Drive for Detroit: Week 9 in Review

October 22, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This week, 288 Michigan high school football teams are starting anew.

But before we turn our focus entirely toward the playoffs, let’s say a final goodbye to another memorable regular season.

The last of available league championships were clinched Friday and Saturday, and more teams than we can mention won to get into the postseason. Sunday, of course, was highlighted by the announcement of playoff divisions and pairings – and we’ll jump into the most intriguing first-round matchups later this week.

But for now, let’s take an acknowledging glance at the storylines from Week 9, which in many cases set up some of what we’ll be watching the rest of the way.

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Bay & Thumb

HEADLINER: Lapeer 28, Davison 6 The Saginaw Valley League Blue title went outright to the Lightning with this winner-take-all win. Lapeer (9-0) also capped its first perfect regular season since 2015 and third in five years since the former West and East high schools merged heading into fall 2014. Davison (7-2) finished league runner-up for the second straight season after winning it in 2016. Click for more from the Flint Journal and see below for highlights from WJRT.

Also of note: Ortonville Brandon 34, Swartz Creek 27 The Blackhawks (8-1) held off Swartz Creek to cap their best regular season run since 2000 with a share of the Flint Metro League title (with Flushing), while dropping the Dragons (6-3) out of first place and into a tie for third.

Remember this one: Midland 14, Midland Dow 8 Players never forget this kind of rivalry game. Midland (6-3) made it two straight over the Chargers (5-4) and in the process earned an automatic playoff berth. Dow became an additional qualifier, and they could meet again in a Division 2 District Final.

More shoutouts: Millington 34, Warren Michigan Collegiate 26 The Cardinals’ 14-year playoff streak was on the line, but Millington (6-3) earned an automatic bid by handing Michigan Collegiate (8-1) its lone regular-season defeat. Byron 31, Flint Beecher 27 Croswell-Lexington 47, Goodrich 13 Both ended up in the playoffs, but the Pioneers (6-3) made sure this time after missing last year at 5-4; Goodrich (5-4) did qualify with that record this time despite the defeat.

Greater Detroit

HEADLINER: Detroit Cass Tech 42, Detroit Martin Luther King 8 The Technicians (9-0) will carry Detroit Public School League Green and now PSL A playoff titles into the postseason after avenging last year’s 10-point loss to King. The perfect regular season finish was the team’s second in three years and fourth in six. King, the PSL Black champ, fell to 7-2. Click for more from MLive-Detroit and see below for highlights from State Champs Sports Network.

Also of note: Warren DeLaSalle 24, Detroit Catholic Central 6 A week after falling to the Shamrocks 10-7 in what created a shared Detroit Catholic League Central title between the two, DeLaSalle (7-2) came back to down DCC (6-3) in the Prep Bowl A-B championship game at Ford Field.

Remember this one: Farmington Hills Harrison 48, Farmington 7 The final regular-season game in Harrison’s illustrious football history saw the Hawks (6-3) earn an automatic playoff bid with a big win over Farmington (6-3), which also qualified for the first time since 2015.

More shoutouts: Oak Park 21, Clarkston 14 The Oakland Activities Association White champion Knights (8-1) bounced back from a Week 8 loss to gain a boost by beating the OAA Red champ Wolves (7-2). Belleville 32, Brighton 17 They met to open and close the regular season, but this Kensington Lakes Activities Association overall championship win for the Tigers (9-0) wasn’t as nail-biting as that five-point Week 1 victory over the Bulldogs (7-2).


HEADLINER: Pewamo-Westphalia 28, Williamston 27 (OT) The Pirates (9-0) stopped a 2-point conversion try in overtime to win this matchup of league champions and finish their third straight perfect regular season in four years. The two-time reigning Division 7 champion hadn’t had a game closer than 28 points this fall before getting a valuable test from the Division 4 Hornets (7-2). Click for more from the Lansing State Journal and see highlights below from FOX 17.

Also of note: Howard City Tri-County 48, Holton 16 The Vikings (5-4) made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 after giving themselves the opportunity with this win over Holton (5-4), which also was selected. Tri-County also guaranteed its first .500-or-better season since 2005 after going 1-8 a year ago.

Remember this one: East Lansing 20, Okemos 17 These neighbors already had qualified for the playoffs, Okemos (6-3) for the first time since 2014. But this might be another indication this rivalry is on its way back – East Lansing (8-1) has won four straight meetings, but four of the last six have been decided by seven points or fewer.

