By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Consider this little-known, or perhaps lesser-stated fact about the MHSAA football playoffs:
Two weeks remain in the regular season. But 50 percent of the 616 teams eligible for the postseason still control their futures with opportunities to earn automatic berths.
And that’s fewer teams than at this point the last few seasons – meaning more opportunities remain for a larger pool of teams to receive at-large bids.
Read on for more on some of those teams and some the games that matter most this week as the last available league titles are being locked down and playoff selection sits just 10 days away.
Bay and Thumb
Lapeer (7-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-1)
It’s accurate to say Lapeer High has never been in this situation – this is the first season for the school, made up of the former Lapeer West and East. But a fair argument can be made that the Lightning has opened better than either school did over the last decade. It has clinched a share of the Saginaw Valley Association Red title and given up 20 points – total – this fall. Enter Carman-Ainsworth, last season’s champion of the former SVA South and a one-point loss to Mount Pleasant from also being perfect this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Flint Beecher (7-0) at Montrose (6-1), Birch Run (6-1) at Millington (7-0), Harbor Beach (7-0) at Marlette (5-2), Walled Lake Central (5-2) at Grand Blanc (5-2).
Southwest and Border
Watervliet (6-1) at Decatur (7-0)
Decatur has guaranteed a fourth straight winning season and is 30-11 since the beginning of 2011 – with three of those losses coming in the playoffs and seven coming in the competitive Southwestern Athletic Conference South. The Raiders never finished higher than third in the five-team league during the last three seasons. But the winner tonight will clinch a share of the title, although to do so Decatur must break a five-game losing streak to Watervliet – league champions the last three seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Berrien Springs (5-2) at Edwardsburg (7-0), Olivet (6-1) at Constantine (6-1), St. Joseph (4-3) at Battle Creek Lakeview (5-1), Homer (6-1) at Union City (7-0).
Ypsilanti Community (5-2) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (5-2)
The last four seasons have been like no other in Lincoln football history. The Railsplitters made the playoffs for the first time in 2011 and this season have guaranteed a fourth straight winning record – and tonight also can guarantee a third playoff berth and second straight outright Southeastern Conference White championship. Community had a brief up-and-down span, sandwiching an impressive win over Chelsea between two losses to finish September. But tonight’s win would mean for the Grizzlies a share of the league title and first playoff berth in the school’s two-year history.
Others that caught my eye: Farmington (6-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-1), Detroit Cass Tech (7-0) vs. Detroit East English (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern, Marine City (7-0) at Warren Woods-Tower (6-1), Harper Woods Chandler Park (5-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (7-0) on Saturday.
Lower Up North
Whittemore-Prescott (7-0) at Hillman (7-0)
This should end up the best game of the season in the northeastern end of the Lower Peninsula. Whittemore-Prescott won the North Star League Huron Shores championship and has clinched its 16th playoff berth in the last 17 seasons. Hillman won the league’s North Star division and has guaranteed its eighth playoff appearance in nine seasons with its best start since 1990. Last season marked the teams' first meeting since 1976 – and turned into a 66-26 win for the Cardinals. This time should be much closer.
Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids (4-3) at Boyne City (7-0), Mancelona (4-3) at Central Lake (4-3), Manton (5-2) at Lincoln Alcona (4-3), Cadillac (7-0) at Manistee (4-3).
Rockford (6-1) at East Kentwood (6-1)
The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title is down to three teams and two weeks of the season, with Rockford holding a one-win lead over East Kentwood and Holland West Ottawa – and West Ottawa next week’s opponent. The Rams haven’t lost a league game since Week 4 of 2010, and that has included two seasons of facing Muskegon in Red games. But it’s tough to argue against this being East Kentwood’s best season since 2003 – which also was the last time it won this matchup.
Others that caught my eye: Lowell (7-0) at Caledonia (5-2), Greenville (4-3) at Cedar Springs (6-1), Hudsonville (4-3) at Holland West Ottawa (5-2), Whitehall (6-1) at Ravenna (6-1).
Lansing Everett (5-2) at Lansing Sexton (7-0)
This is the most meaningful game between these rivals since probably 1986, when Everett and Sexton met in the first league game of the season and the Vikings won by a point – and then eventually won the league title by a win over the Big Reds. Everett has the top-scoring offense in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue this season; Sexton’s defense has given up the fewest points. The Big Reds can win a share of the Blue title for the second straight season – but the Vikings are one of the few teams in the Lansing area that might be able to match Sexton's speedy pace.
