A Game for Every Fan: Regional Finals

November 15, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s both notable, yet logical, that 25 undefeated teams remain among the 68 still alive in the MHSAA football playoffs heading into this weekend.

At this point in the season, the best teams rise to the top. But maintaining perfection over 11 weeks is something worth celebrating regardless – even as at least three of those teams are guaranteed to fall this weekend.

Three of 32 11-player Regional Finals will feature matchups of undefeateds this weekend. Both 8-player Semifinals also feature one team that hasn't lost.

A total of 13 games will be played tonight, with the other 21 – including both 8-player games – kicking off Saturday. See below for all 34 matchups, plus a little extra on the headliner from each 11-player division and both 8-Player semis. 

Remember to follow all of the action again on MHSAA Score Center. And check out our four games live on Fox Sports Detroit’s Prep Zone: Battle Creek Pennfield at Grand Rapids South Christian, Saginaw Swan Valley at Lansing Sexton, Melvindale at St. Clair and St. Ignace at Beal City. 

Division 1

Macomb Dakota (11-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (11-0)

Cass Tech has won three games by 10 or fewer points, and might need to draw on that experience again in this Regional Final. Dakota’s success coming out of the solid Macomb Area Conference Red mirrors that of the Technicians, even as its stars are a little less known statewide. Cass Tech has won the last two Division 1 titles, and that know-how no doubt will come in handy in this titanic clash. 

Other Regional Finals: Hudsonville (8-3) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (10-1), Rochester Adams (8-3) at Clarkston (10-1), Detroit Catholic Central (9-2) at Temperance Bedford (11-0).

Division 2

Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (11-0)

This is Roosevelt’s third straight Regional Final and it is playing for a second straight Semifinal berth against a team that lost only to Cass Tech this fall. The difference this time might be the Bears’ offense, which is averaging 45 points per game and already has scored 100 more than in any season of its modern history. They’ll need to light up the board to keep up with King playmakers Jalen Embry and Avonte Maddox, who both will play at high-major schools at the college level.

Other Regional Finals: Midland (10-1) at Muskegon (10-1), Farmington Hills Harrison (10-1) at Portage Central (11-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (7-4) at Birmingham Brother Rice (11-0).

Division 3

Zeeland West (10-1) at Mount Pleasant (10-1)

This has the feel of a Semifinal, with these two having survived wild runs already to get to this point. West avenged a Week 2 loss to Zeeland East to start the playoffs and then eliminated reigning champion Grand Rapids Christian last week – after closing the regular season with a 36-13 win over Byron Center, a possible opponent next week. Mount Pleasant bounced back this fall after finishing Division 3 runner-up in 2011 and then falling to 2-7 a year ago. The Oilers’ only loss was on opening night to DeWitt, which has emerged as the favorite in this division.

Other Regional Finals: Byron Center (8-3) at Stevensville Lakeshore (8-3), Eaton Rapids (7-4) at DeWitt (11-0), Melvindale (9-2) at St. Clair (10-1).

Division 4

Saginaw Swan Valley (11-0) at Lansing Sexton (11-0)

This game could be over in less than two hours with the way these two run the ball. Swan Valley junior Alex Grace is approaching the MHSAA single-season rushing record of 2,890 yards after also topping 2,000 last season. Sexton, meanwhile, hasn't scored fewer than 32 points since September and blends a strong inside running game with plenty of speed on the perimeter.

Other Regional Finals: Cadillac (11-0) at Comstock Park (11-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (10-1), at Grand Rapids South Christian (10-1), Detroit Country Day (8-3) at Marine City (10-1).

Division 5

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) at Livonia Clarenceville (11-0)

The last time Clarenceville made this kind of run was in 2001, when superstar Tim Shaw was finishing off a record-setting effort that would take him to Penn State and then the NFL. The Trojans have been rolling since opening this fall with three wins by seven or fewer points during the season’s first five weeks, although they had to survive a tough test in the District Final against Detroit University Prep. This is usual territory for St. Mary, which has won 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons and is playing for its second straight Semifinal berth.

Other Regional Finals: Standish-Sterling (9-1) at Menominee (11-0), Millington (9-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (10-1), Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-4) at Olivet (10-1).

Division 6

Madison Heights Madison (11-0) at Montrose (11-0)

Since the brackets came out four weeks ago, this has been seen as the likely matchup to decide which team might have the best chance to end Ithaca’s national-best winning streak (53 games). Coming off four straight shutouts, Madison barely survived last week against Flint Beecher, which plays in Montrose’s league and lost to the Rams by 16 in their matchup this fall. Montrose has crushed two strong opponents – Reese and Saginaw Nouvel – to start the playoffs and no doubt would love to see the Yellowjackets again after falling to them in the playoffs the last three years.

Other Regional Finals: Negaunee (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0), Schoolcraft (10-1) at Shelby (10-1), Constantine (7-4) at Clinton (11-0).

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (10-1) at Harbor Beach (10-1)

Keyed by veteran quarterback Eli Kraft and a sturdy defense, Harbor Beach has made a nice jump into Division 7 after winning Division 8 in 2012. But Pewamo-Westphalia likely will be Harbor Beach’s strongest test to this point. P-W had to come back at the end last week to beat Carson City-Crystal but also beat a league champion the week before in Saugatuck.

Other Regional Finals: Lake City (10-1) at Ishpeming (11-0), Decatur (8-3) at Homer (10-1), Southfield Christian (10-1) at Detroit Loyola (11-0).

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central (9-2) at Mendon (11-0)

These southwestern powers are plenty familiar with each other – this will be their third straight playoff meeting and fifth in seven seasons. Muskegon Catholic hasn't lost since Week 2, also the last time it scored fewer than 40 points or gave up more than 16. Mendon is riding double figure wins for the seventh straight season with a combined score of 526-19 against its 11 opponents. That defensive effort is headed toward going down as one of the best in Michigan history.

Other Regional Finals: Felch North Dickinson (8-2) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (11-0), St. Ignace (9-2) at Beal City (11-0), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-2) at New Lothrop (11-0).

8-Player (Semifinals)

Kinde-North Huron (8-3) at Rapid River (11-0)

Rapid River has become an 8-player power, going 31-5 since making the switch three seasons ago. The Rockets are keyed by quarterback Jake Pearson, who has run for 2,166 yards and 39 touchdowns and throw for 963 yards and 13 more scores. North Huron is a great story as well; the Warriors were 0-9 in 2011 before improving to 6-5 last fall and then adding two more wins this season.

Lawrence (8-2) at Peck (11-0)

Peck rivals Rapid River as the most dominant team in 8-player this season, with all but two games decided by 20 points or more despite a schedule that included two matchups each against the first two 8-player MHSAA champions – Carsonville-Port Sanilac and Deckerville. The Pirates did beat Lawrence 61-38 all the way back in Week 4 – but the Tigers are primed to avenge. Last week they beat Battle Creek St. Philip after falling to St. Phil only two weeks prior.

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant (blue jerseys) ran away from Sault Ste. Marie 42-27 last week to earn this weekend’s matchup against Zeeland West. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)