By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Two thirds of the MHSAA football regular season are complete. And one tenth of Michigan’s teams are still perfect – at least two for only a few more hours.
A total of 59 teams are 6-0, and four are playing each other in two of our most significant clashes in the state this weekend.
See below for those matchups and more from your neighborhood. And be sure to check out the first-time, full-hour MHSAA Football Friday Overtime, kicking off with highlights from 13 games at 11:30 p.m. tonight on Fox Sports Detroit.
Also, remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings.
(All games below are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)
Grand Ledge (5-1) at Lansing Everett (6-0)
The Vikings have turned aside all challengers in their pursuit of a first league title since 1986. But despite a 6-0 win over East Lansing last week, the toughest might still be yet to come. Grand Ledge has won five straight since opening with a loss to East Kentwood, and over the years has thrived in games when everyone else is talking more about the other team.
Others that caught my eye: Pewamo-Westphalia (5-1) at Fowler (5-1), Grand Blanc (4-2) at Hartland (6-0), Lansing Catholic (5-1) at Portland (6-0), Olivet (5-1) at Battle Creek Pennfield (5-1).
Thumb and Bay
Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-0) at Flint Powers Catholic (6-0)
Powers' season has been plenty eventful; the reigning MHSAA Division 5 champion owns wins over reigning Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel and reigning Division 3 runner-up Mount Pleasant, and fought through an emotional evening a week ago to beat Davison on the same day as retired coach Jack Pratt's funeral. Carman-Ainsworth's journey to this potential Saginaw Valley Association South title decider has rolled along a little more quietly. All the Cavaliers have done is outscore their first three league opponents by a combined 148-8.
Others that caught my eye: Frankenmuth (6-0) at Essexville Garber (4-2), Freeland (5-1) at Hemlock (5-1), Marysville (5-1) at Marine City (5-1), Croswell-Lexington (6-0) at Almont (4-2).
Lower Up North
St. Ignace (6-0) at Pickford (5-1)
Both are newcomers to the Ski Valley Conference this fall, from different former leagues, and are dominating the North division. The winner tonight claims a share of the league title, and Pickford already has beaten third-place Pellston big. A sixth win would give the Panthers their most since 2007. The Saints aren't budging, outscoring opponents 253-12 so far.
Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (6-0) at Frankfort (3-3), Grayling (6-0) at Kalkaska (5-1), Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-2) at Onaway (5-1), Benzie Central (3-3) at Kingsley (4-2).
Ishepming (6-0) at Negaunee (6-0)
Two of six undefeated teams in the Upper Peninsula meet to decide at least a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference – and eventually, this result could decide the whole title with the way these two have dominated. Negaunee has had a few close calls, but has some additional incentive after losing to Ishpeming in six of the last seven meetings.
Others that caught my eye: Marquette (4-2) at Menominee (5-1), Iron Mountain North Dickinson (6-0) at Powers North Central (4-2), Kingsford (5-1) at Iron Mountain (4-2), Rapid River (4-1) at Eben Junction Superior Central (5-1).
Muskegon Oakridge (6-0) at Shelby (5-1)
Winning the West Michigan Conference generally is a strong endorsement for a team's playoff hopes. Six of eight league teams still are up for automatic playoff berths, but Oakridge can claim a share of the championship tonight. Shelby's lone loss was to Montague, which lost to Oakridge; a Shelby win would create a three-way tie for first place between all three.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids South Christian (4-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-0), Caledonia (5-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-2), East Grand Rapids (2-4) at Lowell (5-1), Grand Rapids Northview (5-1) at Cedar Springs (4-2).
Garden City (4-2) at Dearborn Heights Robichaud (6-0)
Robichaud hasn't been perfect this deep into a season since 1991, and got a lot of the heavy work out of the way last week by beating reigning league champion Redford Thurston to earn a share of the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red. But the Bulldogs can't forget about Garden City, which like Thurston is just a win back of Robichaud and would create a three-way title with a win tonight.
Others that caught my eye: Farmington Hills Harrison (4-2) at Oak Park (6-0), Birmingham Seaholm (5-1) at Bloomfield Hills Lahser (5-1), Plymouth (5-1) at Canton (4-2), Detroit Catholic Central (4-2) at Birmingham Brother Rice (4-2), Saturday.
Southwest and Border
Dowagiac (6-0) at Three Rivers (4-2)
Dowagiac hasn't given up a point in three games and easily could look ahead to Edwardsburg, next week's opponent and the other team tied for first in the Wolverine B Conference South. But the Chieftains won't overlook Three Rivers, which is two eight-point losses from being 6-0 -- including one of those to Edwardsburg two weeks ago.
Others that caught my eye: Lawton (5-1) at Marcellus (5-1), Mattawan (6-0) at Portage Central (5-1), Niles Brandywine (4-2) at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (6-0), Hartford (5-1) at Decatur (5-1).
PHOTO: Portland running back Jacob Kimmell works to break away from multiple tacklers during the Raiders' 36-13 win over Corunna on Sept. 8. (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.)