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.)
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.)