By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Time isn't running out yet on the 2012 MHSAA football season.
But for those with high aspirations, the time has come to make months of preparation pay off.
Four weeks remain in the regular season, meaning every team with at least two wins still has a shot to qualify for the playoffs automatically. It also means most league titles are still in play – although a lot of those opportunities will be lost by the time Saturday's games are done.
Following are this week's best matchups from your corner of the state. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings.
(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)
Carrollton (5-0) at Ithaca (5-0)
It’s not that Ithaca has laid low during this season’s extension to its 33-game winning streak. It’s just that before this week, none of the games was an intriguing enough matchup to mention here – the Yellowjackets beat their strongest opponents so far, Williamston and Saginaw Valley Lutheran, 46-0 and 55-0, respectively. Quarterback Travis Smith, a hero from last season’s Division 6 Final win, has completed 66 percent of his passes for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for eight scores. He’s tough to stop, but Ithaca’s defense might have the bigger challenge this time – Carrollton running back Derrick Nash, who has committed to Central Michigan, is averaging 10 yards per carry with 1,048 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Manchester (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1), Lake City (5-0) at Beal City (5-0), Lansing Waverly (4-1) at Charlotte (3-2), East Lansing (4-1) at Lansing Everett (5-0).
Southwest and Border
Battle Creek Pennfield (5-0) at Schoolcraft (5-0)
These two have taken slightly different routes to this point, making this game a true test for both. Pennfield has beaten five of the bottom six teams in the Kalamazoo Valley Association standings (two are among three tied for fifth), and those opponents have combined for five wins so far this season. But the Panthers also are the reigning league champions. Schoolcraft owns wins over likely playoff qualifiers Olivet and Constantine, but hasn’t beaten Pennfield since 2009.
Others that caught my eye: Niles Brandywine (4-1) at Buchanan (4-1), Mattawan (5-0) at St. Joseph (3-2), Climax-Scotts (5-0) at Pittsford (4-1), Marcellus (5-0) at Watervliet (5-0).
Orchard Lake St. Mary (4-1) at Birmingham Brother Rice (4-1), Saturday
Of all the great matchups that take place in the Detroit Catholic League Central every season, this one might be the best of 2012. Both still must face Detroit Catholic Central – the reigning MHSAA Division 1 runner-up. But so far, thes Eaglets and the Warriors have made the biggest waves and done so coming off MHSAA championships last fall – St. Mary in Division 3 and Brother Rice in Division 2. The Warriors fell to reigning Division 1 champ Detroit Cass Tech 25-18 on opening night in what looked then like the potential game of 2012 in the Detroit area. Then St. Mary beat Cass Tech 13-6 last week. If all of that doesn’t provide enough hype, there’s always the result of last season’s game – a 10-9 Eaglets victory.
Others that caught my eye: Rochester (4-1) at Lake Orion (5-0), Allen Park Cabrini (4-1) at Royal Oak Shrine (4-1), Detroit Central Collegiate (3-2) at Detroit East English (4-1), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (4-1) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-1).
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at Lowell (4-1)
Wins over traditional powers Zeeland West (59-58) and East Grand Rapids (43-17) have made this a solid season so far for Forest Hills Central – but this week, the Rangers can take it up another level. Lowell continues to be Lowell – its only loss was to Muskegon, arguably the best team in the state regardless of division, and no other opponent has scored more than seven points. Standout linebackers Colin Schlosser and Nick Lamica may need to come up big again for Forest Hills Central to break an eight-game losing streak against the Red Arrows.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Christian (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (2-3), Shelby (5-0) at Montague (4-1), Grandville Calvin Christian (4-1) at Hopkins (5-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (4-1) at Muskegon (5-0).
Lower Up North
Traverse City West (4-1) at Traverse City Central (4-1)
West owns an 11-4 edge in this series since the schools split in 1997. But a Central win this time would erase some of those memories – or at least push the one-sidedness out of the conversation for a while. The Trojans’ only loss this season was by three to Grand Haven on opening night, and they’ve already equaled last season’s win total with only two more needed for their most since 1991. This also could eventually decide the Big North Conference title – West has been a power since two divisions combined in 2000, but Central hasn’t won a league title since the schools were still one, in 1996. West’s only loss this season was by four to Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, also on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Grayling (5-0) at Elk Rapids (3-2), Pickford (5-0) at Mancelona (5-0), Kingsley (4-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-0), Onaway (4-1) at Pellston (4-1).
Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-0) at Iron Mountain North Dickinson (5-0)
North Dickinson, playing only eight regular-season games this season, became the first team in 2012 to qualify for the playoffs. Now Forest Park can do the same by beating the Nordics for a ninth straight time, a streak that has included two playoff victories. This is a clash of likely eventual league champions – North Dickinson needs only a win over Powers North Central next week to claim the Mid-Eastern Football Conference title, while the Trojans already own a win over 2011 Great Western Conference champion Hurley, Wis., and have a one-game lead on two teams in that league.
Others that caught my eye: Menominee (4-1) at Escanaba (2-3), Marquette (4-1) at Kingsford (4-1), Powers North Central (3-2) at Newberry (3-2), Cedarville (5-0) at Rapid River (5-0).
Thumb and Bay
Goodrich (4-1) at Lake Fenton (4-1)
The Blue Devils are tied with Montrose atop the Genesee Area Conference Red standings and playing for their first league title since sharing with the Rams in 2007. They’ve outscored their last four opponents 203-20 since opening this season with a 42-39 loss to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. Goodrich fell to Montrose by a point two weeks ago, and would love to jump back into this race with a third-straight win over Lake Fenton – the Martians won last season 27-7.
Others that caught my eye: Midland Dow (3-2) at Bay City Western (5-0), Lapeer East (3-2) at Fenton (4-1), Davison (4-1) at Flint Powers Catholic (5-0), Hemlock (4-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (4-1).
PHOTO: Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith focuses in on a target during last week's win at Merrill. (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.)