By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Shared, guaranteed, locked up and clinched outright are frequent and favorite verbs and phrases that begin appearing in "Drive for Detroit" this time of year. Automatic and additional qualifiers are regulars right now as well.
A number of league championships were clinched, and many more teams claimed a first share of a title with the opportunity to win it outright over the next two weeks. And that playoff qualifier list is up to 110 teams in 11-player, with another 86 in with a win this week.
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Bay & Thumb
HEADLINER Beaverton 20, Clare 0 With their first win over Clare since 1990, the Beavers (7-0) are guaranteed a share of their second-straight league title and sit one more victory from claiming the Jack Pine Conference outright for the first time since 1989. Beaverton actually ended its JPC drought a year ago sharing the league title with Clare and Roscommon, but missed out on the outright championship thanks to a 21-2 loss to the Pioneers. Clare (6-1) hadn’t been shut out since a 2014 District Final. Click for more from the Midland Daily News and see highlights below from MI Sports Now.
— MISportsNow (@MISportsNow) October 12, 2019
Watch list Port Huron Northern 29, Port Huron 26 League title shares were earned in five of six divisions on the Macomb Area Conference, including the Blue where the Huskies (6-1) won their third straight Crosstown Showdown to take a one-game lead on Port Huron (5-2) and St. Clair Shores Lakeview with a league game to play.
Remember this one Almont 28, Richmond 10 The Raiders locked up a share of the Blue Water Area Conference title by handing a first loss to the rival Blue Devils (6-1). Almont (7-0) can close out a second-straight outright championship this week against Yale. Richmond may await again in the playoffs, however.
More shoutouts Marine City 35, St. Clair 10 The Mariners (7-0) locked up the MAC Silver and sent St. Clair (6-1) into a tie for second place with Marysville, Marine City’s opponent this week. Fenton 20, Flushing 7 After a season finishing third, Fenton clinched its eighth league title in nine seasons, winning outright the first-year Flint Metro League “Upper” division made up of the league’s larger schools.
HEADLINER Detroit Catholic Central 20, Orchard Lake St. Mary's 14 A Week 6 loss to Warren De La Salle Collegiate nearly knocked the Shamrocks (4-3) out of Detroit Catholic League Central contention. But they came back to hand Orchard Lake St. Mary’s its lone defeat and earn a share of the title – along with a likely rematch with the Eaglets in two weeks. DCC scored the game’s final 20 points and held St. Mary’s (6-1) scoreless during the second half. Click for more from the Oakland Press.
Watch list Detroit Mumford 18, Detroit Renaissance 14 Three of four teams in the Detroit Public School League Division 1 shared the championship, and Mumford made that happen in this game after previously falling to Cass Tech, which had lost to Renaissance. Mumford and Renaissance could see each other again in two weeks in the PSL 1/2 championship game.
Remember this one Dearborn Fordson 33, Livonia Franklin 21 After losing its claim to first place last week against Belleville, Fordson (6-1) kept its hopes alive for a shared Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title by dealing the Patriots (6-1) their first defeat. Franklin faces Belleville this week with a chance to create a three-way shared championship between those two and the Tractors.
More shoutouts Walled Lake Western 40, South Lyon 10 The Warriors (6-1) faces rivals Northern and Central down the stretch, but moved into first place alone in the Lakes Valley Conference with South Lyon (6-1) hoping for help to get back into the title mix. Detroit U-D Jesuit 26, Detroit Loyola 8 The Cubs (5-2) finished an outright Catholic League AA championship run for their first league title since 1989, while sending Loyola to 3-4 and needing to win out for a chance at making the playoffs as an additional qualifier. Warren De La Salle Collegiate 22, Davison 0 For the second straight season the Pilots (4-3) stunned an undefeated Davison team, this time to also keep their playoff hopes alive.
HEADLINER Breckenridge 32, Carson City-Crystal 0 Life for Breckenridge football changed drastically when the program moved to the Mid-State Activities Conference in 2016 (after going 0-9 overall in 2015). This win gave the Huskies their fourth straight outright league title and ran their league winning streak to 23. Breckenridge (6-1) outscored its four MSAC opponents this season by a combined 161-8 – and that’s with the Eagles (4-3) and Merrill both still pursuing automatic playoff bids. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Watch list Beal City 14, Roscommon 12 The Aggies (7-0) won’t celebrate too much with surging McBain coming up this week, but they earned a share of the Highland Conference championship by edging Roscommon (1-6) in their closest game to date this fall.
Remember this one Mason 20, Williamston 9 The Bulldogs (7-0) have continued to march, now to their first league title since 2011, and with an opportunity to make another large statement this week against also-unbeaten Portland. Wiliamston (4-3) is another team now facing a must-win situation – but has undefeated Olivet and Pewamo-Westphalia left.
