By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Maybe because it still feels like summer some days downstate, but it seems like we’ve gotten to Week 9 of the football season more quickly this fall.
So let’s get right into it. Playoff fields will be announced at 7 p.m. Sunday on FOX Sports Detroit PLUS. But there is still much to be decided. There are 80 automatic playoff bids still available in 11-player – this observer’s guess is that 55 will be filled by weekend’s conclusion – and a handful of league titles remain up for grabs.
Our “Drive for Detroit” preview below might look like it’s not hitting on some of the best games in your area this weekend, but that’s by design – today’s report, powered by MI Student Aid, is focused on those final league-deciding battles, some key rivalries, but for the most part picks out games that could have the most bearing on who continues on into next week.
There were 20 games statewide Thursday, and those results like all this weekend can be found on the MHSAA Score Center. Click to monitor records and playoff points for all 614 football teams in Michigan this weekend as the field of 288 continues to take its final shape. Click for more information on the “Sunday Selection Show” and a list of games that will be broadcast live tonight on MHSAA.tv.
Bay & Thumb
Clare (7-1) at Beaverton (8-0), Friday
This has been Beaverton’s season, starting with wins over Breckenridge and Harbor Beach – the only losses for those teams as both have gone on to win league titles – and continuing through a dominant run over the first six games of the Jack Pine Conference schedule. The Beavers tonight can clinch their first league championship since 1989, but the greatest obstacle of all stands in the way. Clare also is 6-0 in the league, having lost only to still-undefeated Ithaca on opening night, and has won or shared nine of the last 10 Jack Pine titles. The winner tonight claims the whole thing.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Williamston (5-3) at Lake Fenton (7-1), Midland (7-1) at Midland Dow (7-1), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-3) at Lapeer (5-3), Croswell-Lexington (5-3) at Goodrich (7-1).
Detroit East English (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Ford Field, Friday
This Detroit Public School League A Final might be the most important game between King and East English since East English was formed out of the former Crockett and Finney high schools in 2012. King is a regular in this league finale but usually faces Detroit Cass Tech, which instead it defeated in last week’s semifinal 17-7. After falling to East English in their first meeting ever in 2012, the Crusaders have won the last seven games between the two – including taking two from the Bulldogs in back-to-back weeks in 2016 by a combined 10 points.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Madison Heights Lamphere (5-3) at Madison Heights Madison (8-0), Canton (7-1) at Livonia Churchill (7-1), SATURDAY Dearborn Divine Child (7-1) vs. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (7-1) at Ford Field, Warren DeLaSalle (6-2) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (5-3) at Ford Field.
Okemos (5-3) at East Lansing (6-2), Friday
The Trojans started this season 1-2 taking losses to Dearborn Divine Child and Grand Ledge, which are a combined 14-2. Riding a defense that has given up a combined 28 points over the last four weeks, East Lansing battled through most of the rest of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue and is headed to the playoffs for the second straight season thanks in part to three wins by five points or fewer. Okemos started 4-0 but then lost three straight before getting back on the positive side last week against Holt. This season has been a success regardless, with more wins than the last two combined, but the Chiefs would love to beat an old rival to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Saranac (5-3) at Blanchard Montabella (4-4), Ionia (4-4) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (7-1), Marshall (4-4) at Portland (7-1), St. Louis (5-3) at Breckenridge (7-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City St. Francis (8-0) at Boyne City (8-0), Friday
The matchup has become one of the best small-school games statewide each season. It’s decided the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends championship the last three years with one of the two teams then going on to at least the Division 6 Regional Finals each of those seasons. Like last year, these teams meet tonight both undefeated in league play. St. Francis handed Boyne City a 22-0 defeat in 2016 and also gave the Ramblers their only losses of 2015 – the first in Week 5 and the final in a Regional rematch. Boyne City is banking this time will look more like the three straight wins in this series from 2012-14, and the Ramblers look that caliber giving up no more than 13 points in a game so far. Then again, the Gladiators have given up 45 points total this fall and haven’t lost a regular-season game since that 2014 Boyne City loss.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Harbor Springs (4-4) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (5-3), Grayling (5-3) at Kalkaska (4-4), Evart (4-4) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-2), Oscoda (5-3) at Tawas (2-5).
