By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Gone is the rain (at least, apparently, for this week). But here comes the storm of league play.
By the end of this weekend, all but a handful of conferences schedules will be underway.
Some of the best league openers highlight the most significant games in the state this week:
Lowell (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (2-0)
After two uncharacteristic seasons of finishing a combined 9-9, East Grand Rapids looks on the way back up with wins over two teams – Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Ottawa Hills – that finished above .500 in 2013. The Pioneers played another strong Lowell team to within three points just a year ago, and the Red Arrows again look like favorites in the ultra-competitive Ottawa-Kent White after two wins against out-of-state opponents to open this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (2-0), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (2-0) at Grand Haven (2-0), Grand Rapids South Christian (0-2) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (2-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (2-0) at Rockford (2-0).
Lansing Sexton (2-0) at Grand Ledge (1-1)
Although the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue looks like a possibility for up to four playoff teams, the league title could be decided tonight. Sexton has continued to build an impressive argument as an MHSAA title favorite with road wins over Detroit East English and Monroe, while Grand Ledge might be the league’s other top contender after a win over Forest Hills Central and then a loss last week to Holland West Ottawa after the Comets led by two scores.
Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (2-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (1-1), St. Johns (2-0) at Haslett (1-1), DeWitt (2-0) at Mason (1-1), Lansing Catholic (2-0) at Portland (2-0).
Hurley, Wis. (3-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0)
The Great Western Conference is one of only two during football season that includes both MHSAA and Wisconsin teams, and this continues to be the game that ends up deciding the champion. This is the fourth straight season these two have opened the league schedule against each other, with Forest Park coming off two straight victories in the series. The Trojans have a new coach after the retirement of Bill Santilli, one of the most highly-respected in either peninsula, but opened with a pair of wins of at least 27 points apiece.
Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (1-1) at Iron River West Iron County (2-0), Felch North Dickinson (2-0) at Munising (1-1), Gladstone (2-0) at Negaunee (2-0), L'Anse (1-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (1-1).
Oak Park (1-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (2-0)
Harrison was second and Oak Park tied for third in the Oakland Activities Association White last season, and they’re contenders again if not favorites. They played one of the most exciting games in the entire OAA in 2013, a 60-52 Harrison win after Oak Park edged the Hawks 26-21 in 2012. The Knights enter with the lone loss between the two so far this fall – but it’s a 27-26 defeat to Detroit Cass Tech in arguably the best game of opening weekend.
Others that caught my eye: Warren Mott (2-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-1), New Boston Huron (2-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (2-0), Detroit Country Day (1-1) at Detroit Loyola (2-0), Clinton (2-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-0).
Southwest and Border
Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at Portage Central (1-0)
Beating Lakeshore 38-28 in Week 4 last season was the biggest early win on Portage Central’s way to its best finish ever – 12-1. The Mustangs are coming off an unexpected off week, as they were not able to reschedule against Battle Creek Lakeview after storms prevented the game Friday night. Lakeshore’s start is anything but a typical 2-0 , as last week’s 35-7 win over Kalamazoo Loy Norrix was preceded by a 2-0 victory by a safety over Battle Creek Central on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Portage Northern (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0), Kalamazoo Central (0-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-2), Mendon (2-0) at Watervliet (1-1), Battle Creek Central (1-1) at Battle Creek Lakeview (0-1).
Lower Up North
Traverse City West (1-1) at Traverse City Central (2-0)
These rivals emerged from the former Traverse City High in 1997, and West owns a 12-5 advantage in the series although they have split the last two match-ups. West's 17-14 win in Week 3 last season helped get the Titans into the playoffs and helped keep Central out with the same record. They play to open the Big North Conference season at neutral Thirlby Field, and it should be packed again.
Others that caught my eye: Cadillac (2-0) at Petoskey (2-0), Traverse City St. Francis (1-1) at Elk Rapids (1-1), Rogers City (2-0) at Lincoln Alcona (2-0), Manton (2-0) at Evart (1-1).
Bay and Thumb
Montrose (2-0) at Lake Fenton (1-1)
Montrose hasn't lost a Genesee Area Conference Red game since Week 3 of 2010. But last week's one-score victory over Corunna made the Rams look at least a little less invincible, and Lake Fenton is sure to try to pounce. The Blue Devils finished second to Montrose the last two seasons and bounced back from a bad opening-night loss to Freeland with a similarly big win over Durand.
Others that caught my eye: Davison (1-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (1-1), Reese (1-1) at Marlette (1-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port (2-0) at Ubly (1-1), Croswell-Lexington (1-1) at Richmond (2-0).
Carsonville-Port Sanilac (0-2) at Deckerville (2-0)
Carsonville-Port Sanilac has never found itself in this position during the short history of 8-player football, or at all since 2008. But a win over rival Deckerville – 4-0 against the Tigers since moving to 8-player in 2012 – would certainly be a jumpstart to CPS's season. Carsonville-Port Sanilac was the inaugural MHSAA 8-player champion in 2011, and Deckerville kept the title in the Thumb by winning in 2012.
Others that caught my eye: Akron-Fairgrove (1-1) at Owendale-Gagetown (2-0), Waldron (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0).
PHOTO: Midland (blue helmet) is 1-1 after a 31-15 victory last week over Bay City Central. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)