By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The MHSAA football playoffs are upon us. From 617 teams that began this season, we’re down to watching our final 272.
But before we get too far ahead, there’s plenty to review from the final week of the regular season – including a number of upsets that altered the playoff field and brackets created Sunday.
Bay & Thumb
Fenton 28, Linden 21
The Tigers (7-2) scored with three minutes to play to move past Linden (6-3) for good and claim an outright Flint Metro League championship; a Linden win would’ve created a three-way tie for the title with these two and Ortonville Brandon. Fenton has won 29 straight league games and opened this season with two nonleague losses. Click for more from the Flint Journal.
Lapeer 24, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 14 – Carman-Ainsworth (6-3) won the Saginaw Valley League Blue and Lapeer was only second in the Red, but the Lightning (7-2) did remain undefeated in their three-year series with the Cavaliers.
Freeland 7, Frankenmuth 3 – The Tri-Valley Conference Central champion Falcons (9-0) made it three wins in two years over TVC East winner Frankenmuth (8-1), with a chance they could meet again in a Division 5 District Final.
Pinconning 20, Whittemore-Prescott 6 – The Spartans (6-3) claimed their first playoff berth since 2009, which also was their last season with a winning record; Whittemore-Prescott (5-4) did still make the postseason with an at-large bid.
Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 24, New Lothrop 20 – The Cardinals (7-2) got a major boost heading into the playoffs, handing New Lothrop (8-1) its first regular-season loss since 2009.
Detroit Catholic Central 17, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 14
The last 11-player game of Michigan’s high school regular season had drama right until the end. The undefeated Shamrocks (9-0) were less than a minute from falling to St. Mary’s (5-4) in a Prep Bowl A-B Final rematch of the Detroit Catholic League Central first and second-place teams this fall. DCC scored with 21 seconds remaining for its second win over the Eaglets in three weeks after losses to them the last two seasons. Click for more from the Detroit News.
Bloomfield Hills 21, Lake Orion 0 – The 4-year-old Black Hawks (9-0) bounced back from 1-8 last season to win the Oakland Activities Association Blue title and make the playoffs for the first time; Lake Orion (5-4) did earn an at-large bid with four losses to teams that are a combined 27-9.
Detroit Cass Tech 41, Detroit Martin Luther King 20 – The Technicians (9-0) finished off another tremendous regular season with a second win over Martin Luther King (7-2), this time in the Public School League I final at Ford Field; Cass Tech has beaten all opponents by at least 13 points.
Detroit Denby 8, Detroit Mumford 0 – The Tars (8-1) guaranteed their best record since 2006 and claimed a PSL I/II championship by handing Mumford (7-2) its first loss since opening night.
Dearborn Divine Child 35, Detroit Loyola 24 – The Falcons (7-2) had lost seven times to Loyola (7-2) over the last five seasons including 34-24 in Week 5, but came back to break the streak in the Catholic League Prep Bowl.
Williamston 38, Lake Fenton 35
Williamston needed to win its final regular-season game and some help to earn an at-large bid to the playoffs – but really helped itself by upsetting previously-undefeated Lake Fenton (8-1). A late defensive stand kept the Hornets (5-4) in the playoff mix, and they were selected to the field after missing at 4-5 a year ago. Lake Fenton, meanwhile still finished two wins better than 2015. Click for more from the Tri-City Times.
Holt 30, Grand Ledge 20 – The Rams (5-4) missed the playoffs by one spot among at-large teams from Class A, but the rebounding program can go into the offseason having handed Grand Ledge (6-1) the latter’s only loss in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Ionia 35, Lake Odessa Lakewood 30 – The Bulldogs (4-5) mostly struggled in league play, but started this season with two wins and ended with two straight including this upset of longtime rival and Greater Lansing Activities Conference champion Lakewood (8-1)
Lansing Catholic 42, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 20 – The Cougars (8-1) won their fifth straight, good momentum for this week’s matchup with reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic, and also might have eliminated SMCC (4-5).
Fowler 27, Merrill 14 – The Eagles (6-3) continued their string of eight straight playoff berths by holding Merrill (6-3) to its second-fewest points this season.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City St. Francis 22, Boyne City 0
St. Francis (9-0) repeated as Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends champion with a second straight shutout and by ending a six-game winning streak by runner-up Boyne City (6-3). It was the second straight season this matchup determined the league title winner. The Gladiators have won 22 straight regular-season games. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Frankfort 46, Onekama 20 – The Portagers (9-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 2004 and an outright title in the NMFC Leaders by avoiding a spoiler attempt by Onekama (6-3).
Traverse City Central 49, Cadillac 6 – Central (8-1) bounced back from a Week 8 triple-overtime loss to Birmingham Brother Rice to finish a Big North Conference championship run against third-place Cadillac (6-3).
Grayling 34, Kalkaska 27 – The Vikings (6-3) clinched a seventh playoff berth in eight seasons but only after edging the playoff-bound Blazers (6-3), who are in for the first time since 2013.
Hillman 32, Indian River Inland Lakes 29 – By the slimmest of margins, Hillman (5-4) was able to extend its playoff streak to 11 seasons, earning an at-large bid with five wins over the last six games.
Southeast & Border
Saline 38, Birmingham Groves 3
The Hornets further strengthened their status as a Division 1 championship contender, winning big in a matchup of undefeated teams. Saline (9-0) completed its second straight perfect regular season with its second-best defensive performance this fall, holding Groves (8-1) to the latter's fewest points in a game since 2013. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.
