By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
MAPLE CITY – With school about to begin, Glen Lake will be hosting perhaps its biggest event of the school year tonight.
Perennial power Traverse City St. Francis heads up to Leelanau County to take on the Lakers in a Week 2 football showdown.
Glen Lake, a 42-20 winner over Kingsley in last week’s season opener, is coming off an 11-3 campaign that ended in the MHSAA Division 6 Final at Ford Field. The Lakers lost the title game to Jackson Lumen Christi 26-14.
St. Francis, a 21-7 victor over Marquette last weekend, finished 11-1 a year ago, losing to eventual Division 7 champion Pewamo-Westphalia 17-14 in the Regional Finals.
“Anytime you play St. Francis – it doesn’t matter if you play them on the beach – it’s a big game,” Lakers coach Jerry Angers said.
The two teams will not be playing in the sand tonight. They’ll be playing on Glen Lake’s new synthetic field, which workers put the finishing touches on to meet a down-to-the-wire deadline this week.
The field is the latest positive for the Glen Lake program.
The school board considered installing a new natural grass field, but opted for the artificial turf because of its “usability.”
“Once you accept the premise that the football field needed to be replaced, it wasn’t that much of a leap to go to artificial turf (over natural grass) given how much more we can use it,” superintendent Sander Scott said. “Usability – that was the determining factor.”
The field will be used by other sports teams as well as physical education classes.
“That’s the beauty of it,” athletic director Jennifer Johnston added. “Our entire student body and community can reap the benefits of having a field like that.”
The school board approved spending nearly $850,000 on the surface, but Scott said “it’s looking like it’s going to come in well below that.”
Scott said officials put added emphasis on drainage, an issue that’s plagued Traverse City’s Thirlby Field.
“We’re aware of the challenges Thirlby Field has had (with its synthetic surface), so we really made sure we did not duplicate whatever mistake that was done there,” he said. “We probably overbuilt for drainage.”
The field is not the only new enhancement fans will notice tonight. Officials “beefed up” the wireless network at the field and brought back the berms on the home side for those who prefer lawn seating to bleachers.
The upgrades add to the momentum that’s building in the athletic program. Glen Lake was named the Traverse City Record-Eagle’s School of Year in 2016-17 after the football team reached the MHSAA Finals and the girls basketball team the Semifinals. In addition, Nichole Cox won a third consecutive individual MHSAA Finals golf championship.
“We’re on an upswing,” Angers said. “Everybody is upbeat.
“I know we savored it (last year’s football tournament run). Hopefully, it will fuel us this year – and in years to come.”
Johnston said her message to fall coaches was “keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working.”
“We have a vision and that’s to work hard to improve every day with pride, class and integrity,” she added.
It’s that motto that the school emphasized in ads that ran in the Record-Eagle fall sports tab and in the Leelanau Enterprise.
“We wanted to promote and brand our athletic department,” Johnston said.
Still, Johnston noted, the school has goals other than winning for its student athletes.
“We want to prepare our students to be successful in the real world and contribute to society in a positive way,” she said. “We have high expectations on the playing field, but it starts in the classroom.”
Speaking of the classroom, Glen Lake is on a roll there, too. The school conducted a search this summer for two secondary math teachers with proven records of increasing student achievement. The school even offered a signing bonus. Forty-six teachers applied, compared to 14 for a similar position at another local high school.
Glen Lake ended up hiring two teachers with more than 20 years of experience.
“The one thing we do that distinguishes us from other schools,” Scott said, “is that we will give teachers credit for all their years. When I was part of other districts, the highest they typically go is six years. If you’re a teacher with 20-plus years, you’re not going to take a huge pay cut to move. We wanted to eliminate that (obstacle). We just posted an elementary opening and had 153 applicants.”
For Johnston, she had another reason to celebrate the 2016-17 sports season. Her father, Roy, who coaches basketball at Beaverton, became the state’s all-time winningest coach in that sport last winter.
“I was really excited for him,” she said. “He’s definitely stood the test of time. He’ll be the first to tell you that you’re not put in that position, to reach a milestone like that, without a lot of good players and without the support of a great community and school. To me, the entire Beaverton community earned that accolade.”
When Glen Lake was making its run to Ford Field last fall, Johnston was quick to mention to Angers that he should enjoy every minute of it.
“I said, ‘Jerry, you have to realize my dad’s been coaching 46 years and the furthest he’s made it is to the Semifinals,” she said. “You never know. (The Finals are) quite an accomplishment. Enjoy it to the fullest.”
