By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Rain, sleet, or a few inches inches of snow, we expect to know our 16 11-player football finalists by the end of Saturday afternoon.
But even fans of the college football games being played this weekend should make sure to have MHSAA.tv and FoxSportsDetroit.com playing on their computers, tablets or smartphones, as the 16 MHSAA Semifinals should produce at least a few classics.
See below for a brief breakdown of all 16 games, and watch all 16 live by clicking the links above beginning at 1 p.m.
Romeo (11-1) vs. Grand Ledge (12-0) at Brighton
The Comets are attempting to make their first MHSAA Final since winning Division 1 in 2000 and after scoring 33 unanswered fourth-quarter points last week to beat Rockford. Grand Ledge has nearly 3,800 yards of offense this fall, with senior running backs Ba Blamo (993 yards/18 touchdowns rushing) and Caden Evert (543/15) carrying much of the load but sophomore quarterback Nolan Bird (1,445 yards/15 TDs passing) also progressing quickly. This is Romeo’s first Semifinal since 1992, and has come after advancing through arguably the toughest road in the tournament – reigning champion Clarkston, undefeated Lapeer and Detroit Catholic Central. Senior quarterback Paul Hurley completed more than two-thirds of his passes for 953 yards and 18 touchdowns through the regular season, and senior Bradley Tanner had scored 19 touchdowns through nine games.
Detroit Cass Tech (10-2) vs. Canton (10-2) at Troy Athens
Playing its sixth straight Semifinal, Cass Tech is looking to get back to the Division 1 championship game for the first time since 2012. The Technicians’ only losses were to Division 2 contender Detroit Martin Luther King – although this game certainly will be a test with play-making quarterback Rodney Hall reportedly out Saturday with an ankle injury. Canton might be a surprise to make it this far, but left no doubt in downing undefeated and 2014 runner-up Saline 27-7 in the Regional Final. The Chiefs have reached this round for the first time since 2006 after rebounding from a pair of consecutive losses midseason and on a rushing attack that has gained 4,388 yards – including 2,184 with 27 touchdowns by junior Markus Sanders.
Walled Lake Western (12-0) vs. Lowell (11-1) at Alma College
These two met in one of the most exciting games of opening weekend, with Walled Lake Western coming away with a 42-40 victory. The Warriors are trying to reach their first MHSAA Final since 1999 and will follow senior quarterback Kyle Thomas, who has thrown for 2,154 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 743 yards and 10 scores. Lowell hasn’t lost again, instead rolling up more than 5,500 yards in total offense with no other opponent coming within 14 points. The Red Arrows too are led by a dynamic dual-threat quarterback; senior Ryan Stevens has thrown for 2,230 yards and 28 TDs and run for 872 yards and 13 scores.
Detroit Martin Luther King (12-0) vs. Livonia Franklin (9-3) at Dearborn
King is playing in its third MHSAA Semifinal in five seasons, but looking to return to Finals weekend for the first time since the perfect run in 2007. The Crusaders are loaded with offensive standouts who have drawn statewide attention all season – notably, senior running back Martell Pettaway (1,180 yards/14 touchdowns rushing through nine games), senior quarterback Armani Posey (1,319 yards/12 TDs passing) and senior receiver Donnie Corley (858 yards/9 TDs receiving). Franklin was on no one’s Semifinal radar after a 2-3 start, but has won seven straight to make its first Semifinal since winning the first Class A title in 1975. Senior quarterback Denzel Adams (1,623 yards/23 touchdowns) and junior running back Jacob Clark (1,446 yards/15 TDs) have combined for more than 3,000 of the team’s 4,545 yards on the ground, and Adams also has thrown for 1,029 yards and 13 scores.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-1) vs. East Grand Rapids (9-3) at Howell
Reigning champion St. Mary’s is playing to make its fifth MHSAA Final in six seasons and has outscored its first three playoff opponents by a combined 160-35. Running back Justin Myrick (1,049 yards/13 touchdowns rushing) and quarterback Brendan Tabone (1,020 yards/5 TDs passing) have led the way for the second straight season. East Grand Rapids hasn’t played a game of this magnitude since ending a string of six straight Semifinals in 2011. The Pioneers haven’t given up a point in two weeks and only 14 over the last month, and on offense ride the legs of senior running Bryce Henkey (1,152 yards/20 touchdowns rushing through the District Final).
