DETROIT – Brendan Madigan kept his promise.
On Friday, the senior captain led the Pilots to title No. 2, as they rolled to a 41-6 victory against Livonia Franklin again in Division 2 at Ford Field.
“I got to see those guys (in 2014), see what it was like and get the feeling of what it is,” Madigan said. “Ever since then, I made a promise to myself to get all of my guys back here and win it again, so it feels great.”
It was a brilliant finish to a season that started with immediate adversity following a 36-6 loss against Lowell during opening weekend. But the Pilots (12-2) responded positively and proved their worth week in and week out, winning the Detroit Catholic League Central title and knocking off two-time reigning Division 2 champion Detroit Martin Luther King on their way to Ford Field.
“Nobody thought we could do it after we lost to Lowell – and we lost by a lot,” said DeLaSalle junior Evan Vaillancourt, who had 160 yards receiving and a touchdown Friday. “But we came back and had the best practice we had, and played really good (in Week 2) against Grandville, then we played good from there on.”
There was no adversity to deal with in the title game, as DeLaSalle found itself ahead 7-0 just 16 seconds in, and without having put its offense on the field.
Madigan recovered a snap that had sailed over the Franklin backfield and ran 13 yards for the touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. It was the first time since 2005 that the first play from scrimmage had resulted in a touchdown in an MHSAA Final.
“I saw the ball go over (the quarterback’s) head, and immediately I knew I had to scoop it up,” Madigan said. “It bounced good, I got to pick it up and run it in. (DeLaSalle junior) Jacob Dobbs even helped me get in, carrying me a little bit. It felt great to start the game out with points even when they started with the ball.”
DeLaSalle scored 21 points off three first-half Franklin turnovers.
“We knew going in that we couldn’t get them extra opportunities, and that’s kind of what we did there in the first half,” Franklin coach Chris Kelbert said. “Just momentum never got on our side, and that’s one of the things we had to do to win, to beat a team that good, and it just didn’t work out for us.”
DeLaSalle proved it didn’t need good field position to score points, averaging 8.0 yards per play and racking up 313 yards of offense. Senior quarterback Luke Pfromm accounted for 207 of those yards through the air, as he was 10 of 12 passing with a pair of touchdowns.
“I thought (Pfromm’s performance) was decent,” DeLaSalle coach Mike Giannone said with a laugh. “I would say he was on. Some of the things we do, play-action passing, some of the deep balls and other things that he can see – he’s developed into a real fine quarterback, and I think someone out there is going to really get a steal.”
Franklin (11-3), which was playing in its first Final since winning the first MHSAA Class A title in 1975, appeared unfazed by the unfortunate start, driving all the way to the DeLaSalle 5-yard line on the next possession. But that was as close as the Patriots would get, turning the ball over on downs before seeing the Pilots put together a 93-yard drive of their own and go up 14-0 on 60-yard pass from Pfromm to Vaillancourt.
Turnovers on Franklin’s next two possessions allowed the Pilots to essentially put the game away in the second quarter. A Josh DeBerry interception set up a 2-yard Pfromm touchdown run, and a fumble recovery set up 4-yard touchdown pass from Pfromm to Sergio Gasperoni.
“We’ve made some plays defensively (this season); we put pressure on people,” Giannone said. “One of our coaches says, with pressure, the pipes burst.”
A 2-yard touchdown run from Cordell Tannyhill and a 23-yard field goal by Riley Garrison gave DeLaSalle a 38-0 lead heading into halftime. Garrison added a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Franklin’s lone score came on a 5-yard run by Isaac Moore, which he set up with a 72-yard run on the previous play. Moore led the Franklin offense with 160 yards on the ground.
The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Warren DeLaSalle’s Semaj Shelton (12) leaps past a defender's outstretched arm during Friday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Pilots quarterback Luke Pfromm rolls out looking for an open receiver.
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.)