More shoutouts Howell 38, Canton 31 The Highlanders (4-3) still control their playoffs hopes, with rival Brighton up next, while Canton (3-4) will try to make the postseason for the 12th straight year but this time as an additional qualifier. Olivet 42, Lake Odessa Lakewood 0 The Eagles (7-0) also not only swept their league but dominated from start to finish, outscoring four Greater Lansing Activities Conference opponents by a combined 171-12.
Northern Lower Peninsula
HEADLINER Johannesburg-Lewiston 37, Harbor Springs 18 The Cardinals (7-0) guaranteed extending their reign in the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy, earning a share of the division title with a chance to win outright in two weeks against winless Indian River Inland Lakes. Johannesburg-Lewiston also finished a game ahead of Harbor Springs (5-2) a year ago after winning their meeting 18-15, but left no doubt this time with running back Logan Finnerty leading the way in a big way. Click for more from the Gaylord Herald Times.
Watch list Kingsley 53, Maple City Glen Lake 14 The Stags (7-0) took a week off from their pursuit of the NMFL Legends title to take on Leaders co-leader Glen Lake (6-1) – and should have even more statewide eyes turning their way after a one-sided result.
Remember this one Traverse City Central 43, Alpena 7 The Trojans (6-1) are back on top in the Big North Conference after back-to-back second-place finishes, earning a share of the title while putting Alpena (3-4) in a must-win situation as it looks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
More shoutouts Charlevoix 22, Mancelona 20 The Rayders (5-2) did their part to set up this week’s Leaders-deciding matchup with Glen Lake, avenging last season’s loss to the Ironmen (4-3). Ogemaw Heights 32, Tawas 8 The Falcons (5-2) pulled another win closer to what would be their first playoff berth since 2013, while no doubt hampering a potential postseason return for Tawas (3-4).
Southeast & Border
HEADLINER Addison 20, Grass Lake 16 Reigning Cascades Conference champion Grass Lake (6-1) rolled through most of its first six games but was brought nearly to a stop by Addison, which grabbed a share of the league title by shutting down a Warriors offense that was averaging 47 points per game. The Panthers (6-1) have bounced back well since losing opening night to Britton Deerfield and can finish an outright championship run this week against Napoleon. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot and see highlights below from JTV.
Grass Lake vs. Addison High School Football Video Highlights https://t.co/dPvlCVDgi1
— JTV Sports (@JTV_Sports) October 14, 2019
Watch list Clinton 44, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 20 Five of seven teams in the Tri-County Conference are still up for automatic playoff bids, and sitting on top is Clinton (7-0) with a share of the league title after beating three-time reigning TCC champion Whiteford (4-3).
Remember this one Reading 50, Jonesville 0 This shouldn’t put a damper on a great comeback season by Jonesville (5-2), but the Rangers (6-1) remain the force of the Big 8 Conference having clinched a share of a third-straight title and increased their overall league scoring margin this fall to 314-32.
More shoutouts Milan 22, New Boston Huron 21 The Big Reds (7-0) earned a share of the Huron League title with their closest win this fall, but face another tough opponent in Carleton Airport this week as they look to lock up the championship outright. Britton Deerfield 30, Royal Oak Shrine Catholic 14 The Patriots (4-3) kept their playoff hopes alive with a bit of a stunner, handing Catholic League Intersectional 2 co-leader Shrine (6-1) its lone defeat.
HEADLINER Battle Creek Lakeview 14, St. Joseph 0 Both of these teams could end the regular season as outright champions of their respective Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference divisions. And that would make this win even sweeter for East leader Lakeview, which posted its first shutout of the fall by shutting down an offense that was averaging 38 points per game. The Spartans (7-0) already own a share of their league title and face Kalamazoo Loy Norrix this week in hopes of wrapping things up outright. St. Joseph (6-1) will try to bounce back against DeWitt this week before meeting Portage Northern for the SMAC West title in Week 9. See below for highlights from FOX 17.
Battle Creek Lakeview wins the battle of unbeaten teams tonight over St. Joseph, 14-0. https://t.co/hluTlsvpoi
— FOX 17 Blitz (@FOX17Blitz) October 12, 2019
Watch list Kalamazoo United 14, Delton Kellogg 6 The scene might’ve been a little bleak after Kalamazoo United (4-3) opened this season with three defeats after last year’s 11-1 run. But the Titans have set themselves up as well as possible for a memorable finish, downing Delton (4-3) and with Constantine and Schoolcraft to finish as league title and playoff hopes hang in the balance.
Remember this one Coldwater 14, Parma Western 13 (OT) Jackson Lumen Christi has all but locked up their Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title, but these former contenders may have provided a preview of a playoff matchup to come.
More shoutouts Paw Paw 35, Vicksburg 6 Both have one more game to play, but it appears the Wolverine Conference championship is almost sure to be decided between undefeated Paw Paw and Edwardsburg, as both have now gotten past a major obstacle in Vicksburg (5-2). Niles Brandywine 44, Gobles 0 The Bobcats (7-0) are two wins against teams both 2-5 from a first perfect regular season since 1995 and have outscored their first seven opponents by a combined 344-33.