Others that caught my eye: Pewamo-Westphalia (6-1) at Fowler (7-0), Harrison (7-0) at Clare (5-2), Walled Lake Western (6-1) at Hartland (6-1), Reed City (6-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (6-1).
Negaunee (4-3) at Marquette (7-1)
This game became key to Negaunee’s season after last week, when Marquette guaranteed a playoff berth with a win over Constantine and Negaunee fell to rival Ishpeming and into a must-win situation for the rest of the regular season. The Miners have made the playoffs five of the last six seasons – and the closest loss the season they missed qualifying by a win, 2011, was a six-point defeat to the Redmen.
Others that caught my eye: Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-1) at Bessemer (4-2) on Saturday, Felch North Dickinson (3-4) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-1) on Saturday, Marinette, Wis. (3-5) at Menominee (7-0) on Saturday, Newberry (4-3) at Rudyard (3-4).
Portland St. Patrick (7-0) at Battle Creek St. Philip (7-0), Saturday
For the second straight week, it’s nearly impossible to pick the best from a group of 8-player games matching the state’s elite. But consider this face-off of two of the six undefeated teams left in 8-player. The Tigers fell to St. Patrick three times in their first 8-player season in 2012, but beat the Shamrocks 68-14 last fall and are 17-1 over their last 18 games. That point total should be tougher to come by this time – St. Patrick is giving up a mere 12.7 points per game, particularly strong in the high-scoring 8-player format.
Others that caught my eye: Cedarville (6-1) at Bellaire (7-0), Peck (7-0) at Deckerville (6-1).
PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth, here against Midland earlier this season, can lock up a second straight league title tonight against Lapeer. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).
SOUTHFIELD — Normally, having students come up and say they won’t be in school the next day might have a school administrator seething and ready to reserve seats in the detention room.
But if there ever was a time to allow it, this was the moment.
Following a 36-32 upset of Belleville that stunned many around the state in the MHSAA Division 1 Football Final on Nov. 26, Southfield Arts & Technology senior quarterback Isaiah Marshall said he and other players made it known, “Don’t expect us in school on Monday.”
After all, the game was played and ended late on a Sunday night, the team achieved something nobody else in the community had done, and there were celebrations that needed to begin.
And for the record, the players were back in school Tuesday.
Whether it’s been in school or outside the halls of Southfield A&T, it’s been a week of historic celebrations and congratulations after the Warriors captured the first MHSAA Finals championship in school history.
Marshall said that remained the case when he attended the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday.
“Everywhere I go, there is someone congratulating me,” he said.
Over their final decades before the schools merged in 2016, Southfield High School and Southfield-Lathrup High School had plenty of talented teams with numerous players who went on to play big-time college football and even in the NFL.
But none of those good teams was able to advance to a state championship game, let alone win it all.
“There was a lot of people that texted me and talked to me and said they graduated from the 1980s,” said Marshall, pointing out that one former player who reached out was Nic Jones, currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs who graduated from Southfield High. “There were a lot of older people that used to go to Southfield that told me that they couldn’t do the job. They were proud of us that we could do it for them.”
Marshall said that after the game was over Sunday, he and other teammates congregated at his house at 3 a.m. to watch a replay of the game.
It was only the first time this week the replay was watched.
“We watched it that day and the day after,” Marshall said. “I think we’ve been watching it the whole week.”
A parade Saturday will start at noon at the building that housed the old Southfield-Lathrup and finish at the current school, which was the home of Southfield High before the merger. A&T then will host a celebration in the school gymnasium from 1:15-2:30 p.m.
Players will certainly soak it all in while they can, because it won’t be long before they split up.
Marshall will soon sign to play in college for Kansas and will be enrolling early there. He plans to take his last final exams at Southfield A&T next week and head to Lawrence the first week of January.
Teammate Jalen Todd will do the same as he is also committed to Kansas, while Tashi Braceful will enroll early at Toledo.
But long after this year, it’s a group that won’t be forgotten in the community, or the state after it pulled off the upset of a Belleville team that was riding a 38-game winning streak and was two-time reigning Division 1 champion.
No doubt, future reunions should be memorable and festive.
Even Marshall admitted his still rubs his eyes in amazement over what his team did.
“Yes, I still do,” he said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T players enjoy the first moments after their Division 1 championship win at Ford Field. (Middle) The A&T band plays during a break in the action. (Below) Fans celebrate in the stands during the victory over Belleville. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)