By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
What’s still at stake as we dive into Week 9 of this football season?
Meanwhile, 171 11-player teams had secured playoff berths – and 71 could win and get in, although there also are 10 matchups between 5-3 teams this weekend that will leave the defeated hoping for at-large bids. The 8-player picture is just a little clearer: At least eight teams appear to be in the running for the final 2-3 spots in that 32-team field.
You’ll see below many of those league-deciding games, and others with playoff implications perhaps taking higher priority this week over matchups between teams already qualified. All games below are tonight unless noted. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed.
MHSAA.tv will broadcast seven games this weekend, and be sure to tune in to FOX Sports Detroit at 7 p.m. Sunday for the “Selection Sunday Show” announcing fields and pairings for the 11 and 8-player brackets. Our “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
Davison (7-1) at Lapeer (8-0)
The winner takes the Saginaw Valley League Blue title outright. The lone loss between these teams was Davison’s to Detroit Catholic League Central co-champ Warren DeLaSalle in Week 7. Davison has only one league loss in the last three years – to Midland last season, which left the Cardinals to eventually place second. But they went on to beat Lapeer the next week and again in a playoff opener. This year’s Lightning team has been more successful on both sides of the ball, and the defense has given up more than 19 points only once.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Swartz Creek (6-2) at Ortonville Brandon (7-1), Midland Dow (5-3) at Midland (5-3), Mount Pleasant (8-0) at Saginaw Heritage (5-3), Goodrich (5-3) at Croswell-Lexington (5-3).
Detroit Cass Tech (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Renaissance
These two rolled through their divisions of the Detroit Public School League so thoroughly that there hasn’t been much to point out over the last six weeks. But their rematch will decide the PSL “A” playoff champion; King won last year’s PSL semifinal meeting 17-7, and both teams went on to reach MHSAA Semifinals. The Crusaders’ only loss this fall was Week 2 against Muskegon, by three – the closest game for the Big Reds this season. Cass Tech’s only close game was a Week 2 one-point win over Ohio power Lakewood St. Edward. The Technicians have outscored PSL teams the last six weeks by a combined 269-7.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Brighton (7-1) at Belleville (8-0), Oak Park (7-1) at Clarkston (7-1), Grosse Ile (8-0) at Dearborn Heights Crestwood (8-0), SATURDAY Warren DeLaSalle (6-1) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (5-2) at Ford Field, Detroit Public Safety Academy (7-1) at Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (8-0).
Williamston (7-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0)
This one means nothing in the standings but could tell a lot about two playoff hopefuls. The Pirates will try to add to back-to-back Division 7 championships starting next week after yet another incredible regular season where they’ve outscored their first eight opponents by a combined 447-34 – and that included a 38-0 Week 1 win over Ithaca, which hasn’t lost since. With a win tonight, Williamston would lock up its best regular-season record since 2010, when it went on to finish Division 4 runner-up. The Hornets’ only trip-up came against St. Johns in Week 4, but over the last month they’ve beaten three teams that still have playoff aspirations heading into tonight.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Montague (7-1) at Portland (8-0), East Lansing (7-1) at Okemos (6-2), Saginaw Swan Valley (8-0) at St. Johns (5-3), Holton (5-3) at Howard City Tri-County (4-4).
Northern Lower Peninsula
New Lothrop (8-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)
The Traverse City West/Petoskey game could have league implications, but it’s hard to not talk more about New Lothrop making the trip up north. The Hornets are hoping to finish their eighth perfect regular season over the last nine years, and beat an eventual league champion in Maple City Glen Lake on opening night before a perfect run through the first-year Mid-Michigan Activities Conference. St. Francis also has a victory over Glen Lake, and by a similar margin. But the Gladiators have yet to win by fewer than 35 points – making this an important test for them as well heading into the playoffs.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Traverse City West (6-2) at Petoskey (5-3), Frankfort (5-3) at Benzie Central (5-3), Manton (4-4) at Rogers City (7-1), Cheboygan (4-4) at Elk Rapids (6-2).
Southeast & Border
Grass Lake (8-0) at Reading (8-0), Saturday
The Cascades Conference champion meets the Big 8 Conference title winner in one of five matchups pitting undefeated teams this week. The Warriors got here with defense – they have yet to give up more than 16 points in a game – while Reading, as noted last week, has had one of the most impressive defensive showings in the state. The Rangers gave up 14 in clinching the league title last week to bring their total number of points allowed to 33 this fall.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Dundee (5-3) at Hillsdale (7-1), Michigan Center (7-1) at Springport (7-1), Brooklyn Columbia Central (7-1) at Hudson (4-4), Ida (6-2) at Blissfield (5-3).
Cassopolis (8-0) at Centreville (8-0)
The Southwest 10 Conference championship comes down to this matchup of a team that’s had its share of recent success and another that is one of this season’s best turnaround success stories. Cassopolis was runner-up in the conference a year ago and won its old Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red in 2016. Centreville, meanwhile, will finish with its first winning record since 2008 and after claiming a total of five victories over the last three seasons. And talk about defense, the Bulldogs have given up 34 points this fall – and these Rangers have given up a mere 24.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Schoolcraft (7-1) vs. Kalamazoo United (8-0) at Vicksburg, Portage Northern (6-2) at St. Joseph (5-3), Plainwell (5-3) at Otsego (5-3), Napoleon (5-3) at Quincy (5-3).
Gaylord (5-3) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3)
Sault Ste. Marie has bounced back from two straight two-win seasons and a 1-2 start to this one to reach the verge of returning the postseason despite scoring only 123 points over seven games – they’ve made it by giving up only 15 per game. Gaylord is looking to take the next step after missing the playoffs last season as a 5-4 finisher. Speaking of “so close,” the last two weeks have been excruciating for the downstate Blue Devils with two one-point losses that would’ve meant a league title had they gone the other way.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Kingsford (4-4) at Escanaba (6-2), Norway (4-4) at Iron River West Iron County (6-2), Gwinn (5-3) at Munising (4-4), Marquette (4-4) at Menominee (1-7).
Rockford (5-3) at East Kentwood (7-1)
A share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red championship is at stake. So is a lot more. The Falcons have clinched at least a share of the league title. But Rockford can earn a share as well with a third-straight win in this series – and although the Rams would be a strong at-large candidate at 5-4, they must win to guarantee continuing a 23-year playoff streak. It’s the longest active postseason football streak in the state, and also tied for the longest all-time.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Zeeland East (7-1) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-1), Saugatuck (7-1) at Fennville (7-1), Berrien Springs (7-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (7-1), Hudsonville (5-3) at Holland West Ottawa (6-2).
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (8-0) at Colon (8-0)
The Magi can finish their first perfect regular season since 1957 (according the Michigan-football.com), and have picked it up the last three weeks outscoring those opponents by a combined 150-6 – despite the fact two of those teams are possible playoff qualifiers. For Tri-unity Christian, this would be a second perfect regular season in three years. But that hardly makes it less significant. The Defenders have reached three straight playoffs and advanced to the Semifinals two years ago. A win of this magnitude would be the best way to keep things rolling into their next postseason trip.
Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Powers North Central (7-1) at Stephenson (5-3), Tekonsha (5-3) at Bellevue (7-1), Pickford (8-0) at Cedarville (5-3), Peck (5-3) at Deckerville (6-2).
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PHOTO: Saginaw Heritage, here against Arthur Hill this fall, is among 71 teams hoping to qualify for the MHSAA Playoffs with a win this weekend. (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.)