By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – If Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central could draw up the perfect game for its preferred style of play, it might look a lot like Friday’s Division 6 Final.
Yes, the Falcons defeated Maple City Glen Lake to win their first championship since 2014, so that makes it memorable no matter what. And sure, SMCC would’ve loved to score more – the offense averaged 34 points per game heading into the night.
But look past all of that and consider: The Falcons had 63 plays to Glen Lake’s 32, and ran the ball 58 times. They had 22 first downs to Glen Lake’s six. They had the ball nearly twice as long – 31:17 to 16:43 – and didn’t have one penalty called against them. And the defense posted its first shutout of the season.
Offensive efficiency and defensive prowess have been hallmarks of a program that was playing in its eighth MHSAA Final – and the victory was proof again that the workmanlike approach remains a viable a championship approach during an era dominated by wide-open and fast-paced attacks.
“It’s not really the score that we anticipated, but it’s OK – we’re a grinding team, we have faith in our defense and our offense to eat up time on the clock,” SMCC senior quarterback Wyatt Bergmoser said. “We just rep our plays, and if it does come down to the defense we let them do their thing and it’s not a big deal – we have trust in the other players on the field.
“We were on different teams (before high school) but we knew we’d come together and play together in the future, and that’s something we dreamed of and hoped for forever. As a kid, I went to the 2014 state championship game. I just remember sitting in the stands and thinking to myself, I want to be here one day. I want to be here with my friends, with my other players and grind it out and get a state championship for myself. And that’s what we did, and I love all my players and teammates for that.”
The Falcons finished 12-1, their only defeat this season 28-21 to Division 4 Milan in Week 3.
That close loss, which eventually decided the Huron League title, provided a lesson that would serve St. Mary as it worked to finish off its mission for the ultimate playoff prize.
SMCC led in the fourth quarter by a point, and punted on 4th-and-4 with just under seven minutes to play. Milan went ahead on the next possession, and the Falcons ran out of time.
On Friday, SMCC punted only twice and converted on four of five fourth-down tries, including two during a 14-play, 55-yard fourth-quarter possession that didn’t result in a score but did drain 7:48 off the clock. That possession also left Glen Lake to try to tie beginning at its own 7-yard line with 2:27 to play.
“Earlier in the year we were hitting some big runs, but three, four, five yards are great plays for our offense,” SMCC coach Adam Kipf said. “We don’t need to hit a home run. We don’t need to get 10 yards every time we touch it. But if we’re getting three yards a pop … 2½ yards, we’re in great position. We like to do that, and we’ll chew up 35, 36, 37 seconds on the play clock too, and that’s by design. We want to keep it out of their hands.”
The game’s lone score came on a Bergmoser six-yard touchdown run just under five minutes into the second quarter, which capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive lasting 5:22.
The Falcons ran for 249 yards total, led by senior Alex Morgan’s 123 on 22 carries. They held Glen Lake (12-2) to 127 yards total, 75 of it coming through the air on passes by senior quarterback Reece Hazelton. The Lakers got no deeper into SMCC territory than the 36-yard line.
“They were probably the biggest team we faced all year, since we’re pretty big ourselves,” Glen Lake junior receiver/defensive back Finn Hogan said. “It was a little different change of pace for us. It took a drive or two for us to get used to, and they capitalized.”
The seven points tied the fewest Glen Lake gave up in a game this season – seven times the Lakers gave up seven, and they allowed a solid 16.2 on average over the entire fall. Hogan and senior linebacker Jonathan Wright led Friday’s effort with 12 tackles apiece, and as a team Glen Lake had six tackles for loss.
Bergmoser also was his team’s high tackler with seven.
Glen Lake had last appeared in a Final in 2016, also finishing Division 6 runner-up that year. The Falcons, meanwhile, finished a rare 4-5 that fall, but came back with seven wins in 2017 and nine last season to set up this year’s run.
“Going into high school my freshman year, I knew we had a special group in our class. I think everyone knew we were special,” Morgan said. “My sophomore year we had 11 starters on the team that made the playoff run. Our junior year we had a ton of juniors starting on that team. So we had one goal in mind this senior year, and it was to be right where we are right now.”
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Mary’s Alex Morgan (26) is slowed by Glen Lake’s C.J. Helfrich (2) and Finn Hogan. (Middle) A Glen Lake defender works to bring down the Falcons’ Samuel Cousino.
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.)