By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
All but one of the top-billed games of this week’s statewide football preview will decide a league champion. There are great ones to watch, no matter where you call home.
At the same time, we’re turning an eye to the growing 11-player playoff field, which includes 109 teams with 86 more able to qualify with a win this weekend. For that reason, you’ll see below a few more games than usual featuring teams with three-loss records – because those teams’ seasons are on the line as they attempt to win out and guarantee a postseason spot.
Read on for games that could carry the most impact from every region of the state during Week 8. And remember to check MHSAA Score Center this weekend for results as they come in, updated standings and playoff-point averages.
Bay & Thumb
Algonac (7-0) at Richmond (6-1)
Algonac, 1-8 a year ago, can finish its first league title run since 1972 after clinching a share of the Blue Water Area Conference championship last week against previously-undefeated Almont. But don’t forget Richmond, a regular in this kind of game and a one-point loss to Almont from being undefeated. The Blue Devils would love to spoil the party; they beat Algonac 42-21 in 2014.
Others that caught my eye: Montrose (4-3) at Flint Beecher (5-1), New Lothrop (7-0) at Flint Hamady (6-1), Corunna (6-1) at Lake Fenton (4-3), Holly (4-3) at Swartz Creek (4-3).
Sterling Heights Stevenson (6-1) at Macomb Dakota (5-2)
The Macomb Area Conference Red race has been one of the state’s most exciting this season, with five of six teams in the league still in the hunt for a share of the title and for automatic playoff berths as well. These two carry one-win leads into this weekend’s final league games; both are 3-1, while Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Utica Eisenhower and Warren Mott are all 2-2 in league play. Dakota has won the league three straight seasons, including last fall despite a 19-12 loss to Stevenson.
Others that caught my eye: St. Clair Shores South Lake (7-0) at Madison Heights Madison (6-1), Northville (7-0) at Plymouth (6-1), Hartland (5-2) at Walled Lake Western (7-0), Detroit Catholic Central (5-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (6-1).
Fowler (6-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (7-0)
This will be the 50th game between these neighbors and rivals, with Fowler holding a 27-22 advantage. This matchup has decided the last three Central Michigan Athletic Conference championships, with Fowler taking two of those three, and the Eagles hope to gain a share this time as P-W has a one-win edge with this the final week of the conference season. This has been a special one overall for the Pirates, who on opening night handed Madison Heights Madison its only loss and since have outscored six teams by a combined 340-27.
Others that caught my eye: Haslett (4-3) at Williamston (4-3), East Lansing (4-3) at Grand Ledge (7-0), Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (4-3) at Lansing Catholic (6-1), Fruitport (4-3) at St. Johns (5-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Frankfort (6-1) at Charlevoix (5-2)
The Panthers will play the region’s game to watch for the second straight week, with both of these teams undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League Legends division and Frankfort a half-win ahead in the standings with one more league game played. A conference title would be the Panthers’ first since 2008 and Charlevoix’s first since 2000 – and the Red Rayders won this matchup 27-6 a year ago.
Others that caught my eye: Hillman (6-1) at Whittemore-Prescott (4-3), Traverse City St. Francis (7-0) at Kalkaska (4-3), Lincoln Alcona (5-2) at Lake City (3-4), Maple City Glen Lake (4-3) at Kingsley (4-3).
Southeast & Border
Vandercook Lake (7-0) at Manchester (6-1)
The Cascades Conference championship is on the line with both teams undefeated in league play. Vandercook Lake has its most wins since 1996 and is chasing its first undefeated regular season since 1970 after surviving a three-point victory over Michigan Center last week. This is much more familiar territory for Manchester, which has won outright or shared the Cascades title the last three seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Ypsilanti Community (4-3) at Saline (7-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (6-1) at Dundee (4-3), Ida (7-0) at Hillsdale (5-2), Holt (5-2) at Jackson (5-2).
Buchanan (7-0) at Berrien Springs (7-0)
The victor will remain perfect and become the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White champion. That should be enough to sell this tilt, but there are additional details of note. Berrien Springs finished second in the Wolverine B Conference West last season and has its most wins since 2011 with a shot at its best finish since 2004. Buchanan is coming off two losing seasons and has its most wins since 2012, when it won the Lakeland Conference. This also is the first game between the longtime rivals since 2011.
Others that caught my eye: Bridgman (6-1) at Niles Brandywine (5-2), Saugatuck (7-0) at Delton Kellogg (5-2), Watervliet (6-1) at Decatur (5-2), Battle Creek Lakeview (5-2) at St. Joseph (6-1).
Ishpeming (6-0) at St. Ignace (7-0)
This game means nothing from a league race perspective and everything from a Peninsula pride point of view. St. Ignace locked up the Ski Valley Conference title with a perfect run it finished two weeks ago, while Ishpeming owns a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference title and can finish the outright championship next week against two-win Gwinn. What makes this game intriguing is that Ishpeming hasn’t lost a regular-season game since Week 7 of 2012 and St. Ignace is perfect for the regular season since Week 9 of 2013 – and these two powers have played each other only once, in 1988.
Others that caught my eye: Munising (6-1) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-2), DeWitt (7-0) at Menominee (7-0), Sault Ste. Marie (5-2) at Escanaba (3-4), Hurley, Wis. (7-1) at Iron Mountain (4-3).
Muskegon (6-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-0)
Before last season, when the Sailors won 48-27, they hadn’t beaten the Big Reds since 1982. Could they extend the streak to two? This latest chapter is at Mona Shores, the crowd should be huge, and the Sailors are reigning Division 2 runners-up and backed by a defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a game while facing the likes of Fruitport, Rockford, Caledonia and Zeeland East. Then again, Muskegon remains what we’ve grown to expect – the Big Reds look like contenders to reach a fourth-straight MHSAA Final with wins over Grand Rapids Christian, East Grand Rapids and Zeeland East and the only loss to Detroit Catholic Central after Muskegon led by two touchdowns during the third quarter.
Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Oakridge (6-1) at Montague (7-0), East Grand Rapids (5-2) at Lowell (6-1), Remus Chippewa Hills (6-1) at Reed City (7-0), Cedar Springs (5-2) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (7-0).
Deckerville (6-1) at Peck (6-1)
Michigan’s thumb is a hub for 8-player football, thanks in large part to these two past MHSAA champions. Peck has a half-win lead over Deckerville in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League standings because it has played one more league game, but this likely will decide the championship. Deckerville hasn’t beaten the Pirates since its 2012 MHSAA title season, and would love to avenge last season’s 30-28 loss that gave Peck the league title.
Others that caught my eye: Battle Creek St. Philip (7-0) at Portland St. Patrick (6-1), Engadine (5-2) at Stephenson (5-2).
PHOTO: Walled Lake Western and Lowell, which faced off earlier this season, both face tough opponents in Week 8. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)