A Game for Every Fan: Week 7

October 9, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

League champions will celebrate this weekend. And 88 teams have the opportunity to clinch playoff berths, joining 54 that already have qualified.  

But a similar pressure rests on the 117 teams that enter this weekend 3-3 – and needing to win out to earn automatic tickets to the postseason. 

It’s a group that includes Detroit Catholic Central, Lake Orion, Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Saginaw Nouvel – teams which advanced to Ford Field championship games over the last five years.

Keep that in mind when checking out the games to watch in the three weeks to come, including those listed below. As those coaches will tell you, for many the playoff begin now.

Mid-Michigan

Williamston (6-0) at Lansing Catholic (6-0)

Most would bill this as a game between a pair of talented quarterbacks – Lansing Catholic’s 6-foot-6 Tony Poljan vs. Williamston’s speedy pass/run threat Chaz Moore. But the Capital Area Activities Conference White championship could be decided tonight as well by a Cougars defense giving up only 11 points per game or a Williamston defense a smidge better on paper at 9.8 ppg.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Blanc (5-1) at Hartland (5-1), Grand Ledge (4-2) at Lansing Everett (4-2), Laingsburg (4-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-1), Reed City (5-1) at Stanton Central Montcalm (4-2).

West Michigan

Whitehall (6-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (5-1)

After back-to-back losing seasons – including a 1-8 finish in 2013 – there are probably a few people surprised to be talking about Whitehall football this fall. But the Vikings can clinch their best record since 2006 and a share of the West Michigan Conference title with a win tonight. That would be an improvement on 2006, actually – Whitehall finished 9-2 that fall, but lost to Oakridge 14-6 to finish league runner-up.

Others that caught my eye: Cedar Springs (5-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (6-0), Hudsonville (4-2) at East Kentwood (5-1), Muskegon Catholic Central (6-0) at Muskegon Orchard View (4-2), Caledonia (4-2) at East Grand Rapids (4-2).

Greater Detroit

Walled Lake Western (5-1) at Walled Lake Central (5-1)

These two have played each other annually – and a few seasons twice – dating to 1969. But this should be the next in a latest series of high-impact matchups. Walled Lake Central can claim the Kensington Lakes Activities Association North title outright, or share with Western and potentially Waterford Mott if the Warriors win. Western was victorious in 2011, beating Central 18-11 in the league finale to win the North title after Central did the same to Western in 2010.

Others that caught my eye: Plymouth (5-1) at Canton (5-1), Wyandotte Roosevelt (5-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (6-0), Ida (6-0) at Hudson (5-1), Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (5-1) at Lutheran Westland (5-1) on Saturday.

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (6-0) at Negaunee (4-2)

These two dominated the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference the last two seasons – Negaunee winning the league title in 2012 and Ishpeming last fall – but the Miners are already trailing the Hematites by a win thanks to the re-emergence this fall of Iron Mountain (the Mountaineers beat Negaunee 20-17 in Week 4). Negaunee will have to break Ishpeming’s 27-game winning streak tonight to create a possible three-team shared title.

Others that caught my eye: Munising (5-1) at Bark River-Harris (5-1), Constantine (6-0) at Marquette (5-1) on Saturday, L'Anse (4-2) at Calumet (3-3), Ishpeming Westwood (4-2) at Norway (3-3).

Southwest and Border

Three Rivers (4-2) at Plainwell (5-1)

All three remaining games for Wolverine B Conference teams are league games, and the East race is down to three teams – this pair and Sturgis, with all three opening the league schedule 2-0. Three Rivers and Plainwell didn’t play in the same division of the league the last two seasons, but kept a long-standing rivalry alive with a couple of nonleague tilts won by the Trojans by eight and seven points. Plainwell’s only loss this fall is a two-pointer to Edwardsburg – which also beat Three Rivers by two on opening night.

Others that caught my eye: Saugatuck (4-2) at Fennville (4-2), Edwardsburg (5-1) at Dowagiac (3-3), Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-2) at Coldwater (5-1), Portage Central (4-1) at Portage Northern (4-2).

Lower Up North

Petoskey (5-1) at Gaylord (4-2)

The good news is Petoskey already has Big North Conference leader Cadillac out of the way – the Northmen fell in their Week 3 game, 27-7. The bad news is Petoskey now has to wait and hope either Traverse City West this week or Traverse City Central in Week 9 beats Cadillac so Petoskey can earn a share of the league title. But Petoskey also must be careful – Gaylord lost to Cadillac and Central the last two weeks by a combined 19 points and is seeking its first playoff berth since 2005.

Others that caught my eye: Kingsley (4-2) at Suttons Bay (5-1), Cadillac (6-0) at Traverse City West (3-3), Grayling (3-3) at Elk Rapids (3-3), Indian River Inland Lakes (5-1) at Central Lake (4-2).

Bay and Thumb

Harrison (6-0) at Beaverton (4-2)

Harrison already will post its best finish since 1999 and first winning record since 2000 – and is in best position to end Clare’s seven-season run atop the Jack Pine Conference. But the Hornets must be careful to not look ahead to that Week 8 matchup; Beaverton is one of three teams tied for third place and needs just one more victory to guarantee its first winning season since 2000 as well.

Others that caught my eye: Midland (3-3) at Lapeer (6-0), Romeo (3-3) at Port Huron (5-1), Carrollton (3-3) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (5-1), Flint Powers Catholic (4-2) at Flint Southwestern Academy (3-3).

8-Player

Battle Creek St. Philip (6-0) at Waldron (5-1)

The Southern Central 8-Man Football League championship is on the line. St. Philip outscored Waldron by a combined 110-6 in two games last season and has scored, 55, 56, 89 and 72 points over the last four weeks, respectively. But this is a much better Waldron team than in 2013 – its lone loss is to undefeated Portland St. Patrick, and the Spartans look good to win seven games for the first time since 2007.

Others that caught my eye: Engadine (3-3) at Bellaire (6-0), Owendale-Gagetown (6-0) at Kingston (3-3).

PHOTO: Bellaire, running against Eben Junction Superior Central last week, is one of seven undefeated teams in 8-player football. Superior Central is in a tight race for the final playoff spot and must climb six to make the field of 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Gerard.) 

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)