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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.
PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)