Grass Lake 43, Springport 27 – The Warriors (8-1) got clipped by Michigan Center in Week 8, but came back to down Springport (7-2) in the Big 8/Cascades Conference championship game.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford 38, Clinton 12 – The Bobcats (9-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 1965 and an outright Tri-County Conference title by sending fourth-place Clinton to 6-3.
Napoleon 25, Concord 20 – The Pirates (7-2) have won seven straight to guarantee their best finish since 2002, first winning season since 2006 and first playoff berth since 2005; Concord also finished the regular season 7-2.
Morenci 42, Adrian Madison 7 – The Bulldogs (6-3) have three losses by a combined eight points, but are back in the playoffs for the third straight season after ending any chance for Madison (4-5).
Portage Central 24, St. Joseph 14
Portage Central (8-1) secured the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West championship outright after these teams shared the title in 2015. The Mustangs took a 14-0 lead late into the third quarter and extended it to 17 in the fourth before St. Joseph (6-3) added a late score. Portage Central hasn’t lost more than once during a regular season since 2012, building a record of 35-6 over the last four years.
Benton Harbor 54, Muskegon Heights Academy 6 – This is worth mention because it gave the Tigers (9-0) their first undefeated regular season since going 7-0-2 in 1962.
Three Rivers 14, Vicksburg 13 – The Wildcats (7-2) added to their comeback from 3-6 a year ago by just edging Vicksburg (7-2) to tie the Bulldogs for second in the Wolverine Conference.
Coldwater 31, Traverse City West 14 – The Cardinals (7-2) continued a nice run after their one-point loss in Week 6, sending West (6-3) home with a defeat.
Battle Creek Pennfield 22, Olivet 19 – Pennfield (5-4) got the needed boost from beating Olivet (5-4) to earn an at-large playoff berth after seasons of 2-7 in 2014 and 3-6 in 2015.
St. Ignace 62, Newberry 20
The Saints (8-1) made another argument as the top 11-player title contender from the Upper Peninsula with a dominating performance against Mid-Eastern Conference runner-up Newberry (7-2). St. Ignace won the NMFC Legacy title this fall, and its only loss was to reigning Division 8 champion Muskegon Catholic Central, 21-6. Those two could meet again in a Semifinal next month. Click for more from 9&10 News.
Gwinn 38, Ishpeming 6 – With its first winning record since 2000, Gwinn (6-3) clinched its first playoff berth since 1999 while guaranteeing Ishpeming (3-5) wouldn’t be in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Escanaba 49, Kingsford 42 – The Eskymos (7-2) secured their best record since 2011 despite losing by a point in Week 8 and ended up locking up a home playoff game by getting past also playoff-bound Kingsford (6-3).
Felch North Dickinson 56, Bark River-Harris 24 – This is reportedly the last season of 11-player for the Nordics (6-3), but they’re going out on a high note after earning their first playoff berth since 2013 with four wins over their last five games.
Iron Mountain 28, Norway 7 – Four of six Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference teams made the playoffs, including these two both at 7-2 for the regular season.
Hudsonville 14, Rockford 7
The Eagles (8-1) bounced back after a Week 4 loss to Grandville to win four straight in commanding fashion and earn the opportunity to take a share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title in Week 9. Hudsonville finished the run with a late score on Rockford that created a three-way share of the championship with the Rams (6-3) and Grandville – and the Eagles also cemented home-field advantage through a District that includes both, with Rockford up again this week. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.
Allendale 30, Grand Rapids West Catholic 27 – Allendale’s first win over West Catholic since 2008 created a three-way championship in the O-K Blue between those two (both 7-2 overall) and Grand Rapids Catholic Central (8-1).
Byron Center 40, Hudsonville Unity Christian 19 – The Bulldogs (8-1) finished their O-K Green title by sending Unity Christian (7-2) into a tie for second in a league that will send five of seven teams to the playoffs.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern 27, Greenville 16 – Scheduling tough does matter; Forest Hills Northern (5-4) was 0-4 against teams with winning records heading into Week 9 but earned an at-large bid thanks in part to this victory over also playoff-bound Greenville (5-4).
Whitehall 37, Battle Creek Harper Creek 30 – The Vikings (6-3) came back from two straight one-point losses Weeks 6 and 7 to get into the playoffs for the third season in a row; Harper Creek (7-2) is headed back after going 3-6 last season.
Powers North Central 68, Stephenson 32
The reigning MHSAA champ Jets (9-0) finished their Western Eight Conference run and moved into the top seed in 8-player with a solid boost from beating third-place Stephenson (7-2). North Central is only a little behind the pace of its incredible numbers from a year ago – the Jets are outscoring opponents on average 69-17, and Stephenson was the first to score more than 18 since Week 3. Click for more from the Marinette EagleHerald.
Lawrence 22, Battle Creek St. Philip 14 – The final game to finish in 8-player over the weekend saw Lawrence (8-1) come back from two losses last season to St. Philip (5-4) to knock the reigning MHSAA runner-up out of the playoff mix.
Camden-Frontier 44, Waldron 18 – The Redskins (6-1) played their way into the playoffs after two straight 0-9 finishes by getting a key win over Waldron (4-5).
PHOTO: Holt over Grand Ledge was one of a number of upsets during Week 9 of the football regular season. (Click to see 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.)