By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Something's gonna give in many football leagues all over Michigan this weekend.
In the southeastern corner alone at least seven matchups feature first and second-place teams aiming at claiming league titles. And titanic face-offs can be found continuing north to the coast of Lake Superior.
Here's a look at some that stuck out most from this week's schedule. Be sure to check MHSAA Score Center all weekend for up-to-date scores and standings, and then again each morning for updated playoff points averages.
Caledonia (5-1) at Lowell (6-0)
There's never much of a break in the O-K White, and Lowell gets to follow up last week’s four-overtime win at East Grand Rapids with a home game against second-place Caledonia. The Fighting Scots’ only loss was to much-improved Muskegon Mona Shores, and they’ve scored a combined 136 points in three wins since that Week 3 defeat. The Red Arrows are used to top competition with wins also against River Rouge (4-1) and Muskegon (5-1) this fall, and they get to follow this one with Grand Rapids Christian next week.
Others that caught my eye: Holland West Ottawa (4-2) at East Kentwood (4-2), Belding (4-2) at Hopkins (4-2), Spring Lake (5-1) at Ludington (4-2), Zeeland East (5-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (5-1).
Greater Detroit and Southeast
Canton (6-0) at Plymouth (5-1)
A set of baseball and softball fields separate these neighbors, and they’ve also seen each other twice each of the last five seasons – once during league play and again during the playoffs. A three-point loss by Plymouth to Livonia Franklin is all that kept this from being a matchup of undefeated teams – and if Plymouth wins, it will force Canton to share the Kensington Lakes Activities Association South title.
Others that caught my eye: Belleville (4-2) at Dearborn Fordson (4-2), Detroit Denby (5-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-0), Oak Park (5-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (5-1), Detroit Mumford (6-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (6-0)
Thumb and Bay
Montrose (6-0) at Flint Beecher (5-1)
Beecher’s only loss this season was two weeks ago against Lake Fenton – which is tied with Montrose for first place in the Genesee Area Conference Red. If the Buccaneers can beat the Rams, a three-team shared title will remain a possibility – Montrose ends the regular season against Lake Fenton and has beaten the Blue Devils in three straight.
Others that caught my eye: Reese (5-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port (5-1), Flint Powers (3-3) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-1), Traverse City St. Francis (4-2) at Saginaw Nouvel (5-1), Gladwin (4-2) at Sanford Meridian (6-0).
Southwest and Border
Paw Paw (6-0) at Plainwell (6-0)
How little have these Wolverine Conference East leaders been tested this fall? Combined, they’ve given up 68 points. It’s fair to say the Trojans have been the tiniest bit more impressive – they have three shutouts including one over Wolverine Conference West leader Dowagiac. But Paw Paw does have history on its side – the Redskins have won all eight meetings (including one in the playoffs) since the two became league foes in 2006.
Others that caught my eye: Climax-Scotts (6-0) at Bellevue (4-2), St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (5-0) at Niles Brandywine (6-0), Coldwater (3-3) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-0), Three Rivers (4-2) at Dowagiac (5-1).
Lower Up North
Beal City (6-0) at Lake City (6-0)
Talk about two teams that have simply dominated so far; these two have outscored their opponents by a combined 678-33. The winner claims a share of the Highland Conference title, which Beal City has won nine of the last 10 seasons. It’s anyone’s guess how this matchup might go; Lake City has given up six points this season and Beal City has scored at least 60 four times.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (4-2) at Cadillac (6-0), Kalkaska (5-1) at Grayling (5-1), Evart (5-1) at McBain (4-2), Maple City Glen Lake (6-0) at Suttons Bay (3-3).
Negaunee (6-0) at Ishpeming (6-0)
Ishpeming finished an incredible playoff run as the Division 7 champion last fall, but Negaunee can boast that it claimed the Mid-Peninsula Conference championship during the regular season thanks to a 20-8 win over the Hematites. Both have been similarly dominating again this season, making this arguably the best game in the Upper Peninsula for all of 2013.
Others that caught my eye: Powers North Central (5-1) at Felch North Dickinson (5-1), Cheboygan (5-1) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-3), Pickford (4-2) at St. Ignace (5-1), Marinette, Wis. (2-5) at Menominee (6-0).
Fowler (5-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (6-0)
That this Central Michigan Athletic Conference clash is considered one of the best rivalries throughout mid-Michigan despite including two of its smallest schools speaks volumes both to how much these programs are respected by others big and small and how good this matchup has been over the last 40-plus seasons. During the last decade alone both have played in MHSAA Finals at Ford Field and faced each other in four games decided by eight or fewer points.
Others that caught my eye: Lansing Everett (5-1) at Grand Ledge (3-3), Carson City-Crystal (6-0) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-1), Battle Creek Pennfield (5-1) at Olivet (6-0), Homer (6-0) at Springport (5-1).
PHOTO: Detroit Martin Luther King (white jerseys), here against Detroit East English, has claimed a share of the Detroit Public School League East title, but can win it outright by defeating second place Detroit Denby tonight. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League).
Separated by 527 travel miles – whether over Mackinac Bridge or around Lake Michigan, the Novara family celebrated nearly parallel football successes this fall.
At Portland, John Novara completed his 25th season as head coach leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record – their best since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2018, and a second-straight Capital Area Activities Conference White championship on the way to reaching the Division 4 Semifinals.
At Kingsford, fifth-year coach Mark Novara led the Flivvers to a 10-2 record – their best since posting the same in 2004. Kingsford shared the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper title and won a Division 5 District title, its first District championship since 2009.
John Novara graduated from Iron Mountain in 1989, and younger brother Mark graduated from Kingsford in 1993.
Similarly parallel, both teams were quarterbacked by Novaras. Dominic Novara directed the Raiders’ attack, and cousin Nic Novara led the Flivvers. Both are juniors. (Mark Novara was a Division III All-American at quarterback at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.)
One more connection: Portland athletic director Kevin Veale quarterbacked the Iron Mountain teams with John Novara as tight end long before they worked together downstate. Veale’s nephew Garrett Veale was a standout two-way lineman for Mark Novara and Kingsford this fall.
Small gesture, memorable connection
Dante DeGrazia’s senior season was sadly short-lived this fall, as he suffered a season-ending injury during the first half of South Lyon East’s opening game against White Lake Lakeland at Michigan Stadium.
But an official provided a memory the DeGrazias will not forget.
Chris Curtis had begun his 16th season as an official earlier that day at U-M, and stuck around to watch the Lakes Valley Conference matchup. A month later, he was officiating the East/Warren Mott game, and made sure to check in with DeGrazia – a small gesture, but a meaningful one as well and another reminder of the interconnectedness of communities within educational athletics.
“When he heard my son wasn't able to play anymore, needed surgery and that he was a senior, he offered him kindness and a hug on the field,” Dante’s mother Dana DeGrazia wrote to East athletic director Greg Michaels. “As a parent whose son is going through a rough time dealing with losing his senior season, hearing this story from Dante means a lot to me and the support that was given to him and I wanted to reach out and tell him thank you.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsford football coach Mark Novara, far left, quarterback Nic Novara and Portland coach (and uncle) John Novara celebrate the Flivvers' District title. (Middle) South Lyon East's Dante DeGrazia (33) and official Chris Curtis meet for a quick hug during East's Week 5 game. (Photos courtesy of the Portland football program and DeGrazia family, respectively.)