By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
How much does each game of the MHSAA football season count?
It’s only Week 4. But on one hand, 108 teams enter this weekend winless and one more loss from missing their chance at automatic playoff qualification. On the other hand, the elite already are beginning to separate – with six of our eight featured matchups pitting a pair of 3-0 teams.
That said, each of the last five weeks of the regular season matter just as much as well – little is decided before the midpoint. But the following should help set the paths for many as we reach halfway next week.
Rockford (3-0) at Hudsonville (3-0)
From 2003-08, this was one of the best matchups in the entire Ottawa-Kent Conference and on more than one occasion THE game in West Michigan for that particular season – all six were decided by eight or fewer points, with Hudsonville claiming a 4-2 advantage. Rockford has won the last four meetings, all by multiple scores – but this one has the feel of another potential classic.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Haven (3-0) at Holland West Ottawa (2-1), Whitehall (3-0) at Mason County Central (2-1), Caledonia (2-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (2-1), Muskegon Catholic Central (3-0) at Spring Lake (2-1).
Plymouth (3-0) at Livonia Churchill (3-0)
This pair of Kensington Lakes Activities Association South foes has played a pair of classics over the last two seasons – Plymouth winning 23-22 last season and Churchill claiming a 35-31 victory in 2012. Churchill is surging again after winning two games last season, beating returning playoff teams Brighton and Westland John Glenn over the last two weeks. Plymouth also missed the playoffs last season but owns an impressive three-point win over Pinckney.
Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (3-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (3-0), Detroit Cody (2-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (3-0) on Saturday, Warren Michigan Collegiate (3-0) vs. Detroit University Prep (3-0) on Saturday at Detroit Osborn, Lake Orion (2-1) at Oxford (3-0).
Coldwater (3-0) at Parma Western (2-1)
This matchup is overflowing with storylines. Parma Western has had two winning seasons over its last 24 and few games of consequence over that time – but has blown into 2014 with two early wins including over Battle Creek Pennfield, and the Panthers barely fell to Marshall last week, 45-44. Parma Wester also has never made the MHSAA playoffs, even starting 5-1 in 2009 before finishing 5-4. Enter this week’s opponent, Coldwater, coming off its first playoff berth ever last season and outscoring its first three 2014 opponents – including Pennfield and Marshall as well – by a combined 97-6.
Others that caught my eye: Mason (1-2) at St. Johns (3-0), Eaton Rapids (2-1) at Williamston (3-0), Portland (2-1) at Ionia (2-1), Grand Ledge (1-2) at Okemos (2-1).
Ishpeming (3-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-0)
This game has been similarly highly anticipated a few other times in recent history – although Ishpeming won the 2008, 2009 and 2011 games, Westwood entered all of those undefeated. This one has to have Patriots supporters just as amped – Westwood hasn’t beaten Ishpeming since 1998, is coming off two losing seasons and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 140-30. Ishpeming? The two-time reigning MHSAA Division 7 champion has run its winning streak to 24 while beating this season’s first three opponents by a combined 126-32.
Others that caught my eye: Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-1) at Bessemer (3-0), Escanaba (1-2) at Marquette (2-1), Gladstone (3-0) at Menominee (3-0), Newberry (1-2) at Munising (2-1).
Lower Up North
Detroit Catholic Central (1-2) at Traverse City Central (3-0)
The Trojans have momentum after last week’s 20-13 win over rival Traverse City West, and this week could claim arguably their most impressive nonleague win since the schools split in 1997. Detroit Catholic’s Central’s lone win this fall came against a Canadian team, but its losses are to Muskegon by seven and Ohio power Toledo Whitmer – and there’s no reason to think the Shamrocks won’t be in Division 1 title contention again in two months.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (1-2) at Petoskey (2-1), Alpena (2-1) at Cadillac (3-0), Charlevoix (2-1) at Grayling (1-2), Standish-Sterling (1-2) at Whittemore-Prescott (3-0).
Southwest and Border
St. Joseph (3-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (3-0)
Niles also is undefeated to give the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference West three 3-0 teams to open the season, but St. Joseph and Lakeshore are annual favorites and own the most impressive victories so far. St. Joseph, last season’s league runner-up, got a leg up last week by beating 2013 third-place Portage Northern by 10. Lakeshore, last season’s fourth-place team and an eventual District winner, beat reigning league champ Portage Central last week 20-17.
Others that caught my eye: Parchment (1-2) at Constantine (3-0), Gobles (3-0) at Decatur (3-0), Plainwell (3-0) at Edwardsburg (2-1), Vicksburg (3-0) at Paw Paw (3-0).
Bay and Thumb
Millington (3-0) at Frankenmuth (3-0)
Frankenmuth has turned a four-game losing streak to the Cardinals into a two-game winning streak, with the victor going on to claim the Tri-Valley Conference East championship the last four seasons. Millington’s opening-night win over Essexville-Garber is the most impressive by either so far, but Frankenmuth did avenge last season’s loss to Hemlock and beat a returning playoff qualifier in North Branch.
Others that caught my eye: Flint Beecher (3-0) at Goodrich (3-0), Brighton (2-1) at Grand Blanc (2-1), Mount Pleasant (2-1) at Midland (2-1), Grosse Pointe South (2-1) at Port Huron (2-1).
Dryden (3-0) at Peck (3-0)
Dryden is a Class C school and as such cannot qualify for the MHSAA playoffs in 8-player. But the Cardinals are making a run at the North Central Thumb 8-Man League title as one of three undefeated teams atop the league – Peck and Deckerville are the others. Dryden has scored an incredible 176 points in three games; Peck, however, is the reigning MHSAA champion and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 149-0.
Others that caught my eye: Engadine (2-1) vs. Cedarville (3-0) at DeTour, Morrice (2-1) at Deckerville (3-0), Burr Oak (2-1) at Battle Creek St. Philip (3-0) on Saturday.
PHOTO: Beal City (carrying the ball) hopes to be among those moving to 4-0 this week after earning its second win two weeks ago, 15-14 over Clare. (Click to see 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.)