More shoutouts: Portland 27, Montague 20 The Raiders (9-0) look playoff-ready again after capping their third perfect regular season in four years by beating a Montague team that finished 7-2 with its only other defeat to also-unbeaten Reed City. Vermontville Maple Valley 42, Comstock 18 The Lions (5-4) struggled mightily through a 2-4 start, but finished with three straight wins to line up their second straight playoff appearance.

Northern Lower Peninsula

HEADLINER: Traverse City West 21, Petoskey 6 The Titans (7-2) entered this game with the possibility of falling into a three-way shared Big North Conference title. Instead, West won outright and finished a regular season where its two defeats were by a combined 10 points. Petoskey (5-4), meanwhile, earned its first playoff berth since 2015 after going a combined 5-14 over the last two seasons. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Also of note: Benzie Central 42, Frankfort 6 The Huskies (6-3) clinched their first playoff berth since 2011 – and after not having a team in 2016. Benzie came back to go 1-8 last season before completing the turnaround. Frankfort finished 5-4 but was an additional qualifier after winning three of their last five games.

Remember this one: Traverse City St. Francis 35, New Lothrop 14 Remember it, because the Hornets (8-1) do not lose often during the regular season. This was just their second regular-season defeat in nine seasons, but came against a Gladiators team that at 9-0 finished its third perfect regular season in four years.

More shoutouts: Maple City Glen Lake 27, Grayling 19 The Lakers (5-4) won the Northern Michigan Football League Leaders championship but were in jeopardy of missing the playoffs; beating Grayling (3-6) made them eligible as an additional qualifier. Gaylord 41, Sault Ste. Marie 0 Gaylord’s Blue Devils (6-3) bounced back from two straight one-point defeats to clinch their first playoff berth since 2015 and leave Sault Ste. Marie (5-4) just short, although those Blue Devils more than doubled their 2-7 records of both last season and 2016.

Southwest Corridor

HEADLINER: Cassopolis 21, Centreville 0 It’s rare to luck out with two undefeated teams meeting for a league championship in their regular-season finale. Cassopolis (9-0) chipped away to claim the Southwest 10 Conference title with its sixth shutout this fall. Centreville (8-1) entered averaging nearly 44 points per game, and still has plenty to celebrate – the Bulldogs have their first playoff berth and winning season both since 2008. Click for more from the Cassopolis Vigilant.

Also of note: Kalamazoo United 21, Schoolcraft 20 The Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley championship was decided by a point as the Titans (9-0) edged Schoolcraft for the second straight season after beating the Eagles (7-2) last year by three.

Remember this one: Portage Northern 16, St. Joseph 7 The Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West sent five of its six teams to the playoffs, and the league race frequently is close. Portage Northern (7-2) with this win earned a share of the title while dropping the Bears (5-4) out of a possible share and into a tie for third place.  

More shoutouts: Stevensville Lakeshore 18, Mattawan 13 The Lancers’ 20-year playoff streak was on the line, but this win put them at 5-4 and allowed them to be selected as an additional qualifier. Mattawan (5-4) was selected as well. Coloma 52, Watervliet 36 The Comets (5-4) beat Watervliet for the first time since 2009 (they didn’t play 2012-14) to finish 5-4 for the second straight regular season – but this time they were selected for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Southeast & Border

HEADLINER: Reading 55, Grass Lake 7 The Rangers (9-0) took their domination outside of the Big 8 Conference with this crossover win over the Cascades Conference champion. Grass Lake (8-1) also entered undefeated and scoring nearly 39 points per game. Click for more from the Hillsdale Daily News.

Also of note: Jackson 36, Lake Fenton 14 The dream season continued for the Vikings (9-0), who ended the regular season unbeaten for the first time perhaps ever (?). Someone surely will be doing some digging to confirm, but it will be well worth it to celebrate a historic accomplishment – and after Jackson went 4-5 a year ago.  

Remember this one: Brooklyn Columbia Central 35, Hudson 16 The Eagles (8-1) broke a two-game losing streak to the Tigers (4-5) to clinch a share of the Lenawee County Athletic Association title with Hillsdale, which it defeated in Week 8.

