By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
If last week's first round of the MHSAA football playoffs was one of the most unpredictable we've seen in years, why bother setting expectations for the encore?
But this weekend should be just as entertaining with rematches the theme, including some second versions of the best games from the regular season and the closest from the 2012 playoffs.
Be sure to follow the scores and schedules all weekend on the MHSAA Score Center, and see below for our games to watch in every division.
Warren Mott (10-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (10-0)
Mott has played football since 1992, and this certainly has been the Marauders' best run as it has included its first perfect regular season, the Macomb Area Conference White title and 10 wins for the first time. Mott's league was competitive this season, but Saturday it gets to see how it matches up against the elite – two-time reigning MHSAA champion Detroit Cass Tech, which has given up only 46 points this season and has 16 straight wins.
Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville (7-3) at Rockford (9-1), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-1) at Macomb Dakota (10-0), Saline (9-1) at Temperance Bedford (10-0).
Muskegon (9-1) at Lowell (10-0)
The best set of games this weekend is in Division 2, and Portage Central/Battle Creek Lakeview also has an argument as the biggest game in the state overall. But the Muskegon/Lowell rivalry has been simply too good of late. They've faced off in the playoffs the last five seasons, with Lowell holding a 3-2 advantage but falling 15-13 to the Big Reds in 2012. Muskegon went on to finish Division 2 runner-up, but then suffered its only loss this fall to the Red Arrows 31-20 in Week 4. This game features two of the state's most dynamic quarterbacks in Muskegon's Deshaun Thrower and Lowell's Kyler Shurlow.
Others that caught my eye: Battle Creek Lakeview (10-0) at Portage Central (10-0), Birmingham Seaholm (9-1) at Birmingham Brother Rice (10-0), Detroit East English (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1).
Grand Rapids Christian (8-2) at Zeeland West (9-1)
This is a rematch of one of last season's most high-scoring playoff games; Grand Rapids Christian beat West 68-44 in a District Final on the way to winning the MHSAA title. The Eagles' defense has stuck out a little more throughout this season, but the Dux have scored at least 44 points in eight of their 10 games. And it's a decent prediction that the winner of this game again could be playing for the title in four weeks.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Mumford (8-2) at St. Clair (9-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (7-3) at St. Joseph (9-1), Melvindale (8-2) at Milan (10-0).
Detroit Country Day (7-3) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (8-2)
This is another rematch of a 2012 game that helped decide an eventual MHSAA championship contender. Country Day defeated Notre Dame Prep in the District Final 14-12 on the way to finishing division runner-up at Ford Field, and quarterback Tyler Wiegers is back and committed to play for Rutgers next season. The Yellowjackets haven't lost since opening 0-3, but the Fighting Irish also are riding high with four straight wins after two straight midseason losses.
Others that caught my eye: Richmond (9-1) at Marine City (9-1), Dowagiac (7-3) at Battle Creek Pennfield (9-1), Belding (7-3) at Comstock Park (10-0).
Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) at Reed City (10-0)
Oakridge hasn't allowed an opponent to come within three touchdowns since suffering its lone loss of the season, to Shelby, in Week 6. Oakridge has won at least nine games in each of the last four seasons, but is riding its strongest offense since the 14-0 team in 2008. Reed City is 10-0 for the third straight season thanks in part to its highest-scoring offense ever and shooting for its first District title after falling by a point to Newaygo in last season's Final.
Others that caught my eye: Millington (8-2) at Frankenmuth (9-1), Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (8-2) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-1), Grayling (9-1) at Menominee (10-0).
Saginaw Nouvel (9-1) at Montrose (10-0)
These two along with Madison Heights Madison and Flint Beecher make up arguably the most competitive Region in the playoffs, with the winner likely earning the right to face national winning-streak leader Ithaca in a Semifinal. Nouvel is back in Division 6 after playing in Division 7 the last three seasons and winning the championship in 2011, while Montrose long has been a contender in this division and no doubt would like another shot at the Yellowjackets.
Others that caught my eye: Grass Lake (9-1) at Clinton (10-0), Schoolcraft (9-1) at Watervliet (10-0), Maple City Glen Lake (9-1) at Ithaca (10-0).
Ishpeming (10-0) at Iron River West Iron Country (10-0)
This is the biggest game in the Upper Peninsula this week. Reigning MHSAA champion Ishpeming is riding two straight shutouts with five total this season, and West Iron is looking for its first District title since 2008. The Wykons earned a little more notice statewide by opening the playoffs with a 14-point win over perennial power Traverse City St. Francis last week. This should be one of Ishpeming's first challenges this season as only rival Negaunee has come within 36 points of the Hematites.
Others that caught my eye: Lake City (9-1) at Lincoln Alcona (10-0), Pewamo-Westphalia (9-1) at Carson City-Crystal (10-0), Lawton (9-1) at Homer (9-1).
Climax-Scotts (9-1) at Mendon (10-0)
How did annual championship contender Mendon bounce back from ending last season in the Regional Final? The Hornets have outscored opponents 513-19 in arguably the most impressive run of any team statewide. Mendon has beaten Climax-Scotts in the playoffs the last two seasons, so the Panthers have plenty of additional motivation. Their only loss this fall was to much larger Flint Powers Catholic.
Others that caught my eye: Waterford Our Lady (8-2) at New Lothrop (10-0), Fowler (8-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-2), Powers North Central (8-2) at Felch North Dickinson (7-2).
Lawrence (7-2) at Battle Creek St. Philip (10-0)
The 8-player playoffs are in their Regional Finals, and these two are plenty familiar with each other after a titanic 54-50 battle won by St. Philip only two weeks ago. In that game, the two traded touchdowns until the end, and this Saturday afternoon rematch could be one of the highest-scoring of the weekend.
Other Regional Finals: Engadine (6-4) at Rapid River (10-0), Owendale-Gagetown (9-1) at Kinde-North Huron (7-3), Carsonville-Port Sanilac (7-3) at Peck (10-0).
PHOTO: DeWitt, carrying the ball, survived with a 14-6 win over rival Haslett last week to advance to tonight's District Final against Linden. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stehouwer.)
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.)