By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
League play begins this week for many teams across Michigan – and with favorites facing off immediately in games that eventually could decide who wins those conference titles.
The highlighted matchups below include a few of those, but mostly some of the last titanic nonleague battles we'll see this fall – at least, until we reach the MHSAA playoffs.
All games below are tonight unless noted. Follow all of the results as they come in at the MHSAA Score Center. And keep an eye on Muskegon vs. Grandville; with their next win, the Big Reds will become the first program in state history with 800 victories.
Bay & Thumb
Millington (2-0) at Essexville Garber (1-1)
This might not seem the caliber of a “best game of the week” from this area, but it’s been a sneaky-good matchup the last few years as Garber won in 2013 and Millington came back with a 28-19 victory on opening night in 2014. The Cardinals’ opening-night victory over Vassar this fall was a solid start, and the Dukes have scored 80 points total despite splitting their first two matchups.
Others that caught my eye: Marine City (1-1) at Marysville (1-1), Sandusky (2-0) at Bad Axe (1-1), Ortonville-Brandon (2-0) at Clio (2-0), Corunna (2-0) at Goodrich (1-1).
Detroit East English (2-0) at Detroit Martin Luther King (2-0)
King is expected by many to be the team to beat from the Detroit Public School League this season, and its first five opponents include reigning Division 2 champion Warren DeLaSalle (a 12-10 win), now East English and in two weeks rival Cass Tech. East English has opened with victories over 2014 playoff teams Walled Lake Central and Detroit Renaissance.
Others that caught my eye: Southfield (1-1) at Farmington (2-0), Lincoln Park (2-0) at Trenton (2-0), Clarkston (1-1) at West Bloomfield (2-0), Farmington Hills Harrison (1-1) at Oak Park (0-2).
Grand Ledge (2-0) at Lansing Sexton (0-2)
While Grand Ledge looks early like possibly the Lansing area’s best team (Lansing Catholic is on the other side of that argument), the Comets can't look past an old rival. Sexton graduated a lot from last season’s Division 4 runner-up team, including the majority of its skill players on offense, but a new group is coming along – with the 0-2 start coming against two 2014 playoff teams.
Others that caught my eye: Lansing Catholic (2-0) at Williamston (2-0), Jackson (2-0) at East Lansing (0-2), Oscoda (1-1) at Vestaburg (2-0), Eaton Rapids (1-1) at Ionia (1-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Escanaba (2-0) at Gaylord (2-0)
There’s tons of excitement surrounding these programs as we head toward the middle of September. Escanaba is off to its first 2-0 start since 2011 and a win away from equaling its total from each of the last two seasons. Gaylord missed the playoffs a year ago and came back by starting this fall outscoring its first two opponents 94-6 – and won all three meetings the last time these teams had a series, from 2008-10.
Others that caught my eye: Lincoln Alcona (2-0) at Rogers City (2-0), Fife Lake Forest Area (1-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (2-0), Grayling (1-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (2-0), Traverse City Central (2-0) at Traverse City West (0-2).
Southeast & Border
Saline (2-0) at Ann Arbor Skyline (2-0)
This might be the most highly-anticipated game in Michigan this weekend. Saline is playing like a team with arguably the state’s top quarterback (Josh Jackson) and coming off finishing runner-up in Division 1 – the Hornets then beat Rockford by 13 on opening night. And Skyline is playing like a team with two of the state’s most dynamic players in Daelin Hayes and Hunter Rison, opening with a pair of double-digit wins after entering the season with 12 straight losses.
Others that caught my eye: Morenci (2-0) at Petersburg-Summerfield (2-0), Hillsdale (1-1) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (2-0), Climax-Scotts (2-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0), Homer (1-1) at Concord (2-0).
Portage Central (2-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0)
These Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference West rivals again kick off the league schedule against each other after last season’s 20-17 Lakeshore win in Week 3 eventually decided the title. Five of their six meetings since joining the same SMAC division have been decided by 10 points or fewer – and those six meetings have resulted in three wins for each team.
Others that caught my eye: New Buffalo (1-1) at Cassopolis (2-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (1-1) at Coldwater (2-0), Paw Paw (2-0) at Sturgis (1-1), Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (1-1) at Kalamazoo Central (2-0), Battle Creek Lakeview (1-1) at Battle Creek Central (0-2).
Negaunee (2-0) at Gladstone (2-0)
Gladstone likely was feeling similarly excited this time last fall when it ended a 22-game losing streak with a 3-0 start, only to drop its final six games. But the Braves have bounced back again and hope to follow last fall’s 24-19 win over Negaunee, which had to be considered an upset then and after as the Miners made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. They’re 2-0 after surviving a tough test last week from Calumet.
Others that caught my eye: Munising (2-0) at Felch North Dickinson (1-1), Ishpeming (2-0) at Calumet (1-1), Iron River West Iron County (2-0) at Iron Mountain (1-1), Marquette (0-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (1-1).
Rockford (1-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (2-0)
The Rams are taking on their second 2014 MHSAA runner-up already this season, having fallen to Saline in Week 1 and now taking on the second-place team from Division 2. Rockford handed the Sailors their only pre-Ford Field loss in 2014, 10-7 in Week 3. But Mona Shores has had no problem putting points on the board despite replacing a Division I college quarterback – the Sailors have scored 55 in each of their first two games.
Others that caught my eye: East Grand Rapids (2-0) at Caledonia (2-0), Hudsonville (2-0) at Zeeland East (2-0), Grandville (2-0) at Muskegon (1-1), Scottville Mason County Central (2-0) at Whitehall (2-0).
Rapid River (2-0) at Cedarville (2-0)
Together these two have played in three of the first four MHSAA 8-player Finals, and they’ll continue this growing rivalry game despite playing in different leagues for the first time since making the format switch. Cedarville's only regular-season losses of the last three years have come, twice, to the Rockets, who won 20-19 a year ago and haven’t lost a regular-season game since Week 9 of 2012.
Others that caught my eye: Peck (1-1) at Kinde-North Huron (1-1), Powers North Central (2-0) at Bellaire (2-0) (Sat.).
PHOTO: Grand Ledge’s 2-0 start included a 38-7 win over Holland West Ottawa in Week 2. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)