By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Saturday’s celebration began with respect, senior linebacker Paul Engram said, for an opponent that had become familiar and frustrating.
Detroit Loyola hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2010. But the Bulldogs also hadn’t solved Ishpeming in their first two MHSAA Division 7 Final matchups, falling to the Hematites to end both of the last two seasons despite obvious size and arguable speed advantages.
“We know they could beat us, and they thought they could beat us, and we had to recognize that,” Engram said. “We knew what we can do. We had to believe in ourselves and play as a team.
“Football isn’t always about just playing a game. It’s about life. We really learned a lesson about how to stick together and trust, what love and trust are really all about. Because that’s what we were missing the last couple of years.”
Loyola had all of the above Saturday morning in defeating Ishpeming 29-8 to claim its first MHSAA title.
Just as in 2012 and 2013, Ishpeming scored first. But this time, the Bulldogs responded with 29 unanswered points dominating with the physicality that has helped it build a 65-10 record under coach John Callahan since he took over the program in 2009.
“Passion, motivation. Us losing two times in a row, we just really had a goal,” said senior running back Marvin Campbell, who like Engram had played prominent roles on all three Finals teams. “We just knew we had to get this done.”
Campbell finished with 215 yards on 21 carries with all four of Loyola’s scores – on runs of 47 and eight yards in the second quarter, 66 in the third and five yards in the fourth.
The first touchdown would’ve come earlier – a two-yard scoring run was called back because of a penalty – and Ishpeming junior Thomas Finegan intercepted a Loyola pass on the next play. With junior quarterback Ozzy Corp either running or completing passes on 10 plays, the Hematites responded with a 13-play, 90-yard drive capped by his 1-yard scoring run and two-point conversion pass with 1:03 to go in the first quarter.
But Loyola (14-0) made adjustments – taking opposite tacks for each side of the field.
Callahan had traveled to watch Ishpeming twice this season, including against eventual Division 8 semifinalist Beal City when those teams met in Week 6. Callahan noticed how the Aggies tried to defend Ishpeming’s powerful run – and came back to a defense he’d used coaching Pontiac Notre Dame to a league title before moving to Loyola. The “nitro” defense took all of his players off the line and gave a look of seven linebackers able to range side to side.
Loyola finished Saturday with six tackles for losses and three sacks, with junior lineman Anthony Fitzpatrick leading with 11 tackles.
“(Nitro) gives us better vision,” Callahan said. “With what they ran, they were going one way or the other. It gave our guys the opportunity to move as quick as they were and get to the spot.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs did just about the opposite offensively, as the game wore on getting back to the fundamentals of its base power running game that had served so well the last four seasons.
Loyola finished with 297 yards on the ground, with senior Mideyin Wilson picking up 75 on 16 carries.
“Those guys are seniors now, all those guys we played before,” Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said. “They’re big. They’re strong. They were better than us. There are only so many things you can do, and we tried a lot of different things, a lot of different blocking schemes. They just dominated us at times.”
Corp turned in another courageous performance without senior teammate and top back Ozzy Hakkarinen to assist – the latter was injured in last week’s Semifinal. Corp ran for 198 yards in that game, and added 111 yards passing to the team’s lone score Saturday.
Senior Dominic Suardini had 14 tackles for the Hematites (12-1), which had won 33 straight games entering Saturday – good to tie for eighth-longest winning streak in MHSAA football history and fourth longest among streaks to take place entirely during the playoff era (beginning in 1975).
“People don’t understand how hard it is to get here. When you do it three times in a row and win two, people think it gets easy,” Olson said. “We had some tough teams we had to play along the way, and you’ve got to beat those teams. And those teams are giving you everything they have. You can’t just have talent; you’ve got to have great kids, got to have competitors. We had that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Loyola celebrates its first MHSAA football championship at Ford Field. (Middle) Ishpeming quarterback Ozzy Corp prepares to throw with the Bulldogs pressuring. (Below) Loyola’s Marvin Campbell runs away from tacklers for some of his 215 rushing yards. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
ISHPEMING PICK - The Ishpeming defense stopped a long game-opening Detroit Loyola drive when Thomas Finegan intercepted a Nicholas Lee pass. The Hematites scored on the ensuing drive.
MARVELOUS MARVIN - Marvin Campbell rushed for 215 yards and four touchdowns for Detroit Loyola in its 29-8 Division 8 victory over Ishpeming. Here's the third score on a 66-yard run.
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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.)