One team more than half of the 2012 MHSAA football playoff field has been decided, with 129 teams qualified for the 256-team field with two regular-season games to play.
And each of these final weeks includes opportunities for plenty to do something they've never done before.
Over the last two weeks, Swartz Creek, Grand Rapids Northview and Detroit East English have earned their first playoff berths ever (East English in its first year as a school). Detroit Consortium, Mayville, Walled Lake Northern and Saginaw Valley Lutheran all can earn their first berths with wins this weekend.
See below for some of the best games being played in every corner of the state. And 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.)
Clarkston (7-0) at Lake Orion (7-0)
These Oakland Activities Association Red rivals have two of the top three playoff point averages among potential Division 1 teams this fall, and are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, by The Associated Press' media panel. This is as true a rivalry as they come -- the schools are nearly the same size at more than 2,500 students each, they are located only 11 miles apart, and they've split their last 10 meetings including three in the playoffs.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Cody (5-2) vs. Detroit East English (6-1) at Detroit Northwestern, Dearborn Heights Robichaud (7-0) at Dearborn Fordson (6-1), Oak Park (7-0) at Oxford (4-3), Detroit Martin Luther King (4-3) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (6-1) at Detroit Northwestern.
Lower Up North
Traverse City St. Francis (4-3) at Maple City Glen Lake (7-0)
At stake this week and potentially next is St. Francis' 22-season playoff berth streak, the state's longest. Its losses are to teams with a combined 19-2 record, but the Gladiators took a significant step last week by beating Saginaw Nouvel. Glen Lake is much like the teams that have beaten St. Francis. The Lakers have given up only 44 points total and own a win over Kingsley, which beat the Gladiators on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Benzie Central (3-4) at Cheboygan (5-2), Boyne City (7-0) at Elk Rapids (4-3), Lake City (6-1) at Manton (4-3), Kalkaska (5-2) at Frankfort (3-4).
Bay and Thumb
Midland (7-0) at Bay City Western (7-0)
Like some games these teams have won this season, their league race is coming right down to the final minutes. The winner claims a share of the Saginaw Valley Association North championship, with both then facing city rivalry games to finish the regular season. Western has survived three straight eight-point wins, and Midland edged two of those same opponents by seven points apiece. The Chemics have beaten the Warriors in six of their last eight meetings.
Others that caught my eye: Swartz Creek (7-0) at Fenton (6-1), Walled Lake Western (5-2) at Grand Blanc (4-3), Saginaw Valley Lutheran (5-2) at Merrill (4-3), Marine City (6-1) at St. Clair (7-0).
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0) at Hastings (6-1)
The winner of this matchup will claim a share of the O-K Gold championship. Grand Rapids Catholic Central is the reigning champion, but Hastings can claim a league title for the first time since 2001. The Cougars have won three of the four between these two since joining the Gold, but Hastings if off to its best start since that last league championship season.
Others that caught my eye: Lowell (6-1) at Caledonia (6-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (6-1), Fruitport (7-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (5-2), Grandville (4-3) at Rockford (5-2).
Grand Ledge (5-2) at East Lansing (5-2)
This has been one of the best rivalries in mid-Michigan for more two decades. And although this game likely won't decide a league champion this time -- Lansing Everett leads both by a win in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue standings -- it's remains significant as both the Comets and Trojans' playoff hopes could hinge on which wins tonight. East Lansing might be in better shape, with one-win Okemos coming up in Week 9. But the Comets finish with Holt, 4-3 and another team playing for a postseason berth.
Others that caught my eye: DeWitt (6-1) at Portland (6-1), Walled Lake Northern (5-2) at Hartland (7-0), Williamston (4-3) at Haslett (4-3), Mason (5-2) at Lansing Waverly (4-3).
Southwest and Border
Stevensville Lakeshore (7-0) at Mattawan (7-0)
No region of the state has more big games this week, with titles being decided all over the Kalamazoo area and southwestern corner. But these are the big schools from the biggest league, and the game longest-awaited as both have navigated a tough Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West. Mattawan does have to face third-place Portage Northern next week, but the winner tonight will be riding high no matter what opponent is up next. Mattawan did win last season, breaking an eight-game losing streak against the Lancers.
Others that caught my eye: Watervliet (7-0) at Decatur (6-1), Edwardsburg (6-1) at Dowagiac (7-0), Paw Paw (7-0) at Otsego (6-1), Union City (5-2) at Reading (6-1).
L’Anse (6-1) at Eagle River Northland Pines (7-0)
Northland Pines, the only Wisconsin team in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference, leads both L'Anse and Calumet by a win with this the final weekend of the league schedule. Calumet fell to Northland Pines by two on opening night and defeated L'Anse by 20 last week, which doesn't seem to indicate good things for the latter. But a win tonight would add another huge accomplishment to the Hornets' first winning season since 2007.
Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (7-0) at Marquette (4-3), Pellston (4-3) at St. Ignace (7-0), Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-2) at Bessemer (4-2), Iron Mountain North Dickinson (7-0) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (4-3).
PHOTO: Elk Rapids' Derek Sentieri works to break away from Traverse City St. Francis tacklers during their game earlier this fall. (Click to see more at Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.)