A Game for Every Fan: Regional & Semifinals

November 13, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Last week's MHSAA District Finals saw the thinning out of a number of favorites among the state's biggest football schools. 

But many eyes will be turned this weekend to some of our smallest as they face their biggest moments this season.

The 8-player tournament is down to its Semifinals – and we kick off with previewing those this week before getting into the 11-player Regionals. But from a Regional national news could emerge – Madison Heights Madison might be the most capable team so far of potentially breaking Ithaca’s 67-game winning streak, longest currently in the country among 11-player teams.

All games below are Friday unless noted. Be sure to tune in to MHSAA.com throughout the weekend for results and updated pairings with Semifinal sites expected by Sunday evening.

8-PLAYER

Deckerville (9-2) at Cedarville (10-1), Saturday at DeTour

Only the two teams playing in the other Semifinal have beaten Deckerville, the 2012 MHSAA champion. Running backs Danny Wolfe (1,497) and Ryan Stone (1,123) have run for more than 2,600 of the team’s 3,639 yards on the ground and combined for 52 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Dylan Pattullo has thrown only 33 times – but for 11 scores. Cedarville dominated Bridge Football Alliance rivals Bellaire and Rapid River the last two weeks to a combined score of 67-0 to make its first 8-player Semifinal. Quarterback Joey Duncan played a big part in helping the boys basketball team to last season’s Class D Semifinals and has thrown for 18 touchdowns and run for 12 this fall. Another basketball standout, Brad Causley, has caught 10 of those TD passes, scored twice off interceptions, once on a kickoff return and four times on punt returns.

Lawrence (11-0) at Peck (11-0), Saturday

Two stars of last season’s MHSAA championship run, twins Cody and Kyle Abrego, have Peck lined up for a repeat with Cody running this season for 1,879 yards and 32 touchdowns and Kyle also starting both ways and scoring four times on receptions, one on an interception and another time on a kickoff return. Teammate Caleb Dudley has run for 11 scores and found the end zone after three of his eight interceptions. Lawrence will be easily fired up to see familiar company; the Tigers were cruising in last season’s playoffs before falling 73-34 to Peck in their Semifinal. The Pirates no doubt remember Lawrence’s Derek Gribler, a quarterback/running back who again has been the team’s most dangerous offensive player.

DIVISION 1

Canton (9-2) at Saline (10-1)

Tonight will be familiar at least to fans of Canton, which reached the Regional Final four of five seasons from 2005-09. Putting the Chiefs' record in perspective makes it look even better – they faced six playoff teams during the regular season alone. Saline has tied its team record for wins in making the Regional Final for the second time in three seasons and is seeking its first Semifinal berth. The Hornets haven’t lost since August, when they fell to emerging Division 2 power Muskegon Mona Shores by a mere 31-28.

Other Regional Finals: Hudsonville (7-4) at East Kentwood (10-1), Walled Lake Central (9-2) at Clarkston (11-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (8-3) at Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) on Saturday.

DIVISION 2

Southfield (8-3) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (9-2)

The Bluejays are seeking their first Semifinal appearance since 2008 after what most would argue were upsets of Detroit Martin Luther King and Oak Park to win the District title. That said, Southfield’s three losses this fall were by a combined 12 points, all to playoff teams including two more also playing this weekend. Roosevelt finished third in a competitive Downriver League, with two losses to eventual playoff teams. But the Bears are going for their 10th win for the sixth time in seven seasons and last week avenged one of those losses by handing Brownstown Woodhaven its first and lone defeat.

Other Regional Finals: Battle Creek Lakeview (9-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (10-1), Flushing (9-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (9-2) on Saturday, Warren DeLaSalle (8-3) vs. Birmingham Brother Rice (11-0) on Saturday at Berkley.

DIVISION 3

Lowell (10-1) at Zeeland West (11-0)

Arguably the top game in Michigan this weekend matches Ottawa-Kent Conference White co-champ Lowell with O-K Green and reigning Division 3 champion Zeeland West. The less-than-lovely weather hasn’t slowed down either team; the Red Arrows scored a season-high 49 points last week in beating Grand Rapids Christian for the second time this fall, and West has scored more than 500 points for the fourth straight season – although the Dux must bounce back from a scare after needing to outlast Stevensville Lakeshore 30-28 in the District Final.

