Drive for Detroit: Week 9 Preview

October 20, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The sun is setting on another Michigan high school football regular season. 

But the lights haven't gone off yet for 180 teams holding out hope of playing their way into this season's playoff field.

Heading into Thursday night, 160 teams in 11-player could either qualify automatically with a win this weekend or set themselves up for a possible at-large bid. And 20 8-player teams, give or take a few, still look to be alive for one of 16 spots in that field.

A number of games including Detroit Public School League and Big 8/Cascades Conference crossovers were played Thursday. See the MHSAA Score Center for those scores and the schedule for tonight and Saturday. Be sure to tune in to Fox Sports Detroit at 7 p.m. Sunday for the announcement of this season's playoff brackets in all nine divisions. Click for more details on the Selection Sunday Show.

And see below for the final regular-season Drive for Detroit preview, powered by MI Student Aid, with some emphasis placed on games that could help decide the playoff field. All games are tonight unless noted.

Bay & Thumb

Frankenmuth (8-0) at Freeland (8-0)

This is a repeat of last year’s Week 9 scenario, when these Tri-Valley Conference champions – Frankenmuth from the East and Freeland from the Central – met in the final regular season game. Freeland won big, 42-7, and then won 35-12 when they met again two weeks later for a Division 5 District title. The numbers indicate a closer game between the two this time; Freeland’s defense remains stellar giving up only 8.6 points per game, but Frankenmuth’s is giving up only 5.4 and could be the key to reversing last season’s results.  

Others that caught my eye: Lapeer (6-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-2), Flint Powers Catholic (5-3) at Davison (8-0), Fenton (6-2) at Linden (6-2), Midland Dow (7-1) at Midland (4-4).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Ford Field

As anticipated, these two will meet for the PSL Division 1 championship after also facing each other in division play three weeks ago. Cass Tech won that game 31-18, being held to its fewest points of the season but also locking down a King offense that has scored fewer than 39 only one other time. The Crusaders already got a taste of a rematch last week, when they played Detroit East English for the second straight and escaped with a two-point win after downing the Bulldogs by 38 the week before. King will hope for a similar tightening up of the score in this second meeting with the Technicians. 

Others that caught my eye: Lake Orion (5-3) at Bloomfield Hills (8-0), Detroit Denby (7-1) vs. Detroit Mumford (7-1) at Ford Field, Oak Park (6-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (5-3), Detroit Catholic Central (8-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-3) on Saturday at Ford Field


Walled Lake Western (7-1) at Brighton (7-1)

This Lakes championship game features the winners of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West (Brighton) and North (Western) in their first meeting since 1997. The Warriors are undefeated aside from having to forfeit an opening-night victory and have beaten three teams already qualified for the playoffs and two more that could get in at-large. Brighton has four wins against teams that are in or close, but did lose Week 2 to Northville – which lost to Western in Week 3.

Others that caught my eye: Grandville Calvin Christian (5-3) at Belding (5-3), Laingsburg (7-1) at Durand (5-3), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-4) at Lansing Catholic (7-1), Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (6-2) at New Lothrop (8-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City (6-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)

Boyne City’s rough start to this season is barely a memory two months later as it has a chance to finish this comeback with a Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends-clinching victory against reigning champion St. Francis. The Ramblers will have a little vengeance in mind after St. Francis' 32-13 win in their 2015 meeting decided the league title. But the Gladiators are riding high; St. Francis downed playoff-bound Kalkaska 49-0 last week, has given up 15 points over its last four games and no more than 14 in any game this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (7-1) at Cadillac (6-2), Kalkaska (6-2) at Grayling (5-3), Clare (7-1) at Houghton Lake (5-3), Frankfort (8-0) at Onekama (6-2).

Southeast & Border

Birmingham Groves (8-0) at Saline (8-0)

Trying to pick an angle on this one is tough; it’s just a great matchup. Both teams went 9-0 last season, so the winner going undefeated won’t be something new. Both also rank among the highest in any division for playoff-point average, so the winner of this one could be looking at a nice playoff road – but the loser will be in good shape as well. Both are keyed by strong defenses: Saline has given up 12.7 points per game but only 31 points over their last four. Groves, meanwhile, has given up only 34 points over the last seven games and no more than eight since Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: Morenci (5-3) at Adrian Madison (4-4), Dearborn (7-1) at Ann Arbor Skyline (4-4), Sand Creek (7-1) at Petersburg-Summerfield (5-3), Grass Lake (7-1) at Springport (7-1).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Central (7-1) at St. Joseph (6-2)

Portage Central no doubt has been looking forward to this one; the Mustangs were cruising along to an outright Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title and perfect regular season last year when St. Joseph busted both with a 22-6 Week 9 win. The teams ended up sharing the league title, and the Bears are in the same position of trying to force another share after losing to Stevensville Lakeshore in Week 4. Portage Central’s only loss this fall was on the road to one-loss Traverse City Central.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (6-2) at Coldwater (6-2), Lawton (7-1) at Decatur (4-4), Portland (8-0) at Marshall (4-4), DeWitt (7-1) at Portage Northern (5-3).

Upper Peninsula

Newberry (7-1) at St. Ignace (7-1)

The Indians could add a major highlight to their best season since 2004 by avenging last year’s 50-20 playoff loss to the Saints. St. Ignace went on to the Division 8 Semifinals and this fall locked up an eighth-straight league title in its first season in the NMFL Legends division. Newberry can gain a share of the Mid-Eastern Conference title, but only if first-place and undefeated Lake Linden-Hubbell falls this weekend to Munising.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (6-2) at Norway (7-1), Kingsford (6-2) at Escanaba (6-2), Bark River-Harris (3-5) at Felch North Dickinson (5-3), Hancock (4-4) at Houghton (3-5).

West Michigan

Rockford (6-2) at Hudsonville (7-1)

For most of this season, it didn’t look like this game would mean as much as it does once again. Rockford has rattled off six straight wins after a rough start and holds a one-win advantage on both Grandville and Hudsonville in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red. Hudsonville fell to Grandville in Week 4 but can create a three-way tie for the title if it can avenge last year’s pair of losses to the Rams – 28-27 in Week 9 and then 21-13 in their District Final.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-1) at Allendale (6-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-1) at Byron Center (7-1), Zeeland East (6-2) at Zeeland West (6-2), East Grand Rapids (6-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (5-3).


Powers North Central (8-0) at Stephenson (7-1) 

The Jets have turned away all challengers in their quest to repeat as MHSAA champions. North Central has yet to lose a game in two seasons of 8-player football, and it’s scored at least 56 points in every game this fall and 76 or more four of the last five weeks. Enter Stephenson, which saw North Central twice last season and this fall has lost only to Crystal Falls Forest Park – the team to give North Central its toughest challenge so far.

Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (5-1) at Waldron (4-4), New Haven Merritt (8-0) at Flint International Academy (6-2).

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: Whitehall and Ravenna took the field under a picturesque sunset Oct. 7. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs 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.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. 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.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. 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.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. 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 ShebestPam 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.)