HEADLINER Marquette 28, Menominee 21 The Redmen (3-4) find themselves in a rare situation. They must win out to have a chance to make the playoffs as an additional qualifier. But with this victory over Menominee, they continue to sit alone atop the Great Northern Conference standings having beaten arguably the two other best teams in the league (Kingsford, like Menominee, is 4-3 and faces Marquette in Week 9). Click for more from FOX Sports Marquette and see a highlight below from the Marquette School Broadcast Program.
MSHS Senior Robert Apple returns a fumble for TD to tie the Marquette vs. Menominee football game 21-21 in the 4th Qtr. Marquette went on to win 28-21, in an upset. #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/2YFqWKgNDj
— REDspn (@MSHSREDspn) October 12, 2019
Watch list Ishpeming 28, West Iron County 0 The Hematites (5-2) moved into first place alone in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron with not only their third win over West Iron over the last two seasons, but also their third shutout of the Wykons (5-2) during that time.
Remember this one Ishpeming Westwood 30, L'Anse 6 With Week 9 opponent Negaunee also surging, getting past L’Anse was key as Westwood (5-2) works for a third consecutive playoff appearance. The Purple Hornets (4-3) find themselves in the opposite spot, needing to win out against Iron Mountain and Calumet to guarantee returning to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
More shoutouts Iron Mountain 42, Hancock 6 The Mountaineers (7-0) moved to within a win of clinching a share of the West PAC Copper title, all the more impressive considering six of eight teams in the league are still in the hunt for automatic playoff berths – Hancock (4-3) among them. St. Ignace 22, Indian River Inland Lakes 14 The Saints (4-3) are seeking their first playoff appearance since 2016 and look good to qualify automatically with their final two opponents a combined 2-12.
HEADLINER Rockford 17, Hudsonville 7 Just as there’s something impressive in winning every game by a large margin, there can be something impressive in stringing together close victories – and the Rams (7-0) are shining at the latter. This was Rockford’s fourth win by 10 points or fewer while taking on a schedule that could end up including champions from three other leagues in addition to the other contenders in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red. Rockford can clinch a share of its league’s title this week against Grandville, which is tied with Hudsonville (5-2) for second place. See below for highlights from State Champs Sports Network.
— STATE CHAMPS! (@statechampsnet) October 12, 2019
Watch list Byron Center 49, Zeeland East 7 The road doesn’t get easier this week with Hudsonville Unity Christian up next, but Byron Center is a step ahead after taking over the top spot alone in the O-K Green by handing this first league loss to the Chix (5-2).
Remember this one Reed City 34, Central Montcalm 6 The Coyotes got off to a rare start with their first league loss Week 3 since 2014. But they’ve stormed back into a tie for first in the Central State Activities Association Gold, this weekend handing co-leader Central Montcalm (6-1) its only defeat with one league game left for both teams.
More shoutouts Cedar Springs 44, Lowell 20 The Red Hawks (6-1) moved within a win of clinching the O-K White title by sending Lowell (4-3) out of first and into a tie for second place. Grand Rapids Christian 27, Grand Rapids South Christian 20 The Eagles (5-2) will face East Grand Rapids this week with a share of the O-K Gold title on the line after avenging last season’s lone league loss, to South Christian (3-4).
HEADLINER Burr Oak 33, Tekonsha 18 The Bobcats (5-2) gave up their first points of this season in Southern Central Athletic Association B play – but also clinched the league title outright and guaranteed their winningest season since at least 2013. Burr Oak had lost six straight to Tekonsha (3-4), including 42-6 a year ago. Click for more from the Coldwater Daily Reporter.
Watch list Mesick 42, Brethren 12 The Bulldogs (6-1) claimed a share of the West Michigan D League championship with this victory over reigning champion Brethren (4-3), and with only winless Bear Lake left on the conference schedule.
Remember this one Hillman 38, Pellston 14 The Tigers (6-1) moved into first place alone in the Midwest Central Michigan Conference East by icing a Pellston offense that averaged 49 points per game during the team’s 6-0 start this fall.
More shoutouts Colon 55, Camden-Frontier 0 The Magi (7-0) made it 2-for-2 on league title runs since moving to 8-player, clinching the SCAA A with their ninth straight league win over two seasons. Pickford 46, Gaylord St. Mary 23 This game came together after both teams had an original opponent forfeit, and reigning Division 1 runner-up Pickford (6-1) appears revved for another long tournament run after slowing down a St. Mary offense that was averaging 59.9 points per game.
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PHOTO: A Port Huron Northern defender, right, pursues the ball carrier during a 29-26 win over rival Port Huron on Friday. (Photo by Delta Imaging.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As 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.
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.
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.”
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 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.)