By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – It was never really a matter of if, but rather when Donovan Edwards was going to bust a big run.
On Saturday, the West Bloomfield senior answered the call, scoring on runs of 71 and 78 yards en route to a three-touchdown afternoon while leading his Lakers to a 41-0 victory over 2019 champion Davison in the Division 1 Football Final at Ford Field.
Edwards, who has signed to play collegiately at the University of Michigan, finished the afternoon with 257 yards on just 14 carries. Despite not playing in the fourth quarter, he totaled the eighth-highest rushing total in MHSAA Finals history. And it was enough for West Bloomfield head coach Ron Bellamy to make a major declaration.
“This here is the best football player in the state of Michigan,” Bellamy said of Edwards. “Five star. Big college. Whatever it may be. Teams come to stop one football player, and he had 200-some yards (today).
“I’m from Louisiana, and I had a chance to play against Ed Reed in high school. I had a chance to play against Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning, I played against NFL Hall of Famers in high school, on the same field, and he looks like them. It ain’t the cliche, ‘Best player on the field.’ He looks like a dude that’s gonna play for a long time in the NFL and be an all-American at the University of Michigan. Obviously some things have to happen in his favor, but you saw it. He just looks different from everybody else on the field.”
Edwards’ talents were on display right away. After the two teams traded early fumbles, Edwards broke free on the first play from scrimmage for a 78-yard touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead.
West Bloomfield would expand its lead to 17-0 by halftime thanks to a 39-yard field goal by senior Jake Ward and a 13-yard touchdown run by senior Mekhi Elam.
The Lakers defense was on display all afternoon, limiting the Cardinals offense to just 136 total yards. It forced a pair of fumbles and converted them into 14 points. Senior defensive end Niles King stripped the ball from the hands of Jay’len Flowers and returned it 40 yards to give his team a 24-0 lead less than a minute into the second half.
“We know that when you come to Ford Field you’ve got to play defense,” Bellamy said. “Davison has a heck of a defense, but our defense was better today. Those guys were lights out.
“We had an early fumble in the game and they were playing Davison smash-mouth football. They hit us in the mouth. I told the kids, defensively, ‘They’re going to hit us in the mouth early; it’s how you respond to adversity.’ Once they fumbled the ball and we got it back, our defense was balling out.”
Senior linebacker Travis Reece led the Lakers with seven tackles, two for a loss, and added a sack. Senior linebacker Jordan Hoskins had six tackles.
West Bloomfield kicker Jake Ward connected on a pair of field goals, from 39 and 45 yards out, while converting all five of his point-after attempts. All seven of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Davison, which defeated Brighton 35-25 to win the 2019 championship, was playing without its regular-season starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan, who enrolled early at Northwestern University. The Cardinals also suffered a loss in-game, when senior defensive end Harrison Unger went down with a leg injury. He left the game with eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
“Harry is our best player,” Davison head coach Jake Weingartz said. “Defensive end, he plays tight end, slot receiver. He does a lot for us on both sides of the ball. It was unfortunate because he’s a huge part of our gameplan. It was rough.”
Without him, Davison had trouble stopping Edwards and Co. Senior Clarke Hamilton led the Cardinals (11-1) with six tackles.
“If anyone has watched us play, it was very uncharacteristic of us,” Weingartz said. “I just think we struggled with their speed. Their front six is real good. We missed a lot of opportunities. You just can’t miss them here, and you definitely can’t miss them against a team like West Bloomfield.
“I’m very proud of our kids for battling all the adversity this year, with the stop and start and losing our quarterback to early graduation. Obviously this is not how we wanted it to end.”
For West Bloomfield (10-1), Saturday’s championship was the first in school history. The Lakers lost to Clarkston, 3-2, in the 2017 Division 1 title game.
“It’s surreal. It’s so, so surreal,” Bellamy said. “We’ve waited so long for this moment. These last few years, since we lost (to Clarkston), everything in my power, in my coaching staff’s power, we wanted to develop a champion. We’ve been so close, but yet so far.
“It’s a special feeling. We’ve made many sacrifices this year. The kids’ mental health was challenged with the shutdowns. But we’re here, we made it here. We felt we had a good football team, and we had a chance to win a state championship.”
PHOTOS: (Top) West Bloomfield’s Donovan Edwards (6) strides toward the end zone Saturday, as Davison’s TeAvion Warren pursues. (Middle) The Lakers’ Travis Reece (2) and BJ Rankin (21) work to bring down the Cardinals’ Payton Pizzala. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)