A Game for Every Fan: Week 9

October 23, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For 90 MHSAA football teams, this weekend could be the end – or a new beginning.

While 167 teams have qualified for this fall’s 11-player playoffs – and one more is assured of doing so thanks to a forfeit victory – 90 more still control their postseason destinies.

It’s win and in, with only eight games featuring matchups of 5-3 teams – meaning 82 at most can earn automatic berths this weekend. The average since the 256-team playoff format was introduced in 1999 is 234 automatic qualifiers. My guess for 2014: 230. Tune in Sunday.

Playoff pairings will be broadcast during the Sunday Selection Show at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Detroit and posted to MHSAA.com at its conclusion. I’ll also post on Second Half my now-annual breakdown of some of the tougher decisions we faced as we grouped teams for the nine divisions. 

Total, 272 will reach the playoffs – the top 16 8-player teams qualify for that bracket based on playoff-point average. Until then, the following will be among games we focus on most this weekend. All are Friday unless noted (there are 15 games statewide tonight and 10 on Saturday.).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Martin Luther King (8-0) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (8-0) at Ford Field

With all Detroit Public School League teams playing in one division this fall, but these two not meeting during the regular season, this has been even more highly anticipated than usual. Cass Tech has running back Mike Weber, committed to the University of Michigan, and is the team almost always talked about most from this league thanks to its four straight seasons of 11 or more wins and recent pair of MHSAA titles. But consider King’s quiet body of work – the Crusaders haven’t given up a point since September, have five shutouts total, and are led by Michigan State University-bound linebacker Tyriq Thompson.

Others that caught my eye: Orchard Lake St. Mary's (7-1) vs. Birmingham Brother Rice (8-0), Saturday at Ford Field; Clarkston (8-0) at Farmington Hills Harrison (7-1), Madison Heights Madison (7-1) at Walled Lake Western (7-1), Monroe (6-2) at Dearborn Fordson (8-0).

West Michigan

Muskegon Mona Shores (7-1) at Muskegon (8-0)

The top three games on this side of Michigan all feature Muskegon-area teams, and this has to be the biggest with Mona Shores capable of making it interesting again after arriving in 2013 with its first playoff berth after pushing the Big Reds to 26-20 in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black opener. This time, this matchup concludes the league season with both tied for first; Mona Shores’ only loss was 10-7 to Rockford in Week 3, the last week this season as well that the Big Reds were challenged.

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Orchard View (5-3) at Muskegon Oakridge (7-1), Muskegon Catholic Central (8-0) at Ravenna (7-1), Holland West Ottawa (5-3) at Rockford (6-2), Ada Forest Hills Eastern (4-4) at Cedar Springs (7-1).

Lower Up North

Traverse City Central (6-2) at Cadillac (8-0)

This Big North Conference decider has been foreseeable for about a month. Central suffered a 16-13 Week 6 loss to Petoskey, keeping this from being a true championship game. But the Trojans are driving to take a share of the title from Cadillac after falling to the Vikings 14-7 in their Week 9 matchup a year ago – and then missing the playoffs by a win. Cadillac has won 17 straight regular-season games and impressively scratched out two league wins by five or fewer points.

Others that caught my eye: Johannesburg-Lewiston (7-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (7-1), Traverse City St. Francis (6-2) at Kingsley (5-3), Frankfort (5-2) at Onekama (5-3), Grayling (4-4) at Boyne City (8-0).

Upper Peninsula

Marquette (7-1) at Menominee (8-0)

The Great Northern Upper Peninsula Conference championship comes down to this; both are undefeated in the league, although with different stories along the way. Menominee is coming off two Wisconsin wins and didn’t let another league opponent within 14 points. Marquette is riding strong wins over Constantine and Negaunee the last two weeks, but won its other league games by two, eight and five points, respectively – and lost to the Maroons the last two seasons by a combined 93-14. That said, Marquette also is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and lost only on opening night.

Others that caught my eye: Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-1) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (6-1), Sault Ste. Marie (4-4) at Newberry (5-3), Ishpeming Westwood (6-2) at Negaunee (4-4), Iron River West Iron County (8-0) at Bark River-Harris (6-2).

Mid-Michigan

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-0) at Lansing Catholic (8-0)

It’s hard to imagine a better postseason primer for these MHSAA title contenders. St. Mary crushed the Huron League with four shutouts and gave up only 21 points total in seven games (and 34 for this season overall), and looks well on the way to another playoff run to go with its five District titles over the last six seasons. Lansing Catholic had only a bit tougher time with a bit stronger Capital Area Activities Conference White, but is averaging 41 points per game and approaching the offensive numbers put up when the team made the Division 5 Final in 2011.

Others that caught my eye: Goodrich (7-1) at St. Johns (7-1), Holt (3-5) at Grand Ledge (5-3), Lakeview (7-1) at Stanton Central Montcalm (5-3), Eaton Rapids (5-3) at Charlotte (4-4).

Bay and Thumb

Montrose (6-2) at New Lothrop (8-0)

Little has been said about New Lothrop since opening night, as it again didn’t face much challenge in the Genesee Area Conference Blue. But the Hornets – seeking their fourth straight perfect regular season – can boast a couple solid nonleague wins over playoff qualifier Traverse City St. Francis and Schoolcraft, playing tonight for an automatic bid. The GAC Red is much more competitive, and Montrose finished third this season – but is expected to be dangerous in the playoffs with their losses to Goodrich and Flint Beecher by a combined seven points.

Others that caught my eye: Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-2) at Flint Powers Catholic (6-2), Northville (5-3) at Grand Blanc (5-3), Midland Dow (8-0) at Midland (4-4), Flushing (6-2) at Swartz Creek (5-3).

Southwest and Border

Hudson (7-1) at Hillsdale (7-1)

These two have done the work to reach this championship decider in the Lenawee County Athletic Association, both edging contender Ida in consecutive weeks and turning back potential playoff qualifier Onsted as well. Save for last week’s 38-18 win over Onsted, Hudson gave up only 14 points in its other five league games and owns four wins in its last five over Hillsdale including 16-7 in 2013. But the Hornets have enjoyed incredible success since joining the LCAA in 2012, with a 19-1 record in league games – that lone loss, of course, to Hudson last year. Hillsdale thrives on offense, averaging 45 points per game not counting the mere three it put up in its lone loss to Ohio’s Defiance Tinora in Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: Gobles (6-2) at Saugatuck (5-3), Manchester (7-1) at Union City (8-0), Reed City (7-1) at Schoolcraft (5-3), Portage Central (6-1) at St. Joseph (4-4).

8-player

Lawrence (8-0) at Battle Creek St. Philip (8-0) on Saturday

These two started a nice rivalry last season, when St. Philip won 54-50 in the final game of the regular season and then Lawrence won the rematch two weeks later, 58-28 in their Regional Final. But more might be riding tonight than taking the upper hand; despite being one of four undefeated teams in 8-player, Lawrence ranks only seventh in playoff-point average and could use a nice boost to guarantee some home-field advantage over the next couple of weeks. St. Philip has the second-highest playoff average and could take over the top spot.

Others that caught my eye: Bellaire (7-1) at Rapid River (8-0), Portland St. Patrick (7-1) at Morrice (5-3).

PHOTO: Oxford defeated Bloomfield Hills 35-14 last week to earn an automatic playoff berth and faces Oak Park this week. (Photo courtesy of Matt Johnson/Oxford High School.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)