these teams last met. The Panthers have the highest playoff point average among teams projected to play in Division 4 and sit tied for first in the Central with Saginaw Swan Valley, which downed Freeland two weeks ago.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (5-0) at Belding (4-1), Laingsburg (4-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1), Lansing Sexton (3-2) at Okemos (4-1), Olivet (5-0) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Frankfort (4-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (2-2), Friday
After finishing Division 6 runner-up last season, Glen Lake loaded up the schedule for this fall – and its losses are to undefeated Traverse City St. Francis and Watervliet. The Lakers came back from an open Week 4 to shut out Charlevoix last week, and they remain the biggest obstacle to Frankfort winning a third straight Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders division title. The Panthers claimed last year’s championship thanks to a 26-21 win over Glen Lake. They also have only eight regular-season games, with an open date in Week 9, and this looks like the toughest test left before a potentially promising playoff run.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lincoln Alcona (4-1) at Oscoda (4-1), Benton Harbor (2-3) at Traverse City West (5-0), AuGres-Sims (5-0) at Whittemore-Prescott (2-3), SATURDAY Grayling (4-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (5-0).
Southeast & Border
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (5-0) at Morenci (3-2), Friday
Whiteford hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2015 and has yet to be challenged since finishing runner-up in Division 8 last season. The Bobcats have outscored their opponents 281-52 and handed Petersburg-Summerfield its only loss in their Tri-County Conference opener. Morenci joins Whiteford as undefeated in the league and with a deceptive overall record – those losses came the first two weeks by a combined three points against Pittsford and Hudson teams that together are 9-1. The Bulldogs have lost twice to Whiteford the last two seasons and beat Whiteford twice in 2014, meaning this could be only chapter one of two again for these rivals.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Climax-Scotts (4-1) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-1), Tecumseh (3-2) at Pinckney (4-1), Clinton (3-2) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-1), Adrian (3-2) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (3-2).
Plainwell (4-1) at Edwardsburg (5-0), Friday
As noted earlier this season, Edwardsburg hasn’t lost a Wolverine B Conference game since 2012 (and now has 29 straight regular-season wins overall). But three teams have only one loss in the league this fall and are ready to pounce – and the Eddies face those three teams over the next three weeks. First up is Plainwell, followed by Three Rivers and then Vicksburg in Week 8. The Trojans have beaten Vicksburg and lost to Three Rivers so far, but given up only 33 points since falling to the Wildcats on opening night. Edwardsburg has given up only 34 points this season – and scored 290.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Parchment (4-1) at Berrien Springs (4-1), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-1) at Coldwater (4-1), Schoolcraft (4-1) at Constantine (3-2), Paw Paw (3-2) at Vicksburg (4-1).
Escanaba (4-1) at Menominee (4-1), Friday
This will be the 121st meeting between the Great Northern Conference rivals, and Menominee holds a 66-51-3 edge in the longtime rivalry. The Maroons swung the advantage their way with 18 straight wins over the Eskymos, including by 28-14 last year in the game that ended up deciding the league title. This will be Menominee’s first game against an in-state opponent after five versus Wisconsin teams to start the fall. It may be the Maroons’ toughest remaining before the playoffs; Escanaba’s lone loss was to much-improved Petoskey in Week 2.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hurley, Wis. (4-2) at Hancock (4-1), Calumet (3-2) at Iron River West Iron County (4-1), Negaunee (2-3) at Ishpeming (2-3), Norway (5-0) at Munising (3-2).
East Grand Rapids (5-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (5-0), Friday
The west side of the Lower Peninsula is loaded with outstanding matchups this weekend. But this one rises to the top as a rematch of last season’s decider in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold in addition to featuring one of the best rivalries in the Grand Rapids area. Christian and EGR rank third and fourth, respectively, in playoff point average among teams projected to play in Division 3. Christian also started 5-0 last year before falling to the Pioneers 28-7 in Week 6, and this time East Grand Rapids has been more dominating with two straight shutouts while giving up only 42 points total so far.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Wyoming Kelloggsville (5-0) at Wyoming Godwin Heights (5-0), Remus Chippewa Hills (4-1) at Reed City (4-1), Rockford (3-2) at Grandville (4-1), Morley Stanwood (5-0) at Kent City (5-0).
Deckerville (5-0) at Morrice (5-0), Friday
From a numbers standpoint, these North Central Thumb League Stars contenders are nearly even; both are 4-0 in league play, Deckerville outscoring its opponents 214-40 this season and Morrice by a 223-46 margin. But the Eagles are the team to beat in at least the Lower Peninsula until proven otherwise, with 16 straight regular-season wins and after finishing 8-player runner-up a year ago – when they also beat Morrice 46-6. That said, the Orioles handed Flint International Academy its first loss last week and should make this game much more even as well.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Camden-Frontier (5-0) at Bellevue (5-0), Flint International Academy (4-1) at Lawrence (3-2), Ontonagon (3-1) at Stephenson (5-0), SATURDAY Suttons Bay (3-2) at Central Lake (5-0).
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PHOTO: Alma defenders wrap up a Birch Run ball carrier during a 21-10 win on opening night. (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.)