Three weeks remain in this MHSAA football season, and just two for our 8-player teams. That means we’re down to 68 total still practicing and pursuing championships either in two weeks at the Superior Dome or three at Ford Field.
Here’s a look at some of the best from the playoffs' second weekend, plus links to coverage from the biggest games and my take on those to watch in every division this weekend.
Again, if I missed a game or a highlight I should've mentioned, post below and let us know. And click here for results, schedules and more. (Rankings below by The Associated Press' panel of media voters.)
DIVISON 1: Detroit Catholic Central 21, Canton 14 – This has become something of an expected matchup, with these two facing off in the playoffs four times over the last 10 seasons, including two of the last three. DCC has won all four matchups, and this time the Shamrocks were ranked No. 2 and Canton No. 6.
DIVISION 2: Lowell 36, Muskegon 7 – The Red Arrows increased their playoff winning streak over Muskegon to three straight. Lowell came in No. 2 and Muskegon No. 3, and the Red Arrows now become the heavy state favorite with No. 1 Farmington Hills Harrison also losing (see below).
DIVISION 3: East Grand Rapids 45, Grand Rapids Christian 27 – Their 50-49 game in Week 9 (which Grand Rapids Christian won) made statewide waves, but this one was not nearly as close. The Pioneers have three losses this season, but appear to be hitting the gear that has resulted in five straight MHSAA titles.
DIVISION 4: Battle Creek Pennfield 14, Lansing Sexton 6 – By rankings this wasn’t an upset. But considering Sexton shared a league title with three Class A schools – including one still alive in Division 3 – and that the Big Reds beat Pennfield 47-14 in last year’s District final, there’s a lot here with which to be impressed.
DIVISION 5: Flint Powers 28, Millington 7 – This arguably was the stunner of the weekend – Millington was ranked No. 2, Powers unranked – but maybe shouldn’t be as big of a shock. The Cardinals indeed were undefeated, and Powers has three losses. But those came to No. 1 Lansing Catholic, Division 7 No. 1 Saginaw Nouvel, and Class A Davison.
DIVISION 6: Ithaca 28, Montrose Hill-McCloy 13 – Despite some close games elsewhere in this bracket, this one wins out because Ithaca is ranked No. 1 and Montrose came in No. 2. The Yellowjackets also knocked out the Rams last season on the way to winning the MHSAA title.
DIVISION 7: Hudson 22, Union City 14 – Both came in undefeated, with Hudson No. 3 and Union City tied for No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll. But Hudson ended Union City’s best season in a decade.
DIVISION 8: Mendon 28, Muskegon Catholic Central 21 – The conclusion of this incredibly competitive district pitted the teams that were tied for the top spot in the state poll heading into the playoffs. But the schedule won’t get too much easier for Mendon with five more of the top 10 still alive.
8-PLAYER: Carsonville-Port Sanilac 53, Bellaire 22 – The rematch of last season’s unofficial championship game went the Tigers’ way again. The teams also met in the regular-season finale last season after winning their respective leagues in something of an 8-player title game because the MHSAA didn’t begin sponsoring playoffs until this fall.
1 – Number of District championships won by Hemlock, thanks to Friday’s 27-20 win over Freeland in Division 5. The Huskies made the playoffs for the first time in 2005, and had fallen in first-round games three times before opening this postseason with a win over Carrollton two weeks ago.
519 – Carsonville-Port Sanilac’s points scored this season in 10 games (not counting the 1-0 result from another win by forfeit). That’s nearly 52 points per game, and has included outputs of 53, 57, 62, 70 and 91.
5 – Overtimes combined needed to determine two Division 6 District finals. Iron Mountain outlasted McBain 36-35 in three extra periods, while Constantine downed Schoolcraft 37-30 in two.
27 – East Grand Rapids’ consecutive playoff wins. The run has included five straight MHSAA championships. The last postseason loss came in 2005 to Caledonia, which then went on to win the Division 3 title.
MORE FANTASTIC FINISHES
Port Huron 27, Rochester Adams 21 – A late 85-yard scoring run following a goal-line stand helped Port Huron advance in Division 3 and win its 10th game for the first time in program history. Click for more from the Port Huron Times-Herald.
Birmingham Brother Rice 30, Farmington Hills Harrison 7 – Not quite close, but significant. Reigning MHSAA champion Harrison was again the favorite, and did play without its starting quarterback. But No. 7 Brother Rice will be a popular choice now to reach its first final since 2005.Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.
