By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
What started as more than 600 MHSAA football teams is down to a mere 272.
And eight are no doubt enjoying a whirlwind this week they've never experienced before.
Detroit Consortium, Detroit East English, Grand Rapids Northview, Mayville, Saginaw Valley Lutheran, South Lyon East, Swartz Creek and Walled Lake Northern will make their first playoff appearances this weekend. Only East English can claim to know what that's like, with the first-year school made up mostly of students who formerly attended now-closed Detroit Crockett and Finney.
In case you're wondering, that leaves 30 schools that have never made the MHSAA playoffs. But this week is about those still alive -- and 136 games that will be played all over the state.
See below for a few of the most intriguing matchups from each division. Visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings, and if you're not attending a game tonight, make sure to check in at FoxSportsDetroit.com for one of four live-streamed contests: Lapeer West at DeWitt, Farmington Hills Harrison at Fenton, Leslie at Portland and Howell at Walled Lake Northern.
Detroit Catholic Central (5-4) at Hartland (8-1)
To no one’s surprise, reigning MHSAA runner-up Detroit Catholic Central made the playoffs at 5-4, thanks to its tough schedule and high playoff point average. The Shamrocks have reached the postseason 16 of the last 18 seasons. Hartland is back for the third time in five – and coming off a league title, can also tie its school record for wins set in 2008.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Ledge (7-2) at Holland West Ottawa (7-2), Livonia Stevenson (6-3) at Livonia Churchill (9-0), Canton (6-3) at Plymouth (7-2), Dearborn (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (7-2).
Birmingham Brother Rice (7-2) at Port Huron (7-2)
The reigning MHSAA runner-up in this division, Brother Rice didn’t make last week’s Catholic League Prep Bowl but has been considered among the state’s handful of elite teams since the first week of practice. Port Huron hasn’t gotten nearly the same hype, but won two playoff games last season and is led by quarterback Mark Chapman – who has committed to sign with Central Michigan this winter.
Others that caught my eye: Wyandotte Roosevelt (8-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (8-1), Detroit Martin Luther King (6-3) at Southfield (6-3), Portage Central (6-3) at Portage Northern (7-2), Grand Rapids Northview (7-2) at Lowell (7-2).
Zeeland West (6-3) at Zeeland East (9-0)
It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since these two squared off for what ended up a 60-52 East win. The Chix have continued to rise, and now look like the favorite in Division 3 after downing Muskegon by a point last week. But West – last season’s Division 4 champion – knows a few things about winning in the playoffs, and would love nothing better than to end its rival’s season abruptly.
Others that caught my eye: Carleton Airport (6-3) at Milan (9-0), Marysville (6-3) at Detroit East English (7-2), Charlotte (6-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-2), Fruitport (8-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-1).
Williamston (6-3) at Marshall (6-3), Saturday
It hasn’t been long enough for Williamston supporters to forget the 2009 District Final between these two, a 27-26 Marshall win after which the Redhawks went on to win the Division 4 championship. The Hornets advanced to the Final the next season before falling by four to Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Both won to set up this week’s opportunity – the Redhawks their last two games and Williamston its last three.
Others that caught my eye: Otsego (6-3) at Dowagiac (9-0), Comstock Park (8-1) at Allendale (8-1), Saginaw Valley Lutheran (6-3) at Saginaw Swan Valley (7-2), Richmond (6-3) at Marine City (8-1).
Leslie (8-1) at Portland (8-1)
Both have become staples of the postseason – Leslie is in the playoffs for the ninth time in 13 seasons and Portland for the 10th straight. The difference for the Blackhawks is those previous appearances, including a run to Ford Field in 2008, came in Division 6. Portland is arguably more used to this level of competition – and has wins over Division 3 playoff teams Owosso, DeWitt and Charlotte this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Lake Fenton (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-1), Buchanan (7-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (9-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-3) at Hopkins (9-0), Carrollton (8-1) at Frankenmuth (9-0).
Detroit Consortium (6-3) at Madison Heights Madison (8-1)
In its fourth season, Consortium earned its first winning record and first playoff berth. The Cougars earned the opportunity to face Madison, a playoff veteran with eight straight appearances and four straight seasons with at least eight wins. The Eagles built their record against a number of much larger schools, with their only loss by three to Warren Fitzgerald way back on Aug. 31.
Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (8-1) at Boyne City (8-1), Montague (8-1) at Hemlock (8-1), Constantine (7-2) at Watervliet (8-1), Michigan Center (8-1) at Grass Lake (8-1).
Royal Oak Shrine (5-4) vs. Detroit Loyola (9-0), Saturday at U-D Jesuit
It’s easy to predict Loyola will finish this season with a championship after advancing to the Regional round in 2011 and running all over everyone but Catholic League rival Waterford Our Lady this fall (the Bulldogs beat the Lakers by only 10). Shrine lost to Loyola 51-20 just two weeks ago – but the Knights closed with a shutout of playoff qualifier Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and could make this rematch much closer.
Others that caught my eye: Union City (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (6-3), Bridgman (6-3) at Lawton (8-1), Dansville (7-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (8-1), Flint Hamady (6-3) at Burton Bendle (7-2).
St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (7-1) at Climax-Scotts (9-0)
A win would give Climax-Scotts its fourth straight 10-win season and ninth over the last decade – and only Bellevue got within 20 points of the Panthers during the regular season. But Lake Michigan Catholic quietly has made the playoffs three straight years, and actually has eight wins this fall – it beat rival Michigan Lutheran in an 8-player game that did not count toward its 11-player playoff point average.
Others that caught my eye: Bessemer (6-2) at Felch North Dickinson (8-0), Pittsford (7-2) at Waterford Our Lady (7-2), Stephenson (7-2) at Pickford (7-2), Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at L’Anse (7-2).
Akron-Fairgrove (7-2) at Owendale-Gagetown (7-2)
These two have been rivals going back to nearly their beginnings on the football field and long before they became 8-player programs in 2009. Both play in the Mid-Michigan 8-Man League, and this is the third time they’ll play each other this season. And there’s some intrigue in that – Owendale-Gagetown won the first game, but Akron-Fairgrove won the second, which counted toward the league standings and eventually gave the Vikings the championship.
Others that caught my eye: Waldron (6-3) at Battle Creek St. Philip (6-3), Eben Junction Superior Central (6-2) at Rapid River (7-2).
PHOTO: Saginaw Valley Lutheran quarterback Logan Gatza drops back to pass against Ithaca on Sept. 7. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com)
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)