By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The MHSAA football playoff picture should become much clearer by the time the cooled-off dirt and grass settle at the end of this weekend.
So far, 115 teams have earned automatic berths for the 256-team 11-player postseason field. A total of 91 teams can earn automatic berths this weekend, although, in at least a few cases, hopefuls will face off.
We look at some of those matchups and many more below in the Week 8 edition of Drive for Detroit, powered by MI Student Aid. Remember to follow the MHSAA Score Center for up-to-date scores, standings and playoff point rankings as results come in. All games below are Friday unless noted.
Bay & Thumb
Richmond (6-1) at Algonac (7-0)
The only loss between these two this season was by Richmond on opening night to Marysville, which can win the Macomb Area Conference Gold title outright tonight. And the only regular-season loss Algonac suffered during its miraculous turnaround last fall from 1-8 in 2014 to 10-2 was 15-14 to Richmond in the final game of the Blue Water Area Conference schedule. That defeat created a shared title between the two; the winner of this rematch will take the BWAC championship outright.
Others that caught my eye: Ubly (7-0) at Harbor Beach (4-3), Midland (4-3) at Lapeer (5-2), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-2) at Midland Dow (7-0), Pinconning (5-2) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (5-2).
Warren Mott (6-1) at Utica Eisenhower (7-0)
Mott’s unexpected 31-8 loss to Romeo last week took a bit of wind out of this anticipated matchup – but it could return if Mott does win to force a shared Macomb Area Conference Red championship with Eisenhower and possibly Romeo as well. Mott has lost all five meetings with Eisenhower over the last six seasons, but knows winning well with six straight playoff berths. The Eagles, meanwhile, clinched their 17th playoff berth over the last 18 seasons with their best start since 2004 – and haven’t allowed more than 14 points in a game despite playing in one of the most respected leagues in the state.
Others that caught my eye: Berkley (5-2) at Bloomfield Hills (7-0), Dearborn (6-1) at Dearborn Fordson (7-0), Clarkston (5-2) at Lake Orion (5-2), Harper Woods Chandler Park (5-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (6-1).
Brighton (6-1) at Howell (5-2)
This rivalry game between old Kensington Valley Conference neighbors hasn’t carried much in league title significance during their near-decade in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West – but tonight’s game can either cement an outright championship for Brighton or give Howell a share. The Highlanders own a 5-3 advantage in those KLAA West meetings and also beat Brighton in a 2010 rematch in the playoffs, but the Bulldogs have navigated the league a little more carefully this fall with a four-point win over Pinckney (which beat Howell) and a one-pointer over Grand Blanc.
Others that caught my eye: Wyoming Kelloggsville (6-1) at Belding (5-2), Menominee (7-0) at DeWitt (6-1), Grand Ledge (6-1) at East Lansing (5-2), Pewamo-Westphalia (7-0) at Fowler (5-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Frankfort (7-0) at Charlevoix (6-1)
Frankfort has two league games remaining but can clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders championship with a win tonight. Charlevoix and Maple City Glen Lake both have a loss in the league, so the Rayders could really shake things up. Their only loss this season was to Glen Lake, by 42, in Week 5; Frankfort beat Glen Lake by five a week later. Charlevoix and Frankfort both were undefeated in the league when they played each other last year, and the Panthers won 20-0 to claim the title outright.
Others that caught my eye: Cadillac (5-2) at Manistee (4-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-4) at East Jordan (4-3), Hillman (4-3) at Whittemore-Prescott (4-3), Kalkaska (6-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (7-0) on Saturday.
Southeast & Border
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0) at Sand Creek (7-0)
Six of eight teams in the Tri-County Conference are at least 4-3 and can still clinch automatic playoff berths, but the title race has finally been whittled down to Whiteford and Sand Creek. Whiteford has had its share of success over the years and this season qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight, but has never gone undefeated in the league dating back to its first year, 1975. Sand Creek had a perfect TCC run in 2011 but then won a combined eight games over the next four seasons – a total they can equal just this season with another win tonight.
Others that caught my eye: Hillsdale (4-3) at Ida (6-1), Battle Creek Pennfield (4-3) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-2), Adrian Madison (4-3) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-3), Dundee (3-4) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (5-2).
Three Rivers (6-1) at Edwardsburg (7-0)
It seems like the Eddies have had only one or two games of consequence during a four-year undefeated run in the Wolverine Conference, but this will be one of those games. This meeting could look a lot more like Edwardsburg’s 42-40 win in 2014 than its 65-21 defeat of Three Rivers a year ago. The Eddies can clinch a share of the league title with a 27th straight conference win. But a Three Rivers victory could create a three-team tie for first (along with Vicksburg) with a week to play. The Wildcats’ lone loss was the Plainwell on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Marshall (4-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-1), Berrien Springs (4-2) at Buchanan (4-2), Kalamazoo Central (4-3) at Portage Central (6-1), Springport (6-1) at Quincy (5-2).
Felch North Dickinson (5-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-0), Saturday
North Dickinson is reportedly taking its long history of success to 8-player next season, and there would be little better way to finish in 11 than by knocking newcomer Lake Linden-Hubbell off its roost atop the Mid-Eastern Conference. The Lakes are working toward a second straight perfect regular season and haven’t allowed an opponent closer than 14 points since opening night. But the Nordics, on the verge of securing their first winning season and playoff berth in three years, could move into first place in the league with a victory and set up an opportunity to share the title for the first time since winning five straight from 2009-13.
Others that caught my eye: Norway (6-1) at Gwinn (5-2), Hancock (4-3) at Iron River West Iron County (4-3), St. Ignace (6-1) at Ishpeming (3-3), Gladstone (3-4) at Kingford (5-2)
Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0)
This rivalry will play out for the first time since 2009 because these teams are now together in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue – and tied for first with two league games to play. The winner claims a share of the league title, which would be a repeat performance for both – West Catholic won the last two Blue titles, and GRCC came over after winning the O-K Green last fall. The Falcons have given up a total of 14 points over four league games, but haven’t yet faced third-place Allendale, which put 20 on a GRCC defense that otherwise hasn’t given up more than 15 in a game.
Others that caught my eye: Rockford (5-2) at East Kentwood (4-3), Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-1) at Hamilton (5-2), Muskegon Mona Shores (4-3) at Muskegon (6-1), Byron Center (6-1) at Zeeland East (6-1).
Fife Lake Forest Area (6-1) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (7-0)
The inaugural Midwest Central 8-Player Conference championship comes down to this game as both teams are undefeated in league play heading into the finale. Tri-unity has been stellar giving up only 36 points in winning more games this fall than the last four seasons combined. Fife Lake Forest Area has a similar story with six wins for the first time since 2008. The Warriors made the move to 8-player this fall after winning 11 games total over the last five seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Morrice (4-3) at Webberville (5-2), Pickford (6-1) at Cedarville (6-1).
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau 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, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS: A Clarkston ball carrier prepares to collide with a Lapeer defender during their Week 1 game this season at the University of Michigan. (Click to see 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.)