By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This is the way it’s supposed to finish.
With the random ordering or yearly rotating that spits out most league schedules, any week of the regular season might feature the game that ends up deciding those conferences’ championships. But this fall, we’re lucky.
At least 19 games among those listed in our Week 8 preview below have the opportunity to affect league title. Three of our nine featured matchups pit teams that haven’t lost yet with only two games left until the playoffs begin. And undefeated Pickford kicked off the week Thursday with a 47-8 title share-clinching win over Cedarville in the 8-player Bridge Alliance League.
Continue to follow all the results, league standings and real-time updating of playoff point averages with our MHSAA Score Center, and check out MHSAA.tv for nine live broadcasts tonight – click here for the schedule. Drive for Detroit is powered by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
Midland Dow (6-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-2), Friday
At the end of the day, figuratively speaking, the one-time favorites in the Saginaw Valley League Red are playing for the championship after all and for the second straight season. Carman-Ainsworth opened this fall 1-2, but both losses were nonleague – and it will finish the weekend with a share of the title regardless of this outcome. But Dow, which dropped its league opener to Bay City Central by a point on Sept. 1, can also gain a share by avenging last year’s seven-point loss to the Cavaliers that also decided the Red winner.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Algonac (6-1) at Richmond (7-0), Lapeer (5-2) at Midland (6-1), Alma (6-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (6-1), Warren Woods Tower (6-1) at Port Huron Northern (6-1).
Detroit Cass Tech (5-1) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (6-1) at Detroit Northwestern, Saturday
Although this is just a semifinal in the Detroit Public School League tournament, these two may be the best of the field – although undefeated East English and Detroit Renaissance, the other semifinalists, surely will put up an argument over the next two weeks as well. After two years in the same PSL division, King and Cass Tech were split up again this fall, and both won division titles and remain MHSAA title contenders as well after Cass Tech won Division 1 last year and King Division 2 in 2016 and 2015. Their only losses this season are to out-of-state teams, and together they’ve given up only 60 points over a combined nine games of league play.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Catholic Central (5-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (5-2), Macomb Dakota (5-2) at Romeo (5-2), Redford Thurston (5-2) at Dearborn Fordson (6-1), SATURDAY Detroit Mumford (5-2) vs. Detroit Central (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern.
Beaverton (7-0) at Harrison (5-2), Friday
Beaverton must dominate the best of Clare County over the next two weeks to do something no Beavers team has done this century. They sit tied with Week 9 opponent Clare for first place in the Jack Pine Conference while pursuing a first league title since 1989. Next week’s tilt with the Pioneers could be one of the state’s most intriguing regular-season finales – but will fall back to just one of many important games if Beaverton can’t get past third-place Harrison first. The Hornets’ only league loss was to Clare in Week 5.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Berrien Springs (6-1) at Olivet (7-0), East Lansing (5-2) at Lansing Sexton (5-2), Morley Stanwood (6-1) at Beal City (4-3), Haslett (5-2) at Williamston (5-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Gaylord St. Mary (7-0) at Harbor Springs (4-3), Friday
The winner tonight claims a share of the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy championship, and host Harbor Springs shouldn’t be considered too much of an underdog despite the disparity in overall records. The Rams finished second in the Legacy last season and have made the playoffs in two straight, and earned that 2016 runner-up finish in part with a 38-24 win over the Snowbirds. That said, St. Mary turned back a good challenge from rival Johannesburg-Lewiston last week and has had only one opponent come within double digits – recently surging Newberry in Week 2.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lincoln Alcona (6-1) at Lake City (7-0), Boyne City (7-0) at Elk Rapids (6-1), Traverse City West (7-0) at Gaylord (4-3), Birmingham Brother Rice (4-3) at Traverse City Central (5-2).