One game into the new season, Angers already is raving about the support his team is receiving from the student body and community.
“The crowd we had at Kingsley was unbelievable,” he said. “And I expect it will continue to grow.”
Especially with St. Francis coming to town tonight.
But for all the good cheer, Glen Lake is also without a familiar face this season. Paul Christiansen stepped down as girls golf coach after last season, ending a coaching career that started at the school in 1973.
“I texted him after our coaches meeting in August,” Johnston said. “I said, ‘It was sure weird not having you at that coaches meeting.’ He texted me back and said, ‘Trust me, it was sure weird not being there.’”
When Christiansen started in the fall of 1973, he was an assistant varsity football coach and boys JV basketball coach. By the next year, he had become the head football and boys varsity track coach, in addition to coaching JV basketball for his close friend Don Miller.
“After the second year, our superintendent said three (coaching jobs) is too many, especially with two as a head coach at the varsity level,” Christiansen recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t care which ones you do, but pick two. I think you’ll be better off.’”
Christiansen gave up football. But he later picked up a third sport again when he coached girls middle school basketball. He would end up coaching boys JV basketball for 25 years and boys and girls varsity track 20 years apiece. In all, he coached 92 sports seasons at Glen Lake.
“It’s an odd feeling after 44 years,” Christiansen said. “It’s like, ‘Whoa!’ But it was time to move on.”
Christiansen went out on a high note after Cox became just the third girl in MHSAA history to win three consecutive individual golf titles. She’s now at Bowling Green University.
“I didn’t script it that way, but if you were to script it, going out with an individual or team championship would be the way,” he said.
Glen Lake had just three golfers last season, not enough to compete as a team. The school dropped the sport this season.
“For Glen Lake to allow us to keep competing (last season), even though we didn’t have a full complement of players to count as a team score, I was really thankful for that,” Christiansen said. “And Nichole was especially thankful.”
Cox’s title was part of a “wave of success” that highlighted the last school year.
But this is a new year. New teams. New challenges.
Angers, for one, is hoping to keep that momentum rolling, although he lost some talented players to graduation, including eight defensive starters.
“The key is you want to retool (not rebuild) every year and I think that’s where we are right now with the program,” he said.
St. Francis will be a good test.
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Maple City Glen Lake quarterback Cade Peterson prepares to take a snap last season. (Middle top) A drone's view of the new artificial turf field at Glen Lake, set to debut Friday. (Middle below) Peterson breaks through a hole following a block by teammate Max Guilbeau (43). (Below) Recently retired coach Paul Christiansen. (Photos courtesy of Greg Guilbeau [action] Scott Jozwiak [drone] and Don Miller [Christiansen].)
On jaw-dropping moments alone, the 2023 Football Finals played over the last two weekends at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome and Ford Field were an unforgettable success.
The two longest active winning streaks in the state were ended by first-time champions. Perhaps the two most recognizable players in Michigan faced off in the season finale. The winningest active coach in state history led his team to a record-tying title, while two more coaches retired with their program’s first. The lone repeat champion needed every last second to score all of its points during the fourth quarter, and four reigning champions saw their repeat or three-peat bids denied.
Consider those an opening kickoff of the final “1st & Goal Review” this season.
MHSAA.com covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the main storylines to emerge as those championships were being decided.
Finals in Review
11-Player Division 1: Southfield Arts & Technology 36, Belleville 32 – Read
The concluding game of this season’s Finals kept everyone on the edge of their seats as A&T not only claimed its first championship but ended reigning champ Belleville’s winning streak at 38 games. This matched up arguably the top quarterbacks in the state, with senior Isaiah Marshall piling up 415 total yards while running for a touchdown and throwing for two more, and Belleville junior Bryce Underwood totaling 203 total yards with a passing score as he attempted to lead the Tigers to a Division 1 title for the third-straight season.
11-Player Division 2: Muskegon 33, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 21 – Read
Muskegon also ended a two-year title streak, as De La Salle was the reigning champion and making its fourth-straight Finals appearance. The Big Reds had finished Division 3 runner-up in 2022, but followed senior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who piled up 374 total yards, ran for a pair of touchdowns and threw for two more.
11-Player Division 3: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 27, Mason 10 – Read
Both were playing for a first championship, and Forest Hills Central after finishing Division 2 runner-up last season. Several top contributors from the 2022 Rangers team were back, and they limited a Mason offense that had averaged 41 points per game entering the finale. In doing so, FHC sent retiring coach Tim Rogers out with the ultimate win.