More shoutouts: Hillsdale 30, Dundee 13 The Hornets (8-1) held on to their share of the LCAA title by avenging two straight defeats to Dundee (5-4), and by doing so kept the Vikings out of the playoffs. Michigan Center 25, Springport 16 The Cardinals finished the regular season 8-1 for the second straight as Springport (7-2) lost for the second straight week but only second time this season.

Upper Peninsula

HEADLINER: Escanaba 39, Kingsford 27 The Eskymos (7-2) probably didn’t anticipate ending the weekend with a share of the Great Northern Conference championship. But by beating the Flivvers (4-5), Escanaba was able to benefit from Menominee’s upset of first-place Marquette. The win over Kingsford held additional significance too – the Flivvers edged the Eskymos for the GNC title last season with a win in their Week 9 meeting. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Also of note: Gwinn 20, Munising 16 The Modeltowners (6-3) flipped last season’s 3-6 record to earn an automatic playoff berth and keep Munising (4-5) from possible selection as an additional qualifier.

Remember this one: Menominee 32, Marquette 14 This ended an uncharacteristic down season for the Maroons (2-7) – they saw their 22-year playoff streak come to an end. But they did finish by adding to a seven-game winning streak over Marquette, denying the Redmen (4-5) an outright league title and possible additional qualifier bid for the playoffs.

More shoutouts: Ishpeming 54, Bark River-Harris 13 The Hematites (9-0) put together their fourth perfect regular season in six years and coming off back-to-back three-win finishes. St. Ignace 44, Gaylord St. Mary 0 The Saints missed the playoffs, but finishing 5-4 was a great jump from 1-8 in 2017.

West Michigan

HEADLINER: East Kentwood 28, Rockford 17 The Falcons (8-1) made their way through an Ottawa-Kent Conference Red that will send four of seven teams to the playoffs – and with Rockford making a bid Friday to grab a share of the league title. The win over the Rams was East Kentwood’s first since 2015 and put Rockford (5-4) in an unfamiliar spot of briefly not knowing if its season was done – although the Rams did make the playoffs as an additional qualifier for a record 24th straight season. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press and see highlights below from WZZM.

Also of note: Zeeland East 36, Hudsonville Unity Christian 13 The Chix (8-1) completed a repeat O-K Green championship after Unity Christian (7-2) entered with an opportunity to create a three-way tie for the top spot.

Remember this one: Saugatuck 56, Fennville 20 The Indians (8-1) claimed the SAC Lakeshore title in this winner-take-all matchup, avenging the Week 9 loss to the Blackhawks (7-2) a year ago that gave Fennville the championship ahead of Saugatuck.

More shoutouts: Holland Christian 24, Spring Lake 17 Despite playing in an O-K Green with three other playoff teams, the Maroons (6-3) are headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2012 and with a guaranteed final winning record for the first time since 2009. Spring Lake (5-4) also made the playoffs as an additional qualifier after going 0-9 a year ago. Hudsonville 23, Holland West Ottawa 16 Two more of the O-K Red’s best met with playoffs on the line for the Eagles, who earned an automatic berth with the win. These two will settle things one more time with a Division 1 rematch this week.


HEADLINER: Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 22, Colon 14 The Midwest Central Michigan Conference West champion Defenders (9-0) handed the Southern Central Athletic Association A champion Magi their only loss of the regular season, holding Colon (8-1) to almost 33 points under its average. The win also gave Tri-unity its second perfect regular season in three years. These teams could meet again in an 8-Player Division 1 Semifinal. Click for more from the Sturgis Journal.

Also of note: Morrice 32, Webberville 0 The Orioles finished 9-0 for the first time in program history and reached nine wins for the third time in four years. Webberville made the loss pay off getting enough bump to make the playoffs at 4-5 with a higher playoff-point average than other teams that finished 5-4.

Remember this one: Engadine 52, Crystal Falls Forest Park 42 The Eagles (8-1) edged the reigning 8-player Division 2 champ Trojans (5-4), but these teams could see each other again in a Regional Final.

More shoutouts: Pickford 48, Cedarville 8 The Pirates (9-0) completed their second straight perfect regular season and finished an outright title run in the Great Lakes Conference East. Cedarville (5-4) will join three others from the league in the playoffs. Deckerville 20, Peck 8 The Eagles (7-2) eluded a possible shared North Central Thumb League Blue title, holding on to the championship outright by holding off an upset bid by the Pirates (5-4).

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PHOTO: Lapeer pushes through for a touchdown during its league title-clinching win over Davison. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)