It’s always hard to wave good-bye to another high school football season.
But stories of this fall’s playoffs will no doubt be retold a few times this winter -- especially after one of the most memorable Semifinals weekends in recent memory,
Nine of Saturday’s 16 games were decided by eight points or fewer. Two games were decided by three points, and three more games by just one. Twice, overtime was necessary to decide which team would advance to this weekend’s MHSAA Finals at Detroit’s Ford Field.
We’ll kick off Finals week with our regular round-up of the previous weekend’s playoff action – including the first 8-Player Final in MHSAA history. Later this week, we’ll take a brief look at every team hoping to finish by hoisting a championship trophy.
All eight games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Plus. Click for a full schedule and playoff scoreboard. And click here for a list of Fox Sports Plus channels in your area.
(Rankings are by The Associated Press’ panel of media voters.)
1st and 10
Division 1: Detroit Catholic Central 23, Rockford 20 (OT) – Rockford kicked a field goal for a three-point lead to begin overtime, but No. 2 beat No. 1 when DCC running back Anthony Darkangelo ran in the game-winner from seven yards out. Read more in the Novi News.
Division 1: Detroit Cass Tech 6, Utica Eisenhower 3 – Here’s why they play the games. Unranked Cass Tech continued an impressive defensive stand (see lower in this post for more) in knocking off the No. 3 Eagles. Read more in the Detroit Free Press.
Division 2: Lowell 42, Walled Lake Western 35 (OT) – Walled Lake Western came back from 14 down in the third quarter and then took a lead, but couldn’t keep the Red Arrows from booking a third-straight trip to the Finals. Read more in the Grand Rapids Press.
Division 2: Birmingham Brother Rice 27, Detroit Martin Luther King 26 – The Crusaders fought back from an early 21-0 deficit, and Brother Rice scored all of its points during the first half. But the Warriors held on twice at the end – once on a two-point conversion try that would’ve given King the lead, and then once more on the Crusaders’ final possession. Read more from the Oakland Press.
Division 3: Mount Pleasant 38, East Grand Rapids 37 – The Oilers were probably thinking less about EGR’s 28-game playoff winning streak and more about how the Pioneers had knocked them out of the playoffs two of the last three seasons. Now, Mount Pleasant can focus on playing in its first MHSAA Final. Read more in the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Division 5: Lansing Catholic 42, Grand Rapids West Catholic 35 – The teams exchanged shots until just about the end, with this season’s No. 1 taking down the reigning champion despite trailing twice during the first half. Read more in the Lansing State Journal.
Division 6: Constantine 45, Ecorse 44 – The Falcons have shown they are tough to stop when it matters most, winning their third playoff game by seven or fewer points to advance to their first Final since 2004. Read more in the Sturgis Journal.
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia 22, Hudson 14 – The Pirates, making their second Semifinal appearance ever, earned their first Finals berth by ending the 26-game winning streak of the reigning champion Tigers. Read more from the Lansing State Journal.
Division 8: Mendon 34, New Lothrop 13 – The No. 3 Hornets had given up 47 points over their first 12 games, but top-ranked Mendon nearly doubled that while holding a New Lothrop offense averaging 52 points to just a pair of touchdowns. Read more in the Sturgis Journal.
8-Player Final: Carsonville-Port Sanilac 59, Rapid River 20 – It’s arguable what was more impressive – the Tigers’ offensive might, or that its defense held Rapid River scoreless in the second half of the first-ever MHSAA 8-player Final. Read more in the “First Pitch” at MHSAA.com.
16 – Number of points Detroit Cass Tech has given up during the postseason, including three to Utica Eisenhower in Saturday’ 6-3 victory. The Technicians have held opponents to seven or fewer points in nine of 13 games this fall.
34 – Number of minutes Constantine held onto the ball – and kept Ecorse’s offense off the field – in a 45-44 Division 6 win.
901 – Number of yards, combined, put up by Carsonville-Port Sanilac and Rapid River in the inaugural 8-player Football Final.
324 – Passing yards by Carsonville-Port Sanilac quarterback Hayden Adams, who likely will be remembered as this state’s first 8-player star. Five of his 12 completions went for touchdowns, and he also ran for 130 yards and two scores.