11-Player Division 4: Harper Woods 33, Grand Rapids South Christian 27 – Read
Harper Woods was another first-time champion, carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter and extending it to as many as 20 before South Christian made a late run behind the record-setting passing of junior quarterback Carson Vis. Harper Woods lost junior lead back Colby Bailey on the second play, but junior Donald Adams stepped in and averaged 10 yards per carry with 174 total.
11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21, Corunna 7 – Read
After missing out on a Ford Field trip last fall, Grand Rapids Catholic Central claimed its third Division 5 title over the last four seasons. Senior quarterback Connor Wolf ran for all three touchdowns and senior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon powered the attack with 133 yards on the ground. Corunna was making its first Finals appearance and gave the Cougars one of their closest games, as all but three wins had come by at least 32 points.
11-Player Division 6: Kingsley 38, Almont 24 – Read
Kingsley claimed its first Finals championship since 2005 led by another record-setting performance. Senior running back Eli Graves tied the Finals record scoring 30 points, the last of his four touchdowns with 2:19 to play and after Almont had pulled within six points of the lead. The Stags controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes – or nearly 70 percent of the game.
11-Player Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi 34, Menominee 30 – Read
The Titans and longtime coach Herb Brogan tied the MHSAA record with their 13th Finals championship as they scored the game-winning points with 4:04 to play to complete this repeat title run. Junior running back Kadale Williams ran for 276 yards, the fifth-most in Finals history, and scored his first two touchdowns during the second quarter to bring Lumen back from an early 14-0 deficit.
11-Player Division 8: Ubly 21, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6 – Read
The rematch of the 2022 Division 8 Final – won by Whiteford – this time went Ubly’s way as the Bearcats also ended the Bobcats’ 27-game winning streak in coach Eric Sweeney's final game. Ubly had finished Finals runner-up three times, but concluded its first championship season 14-0. The teams played a scoreless first quarter and Whiteford scored first in the second before the Bearcats stacked three scoring drives of at least 5 minutes, 30 seconds apiece.
8-Player Division 1: Martin 30, Indian River Inland Lakes 26 – Read
Martin scored all 30 of its points during the final 10:17 to repeat as Division 1 champion in unimaginable fashion. Junior quarterback Gavin Meyers’ 21-yard run with five seconds to play put the Clippers ahead for good, and he finished with 358 total yards and also threw a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to pull Martin within four points of the lead. Inland Lakes was playing its first Final.
8-Player Division 2: Adrian Lenawee Christin 36, Marion 18 – Read
Lenawee Christian clinched its third Finals championship over the last four seasons and after falling short a year ago. Senior quarterback Sam Lutz piled up one more massive statistical performance, throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns on near-perfect passing, while also running for two scores. Marion was making its first Finals appearance since 1990.
As noted above, Jackson Lumen Christi tied the MHSAA football record by winning its 13th Finals championship. The Titans share that top spot with now-closed Farmington Hills Harrison, and Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Muskegon also moved up that list with their eighth and seventh titles, respectively. Lumen Christi also played in its 16th championship game – third-most and two short of Harrison’s record in that category, while Muskegon played in its 14th, GRCC in its 10th and Grand Rapids South Christian and Warren De La Salle Collegiate both in their ninth Final.
Kingsley senior Eli Graves became one of five to score a record 30 points in an 11-Player Final, doing so with four rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. His four touchdowns tied for fifth-most TDs in a Final and tied for third-most rushing scores. Graves also made the single-game rushing yards list with 210 yards on 33 carries.
Jackson Lumen Christi junior Kadale Williams finished his season with more than 1,900 yards rushing after reaching the single-game Finals rushing list with 276 on 27 carries. Muskegon senior quarterback M’Khi Guy joined Williams and Graves with 215 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Although Harper Woods and Grand Rapids South Christian combined to score just 60 points, they combined for 1,030 total yards, second-most on the list for both teams combined, and South Christian’s 533 total yards alone tied for fourth-most by a single team. Sailors junior quarterback Carson Vis set 11-Player Finals records with 441 passing yards, 30 completions and 513 total yards, and his 44 pass attempts rank second. His senior receiver Jake Vermaas made lists with 10 receptions and 176 yards. Not surprisingly, Vis’ passing yards also make the most by one team in an 11-Player Final.
