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.)
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.)