A Game for Every Fan: Week 3

September 12, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This week has some of the best of everything for the Michigan high school football fan.

Two powers meet again in one of the most followed rivalry games in the state. Two neighbors face off in another that should draw an entire town. On perhaps a sadder but immediately urgent note, two more will meet again but for the final time.

See below for some of the best games to see in every corner of the state this weekend, and be sure to monitor all the scores at the MHSAA Score Center.

West Michigan

Rockford (2-0) at Muskegon (2-0)

Most seasons, this is arguably the most anticipated regular-season matchup in Michigan. And the excitement was tempered only slightly by Muskegon’s move to another division of the O-K Conference in 2012. Rockford holds a 4-2 advantage in the regular-season series since it began in 2007, but four of those games have been decided by eight or fewer points and Muskegon won last season, 21-9. The Big Reds, also last season’s Division 2 runner-up, have opened with big wins over Grand Haven and reigning Division 3 champ Grand Rapids Christian. Rockford’s slate has been similarly impressive – double-digit wins over Utica Eisenhower and Holt.

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Mona Shores (2-0) at Caledonia (2-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (0-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-1), East Grand Rapids (2-0) at Holland West Ottawa (1-1), Ravenna (1-1) at Montague (1-1).

Bay and Thumb

Lapeer West (2-0) at Lapeer East (2-0)

These two schools will merge next fall, making this the final matchup between the rivals. West owns a 28-10 edge in the series dating to 1975, including seven wins in the teams’ last eight against each other. That said, East has bounced back from last fall’s three-win showing and outscored its first two opponents by a combined score of 51-0. West is playing this fall for a third straight playoff berth but this week for its first 3-0 start since 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (2-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-0), Essexville Garber (2-0) at Frankenmuth (1-1), Bay City Western (1-1) at Saginaw Arthur Hill (2-0), Freeland (2-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (2-0).

Lower Up North

Traverse City Central (1-1) at Traverse City West (1-1)

The Nowak-Olson Memorial Trophy is again on the line with these rivals having split their last eight games against each other. This matchup also could go a long way toward deciding the Big North Conference champion. Central won 42-28 last season and finished undefeated in the league, while West settled for a second-place tie. Both rebounded from opening-night losses to win their first league game last week.

Others that caught my eye: Petoskey (2-0) at Cadillac (2-0), Traverse City St. Francis (1-1) at Elk Rapids (2-0), Suttons Bay (0-2) at Kingsley (1-1).

Upper Peninsula

Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0) at Hurley, Wis. (2-0)

These two have built quite a rivalry in the Great Western Conference. At least one has won the league title over the last three seasons, and twice during that time they shared it – last season with Bessemer in a three-way split. The Trojans haven’t been tested yet, but Hurley had to fend off a challenge last week from Lake Linden-Hubbell in an eventual 30-20 win.

Others that caught my eye: Gwinn (1-1) at Manistique (0-2), Marquette (2-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (1-1), Powers North Central (2-0) at Lake Linden Hubbell (1-1), Kingsford (2-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (0-2).

Southwest and Border

Kalamazoo Central (2-0) at Portage Northern (2-0)

The Maroon Giants are back in some conversations they’ve missed out on the last few seasons thanks to their first 2-0 start since 2008 that could become their first 3-0 kickoff since 2004 – also the last season Kalamazoo Central made the playoffs. Portage Northern has beaten the Giants in eight straight, however, including 48-0 last season.

Others that caught my eye: Saugatuck (2-0) at Decatur (2-0), Plainwell (2-0) at Dowagiac (2-0), Portage Central (2-0) at Mattawan (1-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0).

Greater Detroit and Southeast

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-0) at Utica Eisenhower (1-1)

Chippewa Valley also has made its way back into the spotlight with its first 2-0 start since 2006 that’s included wins against regular playoff qualifiers Romeo and Dearborn. The good news for the Big Reds is they beat Eisenhower by two touchdowns in 2012 – which has be a confidence builder heading into a rematch with a rival that lost to a powerful Rockford team on opening night and is expected to be in Macomb Area Conference Red mix again.

Others that caught my eye: Warren Woods Tower (2-0) at Madison Heights Madison (2-0), Oak Park (2-0) at Rochester Adams (1-1), Harper Woods Chandler Park (2-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (1-1), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-0) at Clinton (2-0).


Grand Ledge (0-2) at Lansing Sexton (2-0)

The surging Big Reds have made this game the no-brainer best in this area this week. Sexton has opened with solid wins over Chelsea and Monroe, and the smallest school in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue now takes on the second-largest school in the entire Lansing area. Keep in mind the Comets’ start didn’t come against slouches; East Kentwood and Holland West Ottawa are among the strongest programs on the west side of the state. But Grand Ledge has to feel some urgency heading into a competitive league schedule.

Others that caught my eye: Fowlerville (1-1) at DeWitt (2-0), Portland (2-0) at Lansing Catholic (0-2), Haslett (1-1) at St. Johns (1-1), Charlotte (2-0) at Eaton Rapids (1-1).

PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth (blue helmets) handled a solid Saginaw Heritage team last week, but gets another challenge this weekend in Birmingham Brother Rice. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)