Chelsea (11-1) vs. Coldwater (12-0) at Jackson
This will be the first Semifinal for an otherwise annually successful Chelsea program. The Bulldogs can make their first championship game and break the team record for wins with one more. They had a string of five straight shutouts during the first half of this season and have given up only 34 points total during the playoffs. Junior quarterback Jack Bush has thrown for 1,603 yards and 14 touchdowns and run for eight more scores. Coldwater also is playing in its first Semifinal – it made the playoffs for the first time only two seasons ago – and hasn’t let an opponent within 14 points since Week 2. The Cardinals have thrown for only 250 yards – because they’ve run for 4,261, with junior Sam DeMeester (1,154 yards/14 TDs), senior Spencer Burns (1,120 yards/17 TDs) and senior Luke Beckhusen (1,107 yards/12 TDs) all crossing the 1,000-yard rushing milestone.
Zeeland West (12-0) vs. Ada Forest Hills Eastern (11-1) at East Kentwood
West has won 36 of its last 37 games, with that lone defeat in a Semifinal a year ago. The secret to the Dux’ success hasn’t been a surprise for a while; they run, run and run some more. Senior fullback Darius Perisee leads the rush this time with 1,796 yards and 28 touchdowns. Forest Hills Eastern is a field goal from perfection during its most successful season, which will now include its first Semifinal. The Hawks take a more balanced approach on offense, led by senior quarterback Jack Clark (1,932 yards/22 touchdowns passing, 752 yards/19 touchdowns rushing).
Detroit Country Day (11-1) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (10-2) at West Bloomfield
Country Day is playing in its third Semifinal in four seasons and seeking to return to Ford Field for the first time since 2012. The Yellowjackets’ only loss was Week 2 to Detroit U-D Jesuit; they’ve given up only 45 points total over the last 10 weeks and 75 for the season. Junior quarterback Steve Mann is the player to watch on offense, with 1,369 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air and six more scores on the ground. Powers is trying to get back to Ford Field for the first time since 2011 led by a similarly stellar defense giving up only nine points per game. Like that championship team, the Chargers are keyed on offense by a dangerous dual threat quarterback in senior Noah Sargent, who has run for 941 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 1,466 yards and 17 scores.
Lansing Catholic (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) at Greenville
This is a rematch of last season’s MHSAA Division 5 Final, a 24-20 West Catholic win. The Falcons have played in four of the last five championship games and five straight Semifinals. This year’s leaders have different names, but similar impact. Senior Denny Alt has run for 1,291 yards and 17 touchdowns, and sophomore Gaetano Vallone stepped in at quarterback and has thrown for 2,347 yards and 26 scores while running for 738 yards and 10 TDs. A return to Ford Field would be Lansing Catholic’s third in five seasons, and senior quarterback Tony Poljan would love another chance to lead his team to the school’s first title since 1985; he’s thrown for 1,746 yards and 14 touchdowns and run for 1,156 yards and 24 scores.
River Rouge (11-1) vs. Ida (12-0) at Novi
River Rouge will play in its first Semifinal, the next step of a successful run of six straight playoff appearances. The Panthers are four points from perfection this fall and have tied a team record for wins led by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers including senior quarterback Antoine Burgess (1,040 yards/11 touchdowns rushing, 1,270 yards/24 TDs passing). Ida also will play in its first Semifinal after winning 10 of 12 games by at least 10 points. The Bluestreaks have thrown only 36 passes because they’ve run for 4,247 yards. Senior Eric Bugg has 1,865 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground, and junior Nick Levicki has totaled 1,328 yards and 17 scores.
