By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Just as things are finishing up this MHSAA football regular season, plenty is getting started.
The 11-player playoff field is nearly half full with two weeks to play – 126 teams have earned automatic berths, with 66 more one win from joining them.
Two leagues – the Kensington Lakes Activities Association and Detroit Public School League – finished their league schedules over the weekend but will play one and two weeks of playoff games, respectively, to finish the regular season. The Detroit Catholic League will finish its league schedule this week in advance of its Prep Bowl games during Week 9.
And there's plenty more to come. Read on for some of the results that helped further shape the scene all over the state last week.
The deciding game in the Capital Area Activities Conference White didn’t end up much of one after halftime. Cougars junior quarterback Tony Poljan averaged 20 yards a completion in throwing for 404 total with four touchdowns, and he also ran for a score as Lansing Catholic (7-0) broke away with a 22-0 third-quarter run. Williamston is 6-1 and has a slim chance of seeing the Cougars again in the playoffs if both fall into Division 4. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
Hartland 29, Grand Blanc 26 – The Eagles (6-1) battled back from a loss in the league opener to take a share of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West title from co-champ Grand Blanc (5-2) in the final league game of the season.
Okemos 27, Holt 20 – The Chieftains (4-3) reached four wins for the first time since 2011 and should make the playoffs for the first time since that season with their final two opponents owning a combined two wins this fall.
Lansing Everett 38, Grand Ledge 24 – The Vikings (5-2) set themselves up to face Sexton this week with a chance to share the CAAC Blue title, while knocking third-place Grand Ledge (4-3) out of contention.
Charlotte 39, Battle Creek Pennfield 36 – A 39-yard field goal by Sy Barnett with 20 seconds to play kept Charlotte (4-3) in the hunt for a third straight playoff berth.
Walled Lake Western 31, Walled Lake Central 14
Western, Central and Waterford Mott all split the KLAA North championship thanks to the Warriors (6-1), who earned a fourth-straight win over their local rivals. Western scored 21 unanswered second-half points to earn the opportunity to play Hartland this week for the Lakes Conference championship. Click for more from the Oakland Press.
Berkley 32, Birmingham Groves 29 – Berkley dealt Groves (6-1) a painful blow heading into Groves' game this week against Oakland Activities Association Blue leader Farmington that could decide the league title; Berkley (6-1) will now root for Groves to win and make all three teams co-champions.
Canton 30, Plymouth 20 – Canton (6-1) outlasted the rival Wildcats (5-2) to claim the KLAA South championship for the second straight season.
Hudson 12, Ida 7 – The Tigers (6-1) avenged last season’s loss to Ida (6-1) that led to a shared Lenawee County Athletic Association title to keep pace with co-leader Hillsdale, Hudson’s Week 9 opponent.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 26, Lutheran Westland 6 – The Knights (6-1) finished off their fourth Michigan Independent Athletic Conference title in five seasons by defeating second-place Westland (5-2).
Bay and Thumb
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 32, Bad Axe 30
The Lakers (7-0) needed a second-half comeback to keep their best start since 2002 alive, but also came away with a share of the Greater Thumb Conference West championship and can clinch it outright next week against 1-6 Reese. The Lakers, league runners-up to Reese last season, rode more than 300 yards rushing by Dustin Kady to edge Bad Axe (4-3) – which has already guaranteed its best finish since 2001. Click for more from The Saginaw News.
Goodrich 37, Lake Fenton 36 – After claiming a nail-biter over Lake Fenton (1-6), second-place Goodrich (6-1) will be rooting for Montrose this week as the Rams face Genesee Area Conference Red leader Flint Beecher in the final game on the league schedule.
Harrison 57, Beaverton 28 – Harrison (7-0) avoided a potential Jack Pine Conference spoiler in Beaverton (4-3) and now will face reigning champion Clare for the league championship.
Bay City John Glenn 33, Saginaw Nouvel 6 – The Bobcats (5-2) have more wins this fall than in 2012 and 2013 combined and need one more to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011; Nouvel has a slim postseason hope at 3-4 but will need to win out including a big win over Freeland in Week 9.
St. Clair 25, Warren Woods Tower 21 – St. Clair (6-1) knocked Woods Tower (6-1) out of a tie for first place with Marine City in the Macomb Area Conference Gold, but will root for the Titans to beat the Mariners this week and make all three teams co-champions.
Lower Up North
Cadillac 17, Traverse City West 12
The Big North Conference was the source of most of the north's significant action this weekend, although by Sunday leader Cadillac remained atop the league standings and with a share of the championship – after its second straight win by a less than a touchdown. Cadillac (7-0) got up 17-0 in the third quarter before West (3-4) – playing to remain in the playoff hunt – took advantage of Vikings turnovers to pull within striking distance. Click for more from the Cadillac News.
Traverse City Central 14, Alpena 7 (OT) – Central (5-2) kept its shared Big North Conference title hopes alive by a sliver, edging Alpena (3-4) to remain one win back with Cadillac coming up in Week 9.
Gaylord 49, Petoskey 42 – The Blue Devils (5-2) scored twice during the fourth quarter to ruin Petoskey’s chances at remaining in Big North contention while inching closer to a first playoff berth since 2007; Petoskey (5-2) can earn a return to the postseason for the first time since 2011 against Alpena this week.