More Fantastic Finishes
Division 3: Orchard Lake St. Mary 14, Battle Creek Harper Creek 10 – They were tied going into the fourth quarter. Harper Creek added a go-ahead field goal – and then St. Mary’s Grant Niemiec scored on an 11-yard run with 49 seconds left to take the final lead.
Division 4: Zeeland West 30, Comstock Park 6 – The Dux moved to 13-0 to tie the school record for wins and make a second MHSAA Final – in just seven seasons of existence.
Division 4: Marine City 45, Grosse Ile 6 – The Mariners shut down Grosse Ile until the final five minutes of the game to earn their second Finals berth in five seasons.
Division 5: Flint Powers Catholic 27, Almont 10 – Why they play the games, Part II. Powers is the latest to make the rare trek from 5-4 qualifier to potential MHSAA champion after taking out Nos. 2 and, most recently, 4 from the final AP regular-season poll.
Division 6: Ithaca 28, Iron Mountain 0 – The Yellowjackets returned to the Superior Dome and beat Iron Mountain for the second straight season to advance to Detroit.
Division 7: Saginaw Nouvel 14, Traverse City St. Francis 3 – The Panthers’ defense also has been awesome during this postseason, giving up just 23 points over four games.
Division 8: Fowler 45, St. Ignace La Salle 8 – The Eagles have gone from losing their coach the weekend before practice began in 2010 to making their first Final since winning Class D in 1998.
Up Next: MHSAA 11-player Finals
Division 8: Mendon (13-0) vs. Fowler (11-2), 10 a.m. – These are two of the most storied small-school programs in state history, both ranking among the top 14 in the state in winning percentage since 1950 according to Michigan-football.com. Mendon was expected to be here, but surprise Fowler has been to this point plenty of times as well.
Division 2: Birmingham Brother Rice (9-4) vs. Lowell (12-1), 1 p.m. – Brother Rice’s tough schedule always gives it a decent shot of making the playoff field even at 5-4, but getting to the Final after coming in with that record is new ground for the Warriors (they made the Semifinals in 2009 after entering 5-4). Lowell was just about everyone’s pick to get this far – and will try to make it two titles in three seasons after losing in the 2010 championship game.
Division 6: Constantine (11-2) vs. Ithaca (13-0), 4:30 p.m. – Constantine’s 1-2 start is a distant memory as the Falcons go for their first championship in seven seasons. Ithaca made its first Final just a year ago, but can further its reputation as an elite power but claiming two titles in a row and extending its winning streak to 28.
Division 4: Marine City (13-0) vs. Zeeland West (13-0), 7:30 p.m. – It’s rare for the combination of bracket assignments and rankings to play out like this, but Marine City entered the postseason No. 1 and Zeeland West No. 2. The Mariners last won a championship in 2007, but have the chance to also finish 14-0 this time. Same story as the Dux try to improve just that little bit on their 2006 title run.
Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia (13-0) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (12-0), 10 a.m. – The Panthers are going for their third MHSAA championship in six seasons and have no problem raising their game; not counting two against Canadian teams, Nouvel played 10 games this season against teams that qualified for the playoffs. P-W joins Fowler as finalists from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference, and is led by a senior class that might be one of the best in the program’s successful history.
Division 1: Detroit Cass Tech (10-3) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (12-1), 1 p.m. – The Technicians seemingly have been building toward this weekend after making their first Semifinal appearance in 2010, and after losing by three in that game before going on to win by three in last week’s semi. Now they get the Shamrocks, who can move into a third-place tie with 11 MHSAA football championships.
Division 5: Flint Powers Catholic (9-4) vs. Lansing Catholic (13-0), 4:30 p.m. – The Cougars defeated Powers 37-17 in Week 2, but it’s fair to say much has changed. The Chargers haven’t given up that many points in a game since – but Lansing Catholic also hasn’t scored that few.
Division 3: Mount Pleasant (13-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary (11-2), 7:30 p.m. – The Eaglets lost the last two Finals to East Grand Rapids by eight and three points, respectively. No matter what happens in this finale, there will be a new Division 3 champion for the first time in five seasons.
(Photo courtesy of Sharon Weber via the Lansing State Journal.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)