By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This week more than any other requires a different perspective when considering what football games could turn out as the most significant when the final scores come in Saturday night.
There are still a few league titles to be contested, and we highlighted most of those below. There are 45 teams hoping to finish the regular season undefeated, and we’ve noted a number of those too – including the only game pitting 8-0 teams, Freeland at Frankenmuth.
But we’re also watching closely 90 teams that can guarantee a playoff spot with a Week 9 win – with 12 games pitting 11-player teams with 5-3 records and Parma Western and Detroit Edison Public School Academy needing a victory to join Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy among those this season earning postseason bids for the first time.
Be sure to tune in all weekend to the MHSAA Score Center for results as they come in, updated standings and playoff point averages, and watch Fox Sports Detroit at 7 p.m. Sunday to see the playoff field and brackets for the first time. (There are 13 games on Thursday this week. All games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Linden (7-1) at Fenton (7-1)
Four of these teams' last five meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less – and this one will decide an outright league champion. Fenton’s last loss in Flint Metro League play was on opening night 2012 to Linden, and the Tigers have shared or won outright the last four league titles – with Linden tying for first in 2012 and winning outright the year before Fenton’s streak started, in 2010.
Others that caught my eye: Freeland (8-0) at Frankenmuth (8-0), Midland (7-1) at Midland Dow (7-1), Lapeer (8-0) at Davison (5-3), New Lothrop (8-0) at Montrose (5-3).
Detroit Martin Luther King (8-0) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (7-1) at Ford Field
We detailed this rivalry before Week 5, when the two met in what eventually decided the Detroit Public School League East I championship for King. The Crusaders won 31-28 in overtime that day, and have given up a total of eight points over three games since – although two of those games were against the same team because of a rematch in the PSL Semifinals. Cass Tech no doubt has been waiting for this rematch – the Technicians haven’t lost two straight to King since the 2005-2006 regular seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Central Collegiate (6-2) vs. Detroit Collegiate Prep (8-0) at Ford Field; Warren DeLaSalle (6-2) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (6-1) at Ford Field, Saturday; Detroit Loyola (6-2) vs. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-1) at Ford Field, Saturday; Farmington Hills Harrison (7-1) at West Bloomfield (8-0).
Grand Ledge (8-0) at Holt (5-3)
It’s fair to say few saw Holt competing for a league title after dropping its first two games to Hudsonville and Rockford by a combined score of 75-14. But the Rams, under first-year coach Chad Fulk, ran off five straight wins before coming up short last week against Jackson. Grand Ledge has won four of the last five against its biggest rival and has a share of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title regardless of what happens this weekend – but Holt can gain a share as well.
Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (7-1) at Fowler (6-2), Marshall (7-1) at Portland (8-0), Clare (5-3) at Harrison (6-2), Novi (4-4) at Howell (5-3).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (5-3) at Harbor Springs (5-3)
There are a number of good matchups in the northern Lower Peninsula this week, but this is the only one that will guarantee the winner a playoff berth. Charlevoix is second and Harbor Springs tied for third in the Northern Michigan Football League Legends division, and neither can catch champion Frankfort. But the Red Rayders are looking for a second straight playoff appearance coming off back-to-back 1-8 finishes in 2012 and 2013, and Harbor Springs hasn’t had a .500 record or made the playoffs since 2000.
Others that caught my eye: Kingsley (5-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0), Saturday; Onekama (7-1) at Frankfort (7-1), Walled Lake Northern (5-3) at Traverse City West (4-4), Indian River Inland Lakes (5-3) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (7-1).
Southeast & Border
Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-1) at Clinton (8-0)
Clinton has won 27 straight Tri-County Conference games (and 35 straight total during the regular-season), and once again no league opponent has come within two touchdowns of the Redskins. But Whiteford has come as close as anyone the last few years, falling by only two points to Clinton in 2012 and scoring 30 in a 24-point loss last fall. The Bobcats have tied last season’s win total and guaranteed a fourth straight playoff berth, and have nothing to hold back in this league finale.
Others that caught my eye: Jackson (6-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (6-2), Homer (7-1) at Manchester (7-1), Lansing Catholic (7-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-0), Dexter (0-8) at Parma Western (5-3).
St. Joseph (7-1) at Portage Central (8-0)
For the second time in three seasons, the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title will come down to this matchup. Portage Central already owns a share, but St. Joseph can snag one as well if it can end a three-game losing streak to the Mustangs. They almost ended it last season, falling to Portage Central 21-14 in the regular-season finale. The Mustangs know how to finish those games though; they’ve won two by seven or fewer points this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Portage Northern (4-4) at Benton Harbor (4-4), Delton Kellogg (5-3) at Schoolcraft (8-0), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-3) at Mendon (5-3), Buchanan (8-0) at Niles Brandywine (5-3).
Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (8-0)
This has turned into a season of good-byes at least a little for Forest Park since the announcement a few weeks ago that it would move to 8-player in 2015. The Trojans have rallied to split the Mid-Eastern Conference title and make the playoffs for the 19th straight season, and can deal a massive blow to rival Lake Linden-Hubbell by extending a five-game winning streak over the Lakes, who haven’t had a game closer than 12 points this season.
Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (6-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (5-3), Escanaba (4-4) at Kingsford (6-2), L'Anse (5-3) at Munising (6-2), Menominee (8-0) at Marquette (3-4).
Hudsonville (6-2) at Rockford (5-3)
Not only is the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title on the line – four teams are tied for first, guaranteeing there will be multiple champions – but Rockford needs a victory to continue a 20-season playoff streak, the third-longest in MHSAA history and active leader. These rivals have split their last four meetings – Rockford winning during the regular season and Hudsonville in playoff rematches the last two years.
Others that caught my eye: Grandville (5-3) at East Kentwood (6-2), Lowell (7-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (5-3), McBain (6-2) at Reed City (8-0), Ada Forest Hills Eastern (8-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (6-2).
Battle Creek St. Philip (8-0) at Lawrence (7-1)
St. Philip is a combined 34-7 over the last four seasons, but Lawrence has been an obstacle since the latter went to 8-player football in 2013. St. Philip won their first meeting, 54-50, but Lawrence has won the last three and ended St. Phil’s last two seasons in Regional Finals. Lawrence has continued to roll despite graduating a strong nucleus from last season’s MHSAA championship-winning team. It hasn’t lost in-state in two years, with this season’s defeat to reigning Wisconsin champion Prairie Farm two weeks ago.
Others that caught my eye: Pickford (5-3) at Onaway (5-3), Morrice (7-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-2).
PHOTO: Detroit Collegiate Prep, in red, and enjoying its best season since 2007 (as Detroit Northwestern), will face Detroit Central Collegiate in the Public School League Division II championship game at Ford Field. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)