By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The last week of the MHSAA football regular season is upon us. But Week 8 featured some significant firsts.
At Ypsilanti, visiting Lincoln beat the home team 27-20 to win the Southeastern Conference White for the first time. The league formed in 2000 and the Railsplitters were 0-9 only three seasons ago – and hadn't won a league title in any conference since 1987.
Further east Detroit Allen clinched its first playoff berth with a win over Ecorse. To the south, Adrian Lenawee Christian beat North Adams-Jerome for its sixth win, its most ever.
And those are just the program milestones. For the many high school players who enjoy just two seasons on varsity, every championship or playoff-qualifying win could be a first.
Here’s a look at some that surely were as we wrap up league title races and prepare for Sunday’s playoff selection.
Lowell 35, Grand Rapids Christian 34 (2 OT)
This season’s O-K White championship likely came down to a pair of overtimes between two teams that played at Ford Field last season. Reigning Division 2 runner-up Lowell (8-0) stopped a two-point conversion try by reigning Division 3 champ Grand Rapids Christian (6-2) after the game’s final score. The Red Arrows had fallen in two straight to the Eagles. Click to read more by the Grand Rapids Press.
Hudsonville 20, East Kentwood 9: Not only did the Eagles (5-3) give themselves an outside chance at sharing the O-K Red title, but they took a major step toward securing a first playoff berth since 2008. East Kentwood (5-3) can earn a league share too and also qualify for the playoffs by beating first-place Rockford this week.
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 32, Muskegon Mona Shores 28: Reeths-Puffer (7-1) kept pace with Muskegon atop the O-K Black heading into their league-deciding matchup this week, while Mona Shore (6-2) fell out of contention but can prepare for its first playoff appearance.
Belding 35, Sparta 14: Belding (5-3) kept its playoff hopes alive as it works to secure its first birth since 2007, while Sparta (5-3) is left to beat O-K Blue frontrunner Comstock Park this weekend to qualify.
Byron Center 16, Holland Christian 9: Byron Center (6-2) earned its first playoff berth since 2010 and set itself up to face Zeeland West this week for the O-K Green title. Holland Christian (4-4) fell to third place and hopes to make the playoffs with an at-large bid.
Lower Up North
Traverse City St. Francis 28, Maple City Glen Lake 21
St. Francis (5-3) kept its playoff hopes alive by edging the Northwest Conference champion and avenged a heavy blow dealt last season by Glen Lake (7-1); the Lakers’ 26-20 win over St. Francis in 2012 was among the most painful reasons the Gladiators didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1989. Click to read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Boyne City 28, Elk Rapids 12: Boyne City (7-1) needed this one to set up this week’s Lake Michigan Conference-deciding game against Grayling; Elk Rapids (5-3) is tied for third, this week’s game in a must-win to automatically make the playoffs.
Grayling 33, East Jordan 26: See above for the Lake Michigan Conference race explanation, with Grayling now also 7-1 and East Jordan (4-4) hoping for a strong finish and at-large postseason bid.
Lake City 41, Evart 21: Lake City (7-1) looks good to finish second in the Highland Conference and Evart has locked down at least third, with a chance they’ll see each other again in the playoffs for the second straight year.
Traverse City Central 28, Ogemaw Heights 20: Four Big North Conference teams are 5-3, and these are two of them. Central faces Cadillac and Ogemaw Heights faces Petoskey this week in hopes of earning automatic playoff berths.
Southwest and Border
Portage Central 49, St. Joseph 28
Portage Central took advantage of a bevy of turnovers and got rolling during the second half to win the biggest game of the regular season in the southwest corner of the state. The Mustangs (8-0) clinched a share of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title with the win and can finish their first perfect regular season since 1993 by beating winless Benton Harbor this weekend. St. Joseph (7-1) remains among the top teams by playoff point average of those projected to make the Division 3 playoffs. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Cassopolis 35, Niles Brandywine 12: This turned the Lakeland Athletic Conference championship into a shared title between these two, with Cassopolis (5-3) dealing Brandywine (7-1) its first loss of the fall.
Edwardsburg 36, Dowagiac 0: This deciding game in the Wolverine B West turned into a big win for undefeated Edwardsburg (8-0) over Dowagiac (6-2), last season’s champion.
Battle Creek Lakeview 33, Battle Creek Harper Creek 14: Lakeview (8-0), which began the season with five straight shutouts, has given up just a few points over the last three games on the way to earning a share of the SMAC East title; Harper Creek (6-2), with 14 points, tied for the most success against the Spartans’ defense.
Battle Creek St. Philip 68, Portland St. Patrick 14: St. Philip (8-0) handed St. Patrick (7-1) its first regular-season 8-player loss in winning the Southern Michigan League title outright.
Lake Linden-Hubbell 16, Felch North Dickinson 8
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 looked in doubt with the Lakes (5-3) needing two wins and North Dickinson and Crystal Falls Forest Park left on the schedule (they were a combined 13-1 entering last week). But the Lakes put the defensive clamps on North Dickinson (6-2), holding the Nordics to its fewest points since the 2010 playoffs. Click to read more from the Houghton Mining Gazette.
Crystal Falls Forest Park 38, Bessemer 20: The Eagles (8-0) avenged last season’s loss to the Miners (5-3) and in the process clinched a share of the Great Western Conference title.
Negaunee 38, Marquette 14: Negaunee (7-1) bounced back nicely after falling to Ishepming in Week 7, claiming the Diamond Jubilee Trophy, while Marquette (5-2) finishes with another tough one this week against Menominee.
Sault Ste. Marie 27, Kingsley 13: Sault Ste. Marie (5-3) has kept its playoff hopes alive over the last two weeks by beating teams with a combined record of 11-5. Kingsley (5-3) also needs a win this week to qualify.