Ithaca (12-0) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Clare
The senior-laden Yellowjackets have been playing all season for an opportunity to return to Ford Field after watching their 69-game winning streak come to an end in last season’s Final. Ithaca’s roster is loaded with players who have started at least two seasons including senior quarterback Jake Smith, who has run for 1,485 yards and 29 touchdowns and thrown for 1,162 yards and 22 scores. St. Francis is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2009. The Gladiators have given up only 75 points against a strong schedule, a solid complement to an offense that’s run for 3753 yards and 61 touchdowns led by senior Joe Trucco (1,207 yards).
Clinton (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (12-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek
Clinton’s lineup of defeated playoff opponents rivals Romeo’s in Division 1 – reigning champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, plus Madison Heights Madison and Jackson Lumen Christi. The Redskins are looking to reach Ford Field for the second time in three seasons. Senior running back/linebacker Mathew Sexton has run for 2,065 yards and 33 touchdowns and also scored twice each on kickoff and punt returns. NorthPointe Christian has made its second straight Semifinal after surviving two straight games decided by three points or fewer. The Mustangs will attempt to lock down Clinton like it did their opponents Weeks 2-9, when they didn’t give up more than eight points in a game.
New Lothrop (12-0) vs. Ishpeming (11-0) at Northern Michigan University
Ishpeming is trying to add to its streak of three straight MHSAA Finals appearances, while New Lothrop is trying to get back for the first time since 2006 after one of the most impressive regular-season runs in MHSAA history. The Hornets haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2009, but also haven’t made it past the Semifinals during that run. Junior quarterback Erik Birchmeier leads the way with 1,330 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing and 905 yards and 12 touchdowns passing. Ishpeming fell in last season’s Final after two straight wins in 2012 and 2013, but senior quarterback Ozzy Corp is back for another try and has thrown for 1,047 yards and seven scores while also leading the team in rushing with 644 yards and seven scores. The defense has been arguably the most impressive of the tean's recent run, giving up only 85 points in 11 games.
Detroit Loyola (10-2) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) at Fenton
Loyola is playing to make its fourth straight MHSAA Final as well, and also with a different cast than in past seasons. The Bulldogs have thrown only 75 passes this season because they’ve run for 3,870 yards; three players could end up over 1,000 yards rushing, although leading rusher and freshman fullback D’Anthony Robinson was injured Week 9 and isn’t expected to return Saturday. Senior quarterback Blaine Woodland has run for 891 yards and 19 touchdowns and averages 13.9 yards per carry. Pewamo-Westphalia’s famed rushing attack will face its toughest test as it runs to return to Ford Field for the first time since 2011. Junior Jared Smith broke the MHSAA single-season rushing touchdown record last week and now has 50 this fall, and with 2,908 yards needs only 55 more to break the single-season rushing record.
Muskegon Catholic Central (9-2) vs. St. Ignace (11-1) at Traverse City’s Thirlby Field
MCC’s two-season title streak looked to be over after graduating a number of significant contributors in the spring. Instead, the Crusaders will play in their fourth straight Semifinal. Junior LaTommy Scott is the program’s next great running back; he’s gained 1,089 yards and 16 touchdowns. St. Ignace is playing in its third Semifinal in five seasons hoping to make its first championship game since 1985. The Saints have gained nearly 4,700 yards keyed by senior quarterback Gage Kreski. He’s run for 851 yards and 13 touchdowns and thrown for 1,235 and 16.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (10-2) vs. Waterford Our Lady (12-0) at Hazel Park
Whiteford has reached 10 wins and a Semifinal for the first time by avenging a regular-season loss, then beating a second rival from its conference, and then downing undefeated Climax-Scotts. A cast of running backs has contributed to more than 3,000 yards rushing, while sophomore quarterback Thomas Eitniear has thrown for 1,030 yards and 14 scores. Our Lady has returned to the form of its successful past with its first Semifinal berth since 2006. Seniors Clay and Devin Senerius are a dynamite receiving combo; Clay has thrown for 2,688 yards and 32 scores, and Devin has caught 61 passes for 1,213 yards and 11 scores.
PHOTO: Walled Lake Western quarterback Kyle Thomas (5) runs toward the end zone during last week's Regional Final win over Midland Dow. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)