Southeast & Border
Reading (7-1) at Michigan Center (7-1), Friday
The champions of the Big 8 and Cascades conferences meet in Week 9, and it’s a crowning regular-season achievement for a Reading team that had won six games combined over the last two seasons and earned its first league title since 2012. It’s a great opportunity as well for Michigan Center, which shared the Cascades title with Napoleon and Addison – the Cardinals’ first piece of a championship since sharing in 2013. To the victor tonight goes a little more pride, and also possibly enough points to earn a home playoff game.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hudson (7-1) at Blissfied (5-3), Brooklyn Columbia Central (6-2) at Hillsdale (4-4), Milan (5-3) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (6-2), Morenci (5-3) at Petersburg-Summerfield (6-2).
Three Rivers (7-1) at Vicksburg (6-2), Friday
Technically, the Wolverine B Conference can still finish with three teams sharing the title. It would take, in part, co-leader Edwardsburg falling to two-win Sturgis. So while that seems less likely to occur, Three Rivers faces a much tougher task to hold on to its share of the prize. The Wildcats find themselves tied for first because of a three-point win over the Eddies two weeks ago, and can keep what would be a first league title since 2009. But Three Rivers beat third-place Vicksburg by only a point last year after losing three straight to the Bulldogs. And with that slim chance at a three-way title still alive, the Wildcats are sure to see Vicksburg’s best again.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Kalamazoo United (6-2) at Schoolcraft (5-3), Paw Paw (4-4) at Dowagiac (5-3), Coloma (5-3) at Watervliet (8-0), Climax-Scotts (6-2) at Athens (5-3).
Escanaba (7-1) at Kingsford (6-1), Friday
Escanaba won two weeks ago a game that lined up like a meeting of the two best teams in the Upper Peninsula, handing the only loss to then-undefeated Gladstone. But Kingsford has belonged in that conversation too, and tonight’s game has the same feel – and with the winner claiming the outright Great Northern Conference championship. Kingsford’s only loss was on opening night to Menasha, Wis., which has gone on to go 8-1. The Flivvers actually have been a little better against their league opponents too, scoring three more points than Escanaba and giving up 48 fewer – not to mention they have three straight losses to the Eskymos they’d love to avenge.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Gladstone (7-1) at Calumet (5-3), Bark River-Harris (4-4) at Munising (4-3), Negaunee (4-4) at Ishpeming Westwood (7-1), Menominee (5-3) at Marquette (4-4).
Zeeland West (6-2) at Zeeland East (8-0), Friday
This matchup between schools literally next door to each other is always one of the most anticipated on the west side of the state. But it means more again as both are undefeated in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green and with the possibility they could see each other in the playoffs at some point as well. The Chix have put up 41 or more points in every game – their most impressive offensive output this decade. West has won their last three meetings, and its two defeats this fall – to Muskegon Mona Shores and Grand Rapids West Catholic, a combined 13-3 – no doubt prepared the Dux for games of this caliber.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids South Christian (7-1) at East Grand Rapids (8-0), Grandville (6-2) at Holland West Ottawa (7-1), Lake City (8-0) at Morley Stanwood (7-1), Montague (8-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (7-0).
Bay City All Saints (6-2) at Kinde-North Huron (7-1), Friday
A lot of the hype this season deservedly has gone to teams playing – and succeeding – in their first seasons of 8-player football, and All Saints is part of that group. The Cougars were 3-6 last fall in 11-player and had one winning season over their last six before making the switch. Kinde-North Huron, meanwhile, has played 8-player since 2012 – and it’s having its most successful regular season since 2007. Both are undefeated in the North Central Thumb League Stripes division, with the winner tonight taking the outright championship.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Battle Creek St. Philip (5-3) at Bellevue (7-1), Stephenson (7-1) at Powers North Central (5-2), Suttons Bay (5-3) at Mesick (5-3), Webberville (5-3) at Morrice (7-1).
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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.
PHOTO: Zeeland East (yellow helmets) downed Saginaw Swan Valley on opening night and will face arguably its toughest opponent since in rival Zeeland West this weekend. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)