By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Admittedly, a number of teams show up regularly in this weekly look at the best high school football games to be played around the state. Their frequent mentions are the product of tough competition they schedule, their past histories of making it to the highest levels of our playoffs, and because of both the overall statewide interest in how those teams fare.
But this week, many of those teams are absent from this list – replaced by some others with similarly strong resumes this season that many probably aren't as used to following.
See below for our best matchups from each region of the state, including four 5-0 vs. 5-0 face-offs.
Some additional fun with numbers: Two teams (Portland and Felch North Dickinson) have qualified for the 11-player playoffs. A total of 76 can qualify with a win tonight. Counting 8-player teams as well, there are 79 teams still undefeated.
Jonesville (5-0) at Homer (5-0)
Neither team has won the Big 8 Conference title since Homer did so in 2005 (although Jonesville finished one game back last season). In fact, Homer hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and Jonesville was 1-8 only two seasons ago. But they’re both dominating this fall, and both already have big wins over last season’s league champion, Reading. The winner tonight earns a playoff berth and strong upper hand in the league race with two conference games remaining.
Others that caught my eye: Lansing Everett (4-1) at East Lansing (3-2), Lansing Sexton (5-0) at Holt (3-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-1) at Mason (5-0), Williamston (4-1) at Portland (5-0).
Shelby (5-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (5-0)
Oakridge’s 18-game regular-season winning streak is on the line against a team it has beaten in four straight – but also, like Oakridge, a Shelby team that won 10 games last season. The Tigers have romped through its first four games in the West Michigan Conference this fall, while Oakridge did get a scare last week before beating Ravenna 31-27. The winner of this one claims a playoff berth, and Oakridge – with its final league opponents a combined 2-8 – will be touch to catch in the league race if it can prevail.
Others that caught my eye: Allendale (4-1) at Belding (4-1), Lowell (5-0) at East Grand Rapids (3-2), Hudsonville (3-2) at Rockford (4-1), Wyoming Godwin Heights (4-1) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (3-2).
Rapid River (5-0) at Cedarville (5-0)
This has become the regular-season game of the year during the short history of 8-player football in Michigan. Cedarville is tied for the highest playoff points average in 8-player and Rapid River is just behind the three co-leaders. The winner takes a commanding one-game lead in the Bridge-Alliance Conference, but Cedarville has additional motivation: The Trojans beat Rapid River 72-12 during the 2012 regular season and were a heavy favorite to at least make the MHSAA Final – but Rapid River came back to eliminate Cedarville 22-14 in their Regional Final.
Others that caught my eye: Felch North Dickinson (5-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-0), Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-2) at Hancock (2-3), Kingsford (4-1) at Marquette (4-1), Eagle River Northland Pines, Wis. (5-1) at Houghton (3-2).
Greater Detroit and Southeast
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (5-0) at Milan (5-0)
This kind of game has become an annual rite of fall for St. Mary, which has at least 10 wins four of the last five seasons and is used to being in Huron League contention. Milan is getting used to this too; after a dismal 1-8 finish in 2011, the Big Reds ran the table last season and have a 14-game regular-season winning streak on the line. Beating Grosse Ile 21-14 and then St. Mary 35-20 over consecutive weeks last season put the rest of the league on notice, but the rematch of the latter could be both closer and more low-scoring – the Falcons have given up only 22 points this season.
Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (5-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-2), Hudson (5-0) at Ida (4-1), Waterford Our Lady (3-2) at Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (5-0), Grass Lake (5-0) at Manchester (4-1).
Lower Up North
McBain (4-1) at Lake City (5-0)
Granted, a giant matchup against reigning MHSAA Division 8 runner-up Beal City looms for Lake City in Week 7. But few teams statewide have been as impressive so far as the Trojans, who have outscored their opponents by a combined 262-6 – yes, 6 – in setting up for another Highland Conference title-deciding showdown with the Aggies. McBain would love to ruin that possibility. The Ramblers did fall to Lake City 28-13 last season, but have beaten Trojans in three of their last five games and already have equaled last season’s win total.
Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids (4-1) at Grayling (4-1), Mio (4-1) at Rogers City (3-2), Mancelona (3-2) at Pickford (4-1), East Jordan (3-2) at Boyne City (4-1).
Southwest and Border
Schoolcraft (4-1) at Battle Creek Pennfield (5-0)
Did you know? ... Pennfield has qualified for the playoffs 14 straight seasons and can make it 15 tonight. The Panthers have to be careful, however, not to look ahead to next week’s matchup with Olivet – the other team tied for first in the Kalamazoo Valley Association. That shouldn’t be an issue, however, given Schoolcraft won the league last season thanks in large part to a 19-16 win over Pennfield. Schoolcraft already has fallen to Olivet this season, three weeks ago, and likely must win tonight to keep hopes of a shared title alive.
Others that caught my eye: Lawton (5-0) at Hartford (3-2), Mattawan (2-3) at Portage Northern (3-2), Deckerville (3-2) at Lawrence (3-1), Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1) at Sturgis (3-2).
Bay and Thumb
Frankenmuth (4-1) at Millington (4-1)
The layers of this rivalry stack high, and this game no doubt is the one both have had circled all fall. After three seasons falling to the Cardinals, Frankenmuth broke through for a 12-8 win in the Tri-Valley Conference East opener last season and hung on to win the league title while Millington also didn’t lose again until the District Finals. The Cardinals have fallen to Essexville-Garber in league play this season and trail the Eagles by a win in the standings with two more games to play after tonight.
Others that caught my eye: Vassar (3-2) at Marlette (5-0), Bay City Western (2-3) at Midland Dow (4-1), Cass City (3-2) at Reese (4-1), Fenton (5-0) at Lapeer East (3-2).
PHOTO: Carson City Crystal – here against Vestaburg in Week 4 – is one of 76 teams statewide that can qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight. The Eagles made the postseason last fall for the first time since 1999. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)