Other Regional Finals: Petoskey (9-2) vs. Muskegon (10-1) on Saturday at Holton, Mason (8-3) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (9-2) on Saturday, Redford Thurston (8-3) at New Boston Huron (10-1).

DIVISION 4

Eaton Rapids (8-3) at Edwardsburg (10-1)

These two are similar to the point that this game could be done in 90 minutes – both have gotten here with tough running that runs down the clock and leaves little opportunity for opponents. Edwardsburg has a pair of 1,000-plus yard runners and is three points from being undefeated. But Eaton Rapids – under former Holt coach Mike Smith, a playoff veteran – has become something of an unpredictable playoff force. The Greyhounds are 4-1 in two seasons of playoff games after having never made them before Smith took over last fall.

Other Regional Finals: Whitehall (9-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (9-2), Richmond (10-1) at Lansing Sexton (11-0) on Saturday, Detroit Country Day (7-4) at Chelsea (9-2).

DIVISION 5

River Rouge (10-1) at Almont (11-0)

Almont’s dominating 35-7 win over Marine City in the District Final has made the Raiders a trendy pick to reach Ford Field from this side of the bracket. Eliminating the reigning Division 4 champion will do that, as will outscoring two playoff opponents by a combined 100-7 and putting up 569 points total through 11 games. Almont will face River Rouge for the second time in three seasons after falling 44-22 to the Panthers in a 2012 District Final. Last week’s opponent, Ida, was the first to score on River Rouge in more than a month.

Other Regional Finals: Freeland (10-1) at Menominee (11-0) on Saturday, Reed City (9-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-0), Flint Powers Catholic (8-3) at Lansing Catholic (11-0).

DIVISION 6

Madison Heights Madison (9-2) at Ithaca (11-0) on Saturday

Most opponents face Ithaca not expected to win and with nothing to lose – the Yellowjackets haven’t lost since 2009. But Madison definitely faces some pressure this weekend as the team expected to come closest, at least this season so far, to ending that run. Madison runs a lot – the team has 310 rushes to 104 passes – and with good reason averaging 9.4 yards per carry. But this might be the best defense, at least on paper, in Ithaca history. It hasn’t given up a point in the playoffs and allowed only 66 during the regular season.

Other Regional Finals: Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Boyne City (11-0), Watervliet (10-1) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (10-1) on Saturday, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (11-0) on Saturday

DIVISION 7

New Lothrop (11-0) vs. Detroit Loyola (11-0) at Detroit U-D Jesuit

It’s been quite a calendar year for New Lothrop’s boys teams, with MHSAA championships in wrestling and baseball. Beating a Loyola football team that has finished runner-up in Division 7 the last two seasons probably shouldn’t count the same – but would still be a giant deal for a Hornets team that has five straight perfect regular seasons but hasn’t made it to Ford Field during that run. Loyola hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2010 or given up more than seven points in a game since September – the Bulldogs’ 69 points against for the season rank them among the best defensively in the state.

Other Regional Finals: Traverse City St. Francis (9-2) vs. Ishpeming (10-0) at the Superior Dome, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (11-0), Bridgman (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (9-2).

DIVISION 8

Mendon (10-1) vs. Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Saturday at Grand Haven

Muskegon Catholic Central has certainly played up to expectations this fall, extending its winning streak to 23 games despite taking on a number of larger schools as a first-year member of the Lakes 8 Conference. The Crusaders are supposed to cruise to their second straight Division 8 title. But if they are to be stopped, it could be by Mendon. Only Columbus Hartley from Ohio has come closer to catching MCC than Mendon did in last season's 28-12 Regional Final defeat. With eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins, the Hornets surely aren’t intimidated.

Other Regional Finals: Munising (10-1) vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at the Superior Dome, Baldwin (10-1) at Beal City (9-2), Morenci (10-1) at Harbor Beach (11-0) on Saturday.

PHOTO: Ithaca, here against Millington in their Division 6 District Final, will look to extend its winning streak to 68 games. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)