Cedarville 21, Bellaire 16: Bellaire (5-3) looked like one of few that could beat Cedarville (7-1) this season, and the Eagles got close in a defensive battle.
Greater Detroit and Southeast
St. Clair 43, Marine City 33
St. Clair’s first win over Marine City since 2005 – and second in 22 seasons – earned a number of riches. The Saints (8-0) claimed the traveling Bell Trophy and also an outright Macomb Area Conference Gold championship, and guaranteed their best record since at least 1982. Marine City (7-1) still remains only a win away from its 16th straight season with at least eight. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
Macomb Dakota 52, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 7: The battle for the MAC Red title – and traveling Superintendent’s Trophy – ended up more of the same for Dakota (8--0), which has given up only 42 points this fall. With one more win, Chippewa Valley (7-1) still can equal its most since 2006.
Birmingham Seaholm 28, Birmingham Groves 22: Seaholm (8-0) earned its second straight Oakland Activities Association Blue title by defeating second-place Groves (7-1) in the final league game of the season.
Northville 42, Canton 30: This was significant for a few reasons for Northville (7-1), which moved on to the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship game be beating Canton (7-1) for the first time in its last eight tries.
Waterford Mott 26, Port Huron 20: The Marauders (8-0) flipped last season's finish, when Mott lost to Port Huron by three and finished second in the MAC White; this time Mott is first and the Big Reds (5-3) are runners-up.
Lansing Sexton 27, Lansing Everett 14
Sexton (8-0) won the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue outright and the traveling Oak Chest trophy, and needs to beat its other city rival, Eastern High, to finish the regular season 9-0 for the first time since 1999. The Big Reds, a Class B schools with wins over seven Class A opponents, also has the highest playoff point average of teams projected to fall into Division 4 for the playoffs. Everett (5-3), last season’s CAAC Blue champion, must beat two-win Jackson this week to ensure a playoff spot. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.
DeWitt 13, Portland 7: DeWitt (8-0) no doubt was up for this one after losing two straight to the Raiders (7-1). Both are champions of their divisions of the CAAC, DeWitt in the Red and Portland in the White.
East Lansing 3, Grand Ledge 0: The Comets (4-4) needed to win out to make the playoffs automatically after an 0-3 start, but instead East Lansing (4-4) kept its slim hope alive after three straight losses.
Olivet 28, Constantine 14: The Eagles (7-1) kept themselves in the three-team mix atop the Kalamazoo Valley Association, with reigning Division 6 runner-up Constantine (5-3) now needing a win this week to qualify automatically for the postseason.
Ovid-Elsie 21, Freeland 15: The Marauders (6-2) quietly have bounced back from a 3-6 finish in 2012 to finish second in the Tri-Valley Conference Central. Third-place Freeland (6-2) also has made the playoffs, and they could meet again.
Bay and Thumb
Harbor Beach 56, Marlette 7
The deciding game for the Greater Thumb Conference East title belonged to Harbor Beach (7-1) early, as it scored the first two touchdowns and after Marlette’s score ran off 44 unanswered points. The Pirates pushed their league winning streak to 16 straight, while Marlette (7-1) still can equal its best finish of at least the last half century, 8-1 in 1975. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.
Millington 15, North Branch 7: The Cardinals (6-2) were at risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003 before edging already-qualified North Branch (6-2).
Richmond 42, Yale 28: The Blue Devils (7-1) finished a perfect run through the Blue Water Area Conference and forced Yale (5-3) into a must-win situation to qualify for the playoffs automatically.
Flint Powers Catholic 48, Climax-Scotts 13: The Chargers (4-4) are hanging on to a hope of making the playoffs with an at-large bid, and handing Climax-Scotts (7-1) its first loss should help.
Vassar 35, Cass City 8: The Vulcans (5-3) moved one win closer to a fifth straight playoff berth, while dropping Cass City (4-4) into a much less favorable position.
Each week, the MHSAA highlights trophy games around the state. Here are a few more in addition to those mentioned above:
Little Brown Jug: Warren Lincoln vs. Center Line. Lincoln made it two in a row and five of six over its MAC Bronze rival. Final: Lincoln 26, Center Line 19.
Sugar Bowl: Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Reese. The Rockets have owned this series of late, winning every season dating to 2006. Final: Reese 47, USA 0.
Spirit Bell: St. Louis vs. Ithaca. This one changes hands every time these schools meet in any varsity sport – which means the Sharks’ highly-ranked volleyball team could win it back tonight. Final: Ithaca 76, St. Louis 0.
Battle of the Panthers: Detroit University Prep vs. Detroit Plymouth Educational Center. This one is relatively new, with Detroit PEC playing football only since 2010 and University Prep since 2006. Final: University Prep 37, PEC 6.
The Curb: Berkley vs. Royal Oak. A piece of pavement was first awarded to the winner of this matchup in 2012. Final: Berkley 20, Royal Oak 18.
Ted Heusel Bowl: Ann Arbor Huron vs. Ann Arbor Pioneer. This trophy is named for the late longtime area broadcaster who also served as the district's school board president. Final: Pioneer 9, Huron 6.
Kiwanis Trophy: Madison Heights Madison vs. Madison Heights Lamphere. A quick 2-mile drive down John R Road is nearly all that separates these MAC Silver rivals. Final: Madison 30, Lamphere 0.
Colvin Cup: Grosse Ile vs. Riverview. Not since 1998 and 1999 has either team won this game two seasons in a row. Final: Riverview 45, Grosse Ile 42.
PHOTO: Lowell (in gray) needed two overtimes to edge Grand Rapids Christian 35-34 in Week 8. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)