By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Clint Galvas didn’t need to tell Avery Moore what his junior quarterback already knew.
In fact, the New Lothrop coach didn’t necessarily want Moore to try to match Madison Heights Madison senior signal-caller Austin Brown on Saturday. Moore just needed to stay within himself, play his game, if the Hornets were to have their best shot at winning the Division 7 championship.
But Galvas also knew better. “He’s a 16-year-old kid who wants to go out there and outplay every kid,” the coach admitted, not long after the Hornets clinched a title seemingly years in the making.
Moore vs. Brown? Let’s call it a draw. But New Lothrop finished with the final edge in a record-breaking championship performance, outlasting Madison 50-44 to claim its first MHSAA football championship since winning Division 8 in 2006.
The combined 94 points broke the previous MHSAA Finals record of 91 set in Belding’s 50-41 Class B win over Detroit Country Day in 1994. Brown and Moore, meanwhile, both made the Finals record book in one or more categories.
“I respect him a lot. He’s a heck of an athlete,” Moore said of his counterpart Brown, who has committed to play collegiate baseball at Marshall University.
“But I knew to get the win I had to play my best game.”
Brown completed 17 of 30 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 105 yards and four scores on 25 carries – his 403 total yards tied for fifth-most in a championship game, and the four rushing TDs tied for third most. Moore threw for 99 yards on 7 of 13 passing and ran for 132 yards and four scores, also making the single-game rushing TD list.
They provided historical highlights to a game already deep with narrative.
New Lothrop (13-1) has lost just two regular-season games over the last nine seasons, but before Saturday’s hadn’t made the Finals since 2006. Three times over that nine-year run, the Hornets were stopped in Semifinals.
One of those regular-season defeats came this fall, 35-14 to Traverse City St. Francis in Week 9. That combined with moving to the first-year Mid-Michigan Activities Conference might have nudged the program that final step back to Detroit.
“Getting in a new league, playing a tougher regular season, definitely made us more battle-tested,” Galvas said. “Going to Traverse City and playing that team – that was a heck of a team that I thought we’d see down here as well. But at the end of the day, coming out of that loss Week 9, it kinda forced us all to take a step back, maybe have a little bit of humble pie because we were feeling good about ourselves.
“So I think that was actually a big thing for us. Since then, we hit another gear, like we can do this.”
And it was a big thing again Saturday morning.
New Lothrop built leads of 22-8 early in the second d quarter and 30-16 going into halftime. But Brown – who entered the game with 2,060 yards and 22 touchdowns passing and 1,831 yards and 33 scores rushing – capped two straight drives with short touchdown runs, and then answered a Moore scoring run early in the fourth quarter with one more to make it 36-36 with 6:38 to play.
“Our whole team is built for it, so in those situations we’re just looking forward to them,” Brown said of the back-and-forth. “But that’s a good team over there. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
Moore led the Hornets back down the field, capping a nine-play, 66-yard drive with another rush score. And then, amid a battle of quarterbacks, a junior defensive back made one of the biggest plays of the game’s 130.
With Madison facing 3rd-and-12 at its 24-yard line, and trying to match scores again with just more than two minutes to play, New Lothrop junior Dylan Shaydik ripped away what would have been a first-down pass and returned the interception 33 yards. Two plays later, Moore broke through for a 13-yard score to make the advantage 14 point.
Madison added one last touchdown with 29 seconds to play. But off the onside kick, who ended up with the ball? Moore, of course.
“I never thought that we wavered at all,” Galvas said. “It wasn’t like heads hanging. It was like let’s go, let’s get the ball back and get (the lead) back. Just from having the schedule we had, from the games we played throughout the year, we knew we’d been in tight games, been in those games. No big deal, let’s keep playing, and that’s kinda how they handled it.”
Senior Aidan Harrison – who will play next at University of Missouri – added 93 yards and a score on the ground and returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore Will Muron added a rushing score as well.
Senior Tanner Barndollar caught four passes for 102 yards for Madison, while senior Sylvester Whitley caught five for 71 yards and a score and junior Makai Johnson also pulled in a touchdown grab.
Madison (13-1) was making its first Finals appearance since finishing Division 5 runner-up in 2006, and was seeking its first MHSAA football title. The Eagles just missed returning to the Finals last fall, losing by seven to Saugatuck in a Division 7 Semifinal. They are 25-2 over the last two seasons.
“We definitely had a bitter taste in our mouth last year after falling short in the Semifinals,” Madison coach James Rogers said. “These kids have been working super hard in the offseason and the entire season to get to this point today. And I’m glad they got here and got a taste of it. But I’m sure they’ll be calling my phone in December ready to get back after it again.”
New Lothrop’s run included a Regional Final win over two-time reigning champ Pewamo-Westphalia and then a Semifinal victory over previously-unbeaten Lake City. The championship would have been memorable in the small community for a long time on its own.
But the Hornets also were playing in honor of Braden “Buddy” Miller, who had died Oct. 19 at age 9 after a fight with a rare brain cancer. Miller had been best friends with Galvas’ son Jude, and the lime green socks worn by the Hornets on Saturday were in his honor.
“We kinda embraced him as our inspiration, and obviously when he passed it was a big healing process,” Clint Galvas said. “Our football team did a huge service to help heal and continue healing with that loss. We tried the best we could to represent him, obviously with the green socks and those things, but this is really big for the community in that regard as well. … I’m just proud of the way we represented our team and represented Buddy.”
PHOTOS: (Top) New Lothrop quarterback Avery Moore scores one of his four touchdowns Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Hornets’ Dylan Shaydik (10) snags an interception late as his team held off Madison Heights Madison.
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.)