Mount Pleasant 35, Petoskey 28 – The Oilers trailed by two touchdowns on three occasions before coming away with a season-extending – and upset-avoiding – victory. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.
Grass Lake 23, Leslie 22 – One of our Prep Zone games on FoxSportsDetroit.com, this one went down to the final minute. At the end, undefeated Grass Lake prevailed – but not without a scare. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.
Fowler 24, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 21 – Fowler was certainly the favorite, and tied for the No. 9 spot in the state poll. But the Eagles did have to outlast a fast start and then late run by the Irish, last season’s MHSAA champion. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.
UP NEXT – REGIONAL FINALS and 8-player SEMIS
DIVISION 1: Detroit Cass Tech (8-3) at Warren DeLaSalle (9-2) – 7 p.m. Friday at SCS Lake Shore – DeLaSalle can reach 10 wins for the third time in six seasons, and its list of fallen foes is, as usual, impressive. But Cass Tech ranks well with the best the Pilots have seen. The Technicians own a win over Detroit Martin Luther King (see below) with losses to Division 2 No. 1 Farmington Hills Harrison and twice to Detroit Crockett (also mentioned below).
DIVISION 2: Detroit Martin Luther King (8-3) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (10-1) – 7 p.m. Friday – Roosevelt is 10-1 for the second straight season, and tied for the No. 7 spot in the state poll. But unranked King might be the best three-loss team this side of East Grand Rapids. All three of King’s this fall were to teams still alive, and by a combined 11 points.
DIVISION 3: East Grand Rapids (8-3) at Holland (9-2) – 1 p.m. Saturday – A tremor was felt all the way from the lake shore when Holland knocked off East Grand Rapids 30-22 in Week 2. And that was just the start, as Holland has gone on to earn its second playoff berth ever and first postseason win. Still, the Pioneers came into the postseason ranked No. 9, while Holland is unranked and at least some people’s underdog.
DIVISION 4: Detroit Crockett (10-1) at Marine City (11-0) – 7 p.m. Friday – Top-ranked Marine City has taken out Nos. 6 and 8 from the top 10 so far, and now will try to do the same with No. 5 Crockett. But Crockett’s only loss was to Division 2 District champ King, which Crockett then beat in a rematch. The Rockets and strong-armed quarterback Brian Blackburn made the Semifinals last season, and won’t go quietly.
DIVISION 5: Menominee (9-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2) – 3 p.m. Saturday – West Catholic is the reigning Division 5 champion, but had to escape Menominee 24-20 in a Semifinal along the way last fall. The Maroons always are a point of curiousity because of their thriving single wing offense, and come in ranked No. 5 to West Catholic’s No. 7.
DIVISION 6: Morley-Stanwood (10-1) at Iron Mountain (10-0) – 1 p.m. Saturday – Morley-Stanwood has double figures wins for the third straight season, and already has taken out No. 6 Shelby and No. 8 Clare. Now the Mohawks will attempt the same against No. 3 Iron Mountain, which survived a close one against McBain to reach 10 wins for the fourth time in five seasons.
DIVISION 7: Hudson (11-0) at Detroit Loyola (11-0) – 1 p.m. Saturday at Madison Heights Bishop Foley – Reigning champion Hudson has won its last seven playoff games and 11 of its last 12, but comes into this as a rare underdog ranked No. 3 with Loyola No. 2. That said, the Tigers have scored at least 35 points in all but two games this season. But Loyola has posted shutouts in five of its last six.
DIVISION 8: Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at St. Ignace La Salle (11-0) – 7 p.m. Friday – It’s a rare day when Forest Park isn’t the heavy favorite to get down state – the No. 6 Trojans have played in seven of the last 11 Division 8 Finals. But No. 3 St. Ignace is having its best season since 1988 and dropped a season-high 55 points on Rudyard in the District final win.
8-PLAYER: Engadine (7-4) at Rapid River (10-1) – 1 p.m. Saturday --- These two are in the same league and faced each other during the regular season; Rapid River won 50-32. With all of the points scored in 8-player games, that’s not as wide a margin as it might seem. But Engadine still must slow down a Rapid River offense averaging 52 points per game – just as the Eagles did in upsetting Cedarville 36-14 last week in another rematch.
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.)