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).


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).


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.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)