Southfield A&T senior Isaiah Marshall also made the total yardage list with 415, ranking fourth, and his 281 passing yards and 20 completions also earned entries. Guy made the total yardage list with 374 and also the longest pass list with a 94-yarder to senior Destin Piggee for a score. De La Salle junior Sante Gasperoni made the single-game passing yardage list with 249, and Harper Woods sophomore Nate Rocheleau also made the longest throw list with a 90-yard scoring toss to senior Ramonty Houze. Mason junior Cason Carswell made the attempts and completions lists connecting on 22 of 40 passes.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Alex Moeller made the single-game field goals list in 11-player with two, from 35 and 27 yards out. Lumen Christi junior Andrew Salazar made the single-game extra points list with five in five tries.
Senior Tashi Braceful was on the other end of some of Marshall’s record work making the 11-player receptions list with 10 catches, for 152 yards.
Conversely, two teams made the list for fewest passing attempts in an 11-player championship game – Almont, which completed one pass on two attempts, and Ubly, which attempted three passes and completed two.
South Christian earned one more entry from the Division 4 game, tying for third-most first downs with 28. Kingsley also made that list, ranking sixth with 27.
Kingsley and Ubly also made the list for fewest punts in an 11-Player Final, as neither punted last weekend.
Marion senior Gavin Prielipp set the 8-Player Finals record for the fastest touchdown scored on an opening kickoff, bringing it back in Division 2 76 yards for a score over the game’s first nine seconds.
Lenawee Christian sophomore Max Stamats made the records for longest field goal also in that game, drilling a 42-yarder.
Cougars senior quarterback Sam Lutz is all over the record book. His 396 total yards in the Division 2 Final rank fifth on that list, while his 350 passing yards are third and .870 percentage throwing the ball (20 for 23) is the first entry in that category. The 350 passing yards also represent the third-most on the team list for 8-Player Finals.
Senior teammate Easton Boggs also made his marks in Division 2, with his 210 receiving yards ranking third and his three touchdown receptions tying for second-most in an 8-Player title game.
Both Division 1 quarterbacks also made the 8-Player Finals list for total offense, Martin junior Gavin Meyers with 358 yards and Inland Lakes junior Aidan Fenstermaker with 323.
Martin as a team ranked second on the 8-player list for most points scored in a quarter, with its 30 during the fourth, and also made the first downs list with 27. Neither Martin nor Inland Lakes punted in that Division 1 game, placing those teams on the lists for fewest punts by one team and fewest between both teams in one game.
Stories Behind the Scores
Legendary Lineup: From a competitiveness point of view, this was as strong a set of Football Finals as we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Over the last five seasons alone, only 12 championship games – out of 50 – had been decided by seven points or fewer, and only 24 had margins of 14 or fewer points, including only three of 10 games in 2022. But the last two weekends saw four games decided by seven points or fewer, three more by 8-14 points, and the remaining three by 15, 17 and 18.
Some Old, Some New: Of 10 champions this season, four earned football titles for the first time – and only two were repeat winners from 2022. While nine teams played in Finals for at least the second season in a row, five played in a championship game in this sport for the first time. More than 45,000 fans attended the 11-Player Finals, up 2,000 from a year ago and thanks in part to notable crowds from first-time finalists Mason, Corunna and A&T.
Scheduling Notes: Due to Michigan State playing Penn State on Friday at Ford Field, the MHSAA 11-Player Finals were moved to Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday’s games also started at 9:30 a.m. instead of the traditional 10 kickoff time. The schedule adjustment also allowed for experimentation with the order of games, with the largest schools each day – Division 2 on Saturday and Division 1 on Sunday – moved to the final time slots those evenings.
Dazzling Finishes: The Division 1 games – both in 11-player and 8-player – provided last-minute game-winning touchdowns to cap storybook seasons. In 11-player, Isaiah Marshall’s 11-yard scoring run with 47 seconds to play pushed Southfield Arts & Technology past Belleville 36-32 after the Tigers previously had come back from an 18-point deficit. In 8-Player Division 1, Martin scored all of its 30 points during the fourth quarter – the last 16 over the final 33 seconds – and with quarterback Gavin Meyers scrambling 21 yards for the winning score with five seconds to play. The Martin win kicked off the championship weekends, while the Southfield A&T victory ended the season.
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PHOTOS (Top) Our collage includes photos from all 10 MHSAA Football Finals. (2) Muskegon’s Da'Carion Taylor holds up the ball after his touchdown catch during the 11-Player Division 2 game. (3) Inland Lakes’ Jacob Willey (4) and Avery Enos celebrate Willey’s second touchdown of the 8-Player Division 1 Final. (4) Southfield A&T’s DeMario Quarles enjoys a moment after his team’s 11-Player Division 1 victory. (11-Player Finals photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. 8-Player Finals photos by Cara Kamps.)