Manton 30, Leroy Pine River 27 – The Rangers may be out of the Highland Conference title chase, but they secured their best record since 2005 and need one more win for a first playoff berth since 1994; Pine River (4-3) has its best record since 2007 and by winning out can make the postseason for the first time since 2005.
Elk Rapids 70, Grayling 26 – The Elks (4-3) remain alive for the playoffs although they’ll next face undefeated Boyne City; at 3-4, Grayling will need help to grab an at-large bid.
Cedar Springs 14, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern 8
Most of Cedar Springs’ last 15 seasons have ended in the 4 to 6-win range with a hint of league title contention on occasion. But this one is shaking up as special for the Red Hawks (6-1), who sit alone atop the Ottawa-Kent Conference Bronze after sending Forest Hills Northern (6-1) into a second place tie with Grand Rapids Northview. Cedar Springs can clinch a share of the league title next week against Greenville (4-3) or in Week 9 vs. Forest Hills Eastern (3-4). Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
East Kentwood 35, Hudsonville 28 – The Falcons (6-1) scored with less than two minutes to play to remain a game behind Rockford in the O-K Red and drop Hudsonville (4-3) out of title contention.
Rockford 27, Grand Haven 21 (OT) – The Rams (6-1) needed overtime against a Grand Haven (3-4) team trying to stay alive for the postseason and now playing for an at-large bid.
Grandville 54, Holland West Ottawa 14 – Grandville (3-4) kept a small playoff hope alive by winning big over former O-K Red co-leader West Ottawa (5-2).
Muskegon Oakridge 50, Whitehall 22 – Oakridge (6-1) regained a share of the West Michigan Conference title and can clinch outright this week; Whitehall (6-1), now tied for second with Ravenna, needs Mason County Central to come through with an upset.
Marquette 35, Constantine 10
Even at 5-1 entering last weekend, Marquette’s chances of extending its playoff streak to five seasons looked a tad shaky – Constantine was 6-0, and together the Redmen’s final three regular-season opponents were 16-3. But Marquette held Constantine to its fewest points this season (by 21) and tied its biggest offensive output to remain undefeated since falling to Traverse City Central on opening night. Click for more from the Marquette Mining Journal.
Ishpeming 28, Negaunee 0 – The Hematites earned a share of their second straight Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference title and haven’t given up a point since Week 4; Negaunee (4-3) faces two more tough opponents as it works to earn a playoff berth.
Munising 42, Bark River-Harris 0 – The Mustangs (6-1) secured a share of the Mid-Eastern Football Conference title by dominating second-place Bark River-Harris (5-2); Munising also hasn’t given up a point since Week 4.
Kingsford 10, Iron Mountain 0 – Kingsford’s at-large playoff bid hope got stronger as the Flivvers (3-4) shut out the Mountaineers (4-3), who are second in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Powers North Central 48, Felch North Dickinson 44 – North Central’s playoff hopes are slim at 2-4, but beating North Dickinson (3-4) for the first time since 1993 is a nice consolation.
Southwest and Border
Plainwell 34, Three Rivers 28
It seems like most of Plainwell’s games this season have been among the best of the southwest – and the Trojans (6-1) are now one more win from locking up a share of the Wolverine B Conference East title. They ran Three Rivers (4-3) into second place on the legs of Jacob Geter, who rushed for 316 yards on 50 carries. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Saugatuck 26, Fennville 20 – The Indians (5-2) kept pace atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference North with Week 9 opponent Gobles while dropping Fennville (4-3) into third.
Bridgman 62, Centreville 7 – The Bees (5-1) are inaugural champs of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Blue and have scored at least 40 points in all but one victory.
Niles 27, St. Joseph 21 – The Vikings (5-2) locked up their best record since 2003 by beating St. Joseph (4-3) for the first time since 2005.
Union City 41, Reading 34 – The Chargers (7-0) guaranteed themselves a share of the Big 8 Conference title with second-place Homer the only league opponent remaining; Reading (3-4) will hope to win out and earn an at-large playoff bid after losing its second straight game.
Kingston 64, Owendale-Gagetown 34
Kingston quarterback – and MHSAA Student Advisory Council senior – Aaron Van Horn carried his team back into the playoff hunt with three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs as the Cardinals handed Owendale-Gagetown (6-1) its first loss. Kingston is 4-3 and faces opponents who are a combined 4-10 to finish the regular season. Click for more from The Saginaw News.
Big Rapids Crossroads 21, Akron-Fairgrove 20 – The Cougars have won three straight since opening 0-4 against four teams still undefeated; they look good to make the playoffs with two winnable games left.
Bellaire 38, Engadine 6 – The Eagles (7-0) may not get mentioned as much as other favorites Cedarville and Rapid River, but are lined up perfectly to make a run at the Bridge Football Alliance title with those two up next over the next two weeks; Engadine (3-4) is hanging on to the 16th spot in the playoff field.
PHOTO: Lansing Catholic's Zac Baker was among recipients of quarterback Tony Poljan's 20 completions Friday as the Cougars defeated Williamston. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.)
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.)