By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We're at the point every football season when conference champions begin to be crowned. But for the Week 7's schedule to fall together like this is nearly inconceivable.
Fifteen leagues statewide will feature matchups of teams tied for first place, with five more conferences bracing for tilts between first and second-place teams that could have immediate title implications.
Many of those games are discussed in detail below; all are tonight unless noted. Check MHSAA Score Center for results as they come in, updated standings and playoff-point averages.
Bay & Thumb
Almont (6-0) at Algonac (6-0)
What gives this matchup the slight edge in intrigue over undefeated teams facing off in the Saginaw Valley League (see below)? This is shaping up as arguably the most meaningful game in Algonac football history. The Muskrats’ perfect start is earning attention statewide and is a great story after the team went 1-8 a year ago and last had a winning record in 2005. But a league title, clinched tonight, would be the team’s first since 1972 – and standing in the way is reigning champion Almont, which hasn’t lost in the Blue Water Area Conference since Week 4 of 2013.
Others that caught my eye: Lapeer (6-0) at Midland (6-0), Vassar (5-1) at Unionville-Sebewaing (5-1), Detroit Cesar Chavez (4-2) at Mayville (4-2), Sterling Heights (5-1) at Marysville (4-2).
Canton (5-1) at Plymouth (5-1)
Plymouth’s championship-contending golfers this fall could land a ball at Canton in two strokes, these schools are so near to each other. And their last seven football meetings have been about that close too, all decided by 12 points or fewer. The Wildcats own a share of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association South title by way of Canton’s loss last week to Livonia Churchill – but the reigning champion Chiefs can grab a share as well by extending a current winning streak against Plymouth to three.
Others that caught my eye: Berkley (5-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-0), Farmington Hills Harrison (5-1) at Farmington (4-2), River Rouge (6-0) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (5-1), Warren Mott (5-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (5-1).
St. Johns (5-1) at DeWitt (6-0)
These neighbors are meeting to decide the Capital Area Activities Conference Red title for the second straight season, with DeWitt the reigning champion thanks to last year’s 16-10 victory. The Panthers have won five straight against the Redwings and won’t have trouble drumming up enthusiasm despite coming off facing its other rival, Haslett, last week. The Redwings have lost only to one-loss Grand Rapids Catholic Central, in Week 2, and feature speedy MHSAA track champion Steven Linton in the backfield and a defense that could slow this game down substantially.
Others that caught my eye: Sanford Meridian (6-0) at Harrison (5-1), Howell (5-1) at Brighton (5-1), Vestaburg (5-1) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (3-3), Pewamo-Westphalia (6-0) at Laingsburg (5-1).
Nothern Lower Peninsula
Harbor Springs (4-2) at Frankfort (5-1)
Most of the best up north this weekend are nonleague matchups, but Harbor Springs could make some noise in the Northern Michigan Football League Legends division as it seeks to guarantee its best finish since 2000. The Rams earned an impressive victory last week over 4-2 Indian River Inland Lakes and have won two of the last three against Frankfort – which is first in the Legends and undefeated since opening night. The Panthers have given up 35 points total.
Others that caught my eye: Lincoln Alcona (5-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (5-1), Oscoda (4-2) at Hillman (5-1), Gaylord (5-1) at Petoskey (4-2), Maple City Glen Lake (4-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (6-0).
Southeast & Border
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-0) at Milan (5-1)
St. Mary hasn’t given up more than seven points in a game since Week 3 as it’s cruised during the first two-thirds of its Huron League repeat pursuit. But Milan arguably has been more impressive; the Big Reds, who won the league in 2012 and 2013, are a one-point loss to 5-1 Marshall on opening night from a perfect record this fall – and after losing to the Falcons 43-0 last year, would love to break St. Mary's 11-game winning streak.
Others that caught my eye: Ottawa Lake-Whiteford (5-1) at Morenci (5-1), Ann Arbor Skyline (3-3) at Ann Arbor Pioneer (5-1), Hudson (3-3) at Ida (6-0), Chelsea (6-0) at Ypsilanti Community (3-3).
Watervliet (5-1) at Delton Kellogg (5-1)
This is the product of the reconfigured Southwestern Athletic Conference, which added teams – including Delton Kellogg – from the former Kalamazoo Valley Association this fall and split into three divisions. The SAC Lakeshore division has provided an extra boost to a Delton program that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001 but has upped its win total three seasons running. Watervliet is a little more used to this with three 10-win seasons over the last four, but this fall both teams are in similar position – both one-point losses from perfection.
Others that caught my eye: Mattawan (3-3) at Battle Creek Central (3-3), Parchment (4-2) at Berrien Springs (6-0), Plainwell (4-2) at Edwardsburg (6-0), Portage Northern (3-3) at Portage Central (6-0).
Negaunee (6-0) at Ishpeming (5-0)
Ishpeming has won 37 of its last 38 regular-season games. The only team to beat the Hematites? Negaunee, back in 2012, but the Miners came close in 2013 and remain Ishpeming’s toughest annual obstacle despite being shut out 28-0 a year ago. Ishpeming is coming off an open week and has had a little extra time to prepare, although a defense that has given up 33 points in five games has looked plenty ready to match a Negaunee offense scoring 41 points per contest.
Others that caught my eye: Calumet (4-2) at L'Anse (4-2), Bark River-Harris (5-1) at Munising (5-1), Iron Mountain (4-2) at Kingsford (4-2), Houghton (3-3) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-0) (Sat.).
Grand Rapids West Catholic (4-2) at Comstock Park (5-1)
Most teams would be fine with a 6-5 blip like Comstock Park experienced in 2014 after three seasons with a combined record of 33-6. But the Panthers look like themselves again, with a win over Ottawa-Kent Bronze co-leader Cedar Springs and the only loss to O-K Green co-leader Zeeland West by 10. West Catholic, which won the O-K Green last season thanks to a 47-33 win over Comstock Park, looked like it might be in for an off season after a 1-2 start. But the two-time reigning Division 5 champion has found a source of offense the last three weeks and looks good to make the playoffs for the 13th straight season regardless of what happens tonight. (This game can be viewed live with subscription on MHSAA.tv.)
Others that caught my eye: Byron Center (5-1) at Zeeland West (6-0), Wyoming Godwin Heights (4-2) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (6-0), Big Rapids (4-2) at Remus Chippewa Hills (5-1), East Kentwood (4-2) at Rockford (4-2).
Waldron (6-0) at Battle Creek St. Philip (6-0), Saturday
This has been a history-making season for Waldron, off to its first 6-0 start since 1978 and approaching at least eight wins for the first time since 1984 (its final two opponents, Litchfield and Carsonville-Port Sanilac, are winless). Beating St. Philip would put the Spartans’ run into another echelon. The Tigers’ only losses the last two seasons were three times to reigning 8-player champion Lawrence – and they have a 49-0 win over 4-2 Webberville and a 65-32 win over 5-1 Morrice this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Portland St. Patrick (5-1) at Webberville (4-2), Lawrence (6-0) vs. Prairie Farm, Wis. (7-0) at Madison Middleton, Wis. (Sat.).
PHOTO: St. Johns' Steven Linton (20) turns the corner during a two-point win over Haslett in Week 4. (Click for 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.)