Southeast & Border
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0) at Clinton (5-2), Friday
With four league opponents still alive for playoff bids, Whiteford wasn’t going to get much of a break this season coming off last year’s Division 8 runner-up finish. But the Bobcats have handled every challenge with complete success, beating all seven opponents this season by at least 32 points. Clinton was the last team to hand Whiteford a league loss, in Week 9 of 2015, and the Redskins are tied for second in the TCC and riding a three-game winning streak. A win tonight will guarantee Whiteford a share of the league title, but a victory could eventually mean one for Clinton too with a winless opponent coming up in Week 9.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Michigan Center (6-1) at Grass Lake (4-3), Ida (6-1) at Hillsdale (3-4), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-4) at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (6-1), Ann Arbor Pioneer (3-4) at Adrian (3-4).
Mendon (7-0) at Cassopolis (7-0), Friday
The first season of the Southwest 10 Conference has seen some parity, with five of 10 teams between 3-4 and 5-2. But these two are clearly at the top with a two-win edge on the rest and nearly identical numbers to tout that dominance. Cassopolis has given up 28 points; Mendon has given up 21. Cassopolis has scored 344; Mendon is right behind with 327. Both came from the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red, won by Cassopolis last year as a result of a 33-14 Week 2 downing of the Hornets – the Rangers’ second straight in this emerging rivalry.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Vicksburg (6-1) at Edwardsburg (6-1), Pittsford (6-1) at Climax-Scotts (6-1), Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-0) at Marshall (4-3), Watervliet (7-0) at Schoolcraft (5-2).
Iron River West Iron County (6-1) at Hancock (6-1), Friday
The Wykons can clinch a share of their third Western Peninsula Athletic Conference title in five seasons and are just a two-point opening-night loss to Bark River-Harris from perfection this fall. Hancock is a little unfamiliar with this spot but also is a two-point loss from perfection in 2016. A win tonight would line the Bulldogs up to claim a shared league title next week and add another highlight to a rejuvenation that has seen a second straight winning season after a decade with only one, plus the clinching of their first playoff berth this fall since 2006.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Kingsford (5-1) at Menominee (5-2), Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-3) at Norway (6-1), Marquette (3-4) at Negaunee (4-3), Bessemer Gogebic (3-4) at Calumet (4-3).
Muskegon (7-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-0), Friday
The west side of the state is loaded with annually important rivalry games, and this Muskegon matchup has bulled its way into consideration among the best of them. Mona Shores won the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2014 and 2015 with wins over the Big Reds, but Muskegon has taken the last three meetings starting with a rematch win in the District Final three weeks after that 2015 loss. Few teams in the state this season have dominated like Muskegon, which sits with a playoff average of 100.571 – ninth highest among all teams. Mona Shores, however, sits atop a projected Division 2 at 109.714 – second-highest in Michigan with a chance to jump even higher.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (7-0) at Cedar Springs (5-2), Belding (6-1) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (7-0), East Kentwood (5-2) at Rockford (4-3).
Onekama (7-0) at Central Lake (7-0), Friday
The Midwest Central Michigan Conference is half filled with first-year 8-player teams and is putting forth at least two that could be MHSAA title contenders. If the season ended after last week, Onekama would be entering the 8-Player Division 2 playoffs with the highest playoff point average in the division and home games until the Final. Central Lake would be ranked third in 8-Player Division 1 by playoff point average – not too shabby, considering especially that Central Lake was 2-7 in 11-player in 2016 (while Onekama made the playoffs but as part of a co-operative program with Bear Lake). With both teams winning every game this season by at least 24 points, it’s deserved and lucky this league finale also will decide the league championship.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Deckerville (6-1) at Peck (4-3), Mayville (4-3) at Bay City All Saints (6-1), Webberville (5-2) at Camden-Frontier (7-0), SATURDAY Marion (6-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-1).
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PHOTO: Warren DeLaSalle, on offense, faced Birmingham Brother Rice in Week 4 and won 36-14. The Pilots will play this week for the Detroit Catholic League Central title. (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.)