A total of 272 MHSAA playoff football teams has been cut in half heading into this weekend's District finals. Here's one take on the highlights from the opening weekend of the postseason – and a look at some matchups to watch as we move on to the next round.
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DIVISON 1: Canton 24, Plymouth 21 – These schools are located about five football throws from each other, and were ranked adjacently in the final Associated Press state poll; Canton was No. 6 and Plymouth was No. 5. Three weeks earlier, Plymouth beat Canton 31-30. Plymouth also knocked Canton out last season.
DIVISION 2: Rochester Adams 26, Oxford 20 – Rochester Adams has more experience this time of year, with 15 straight playoff appearances, while Oxford was making its first since 2008. But thanks to a 22-16 win over Adams on Sept. 30, Oxford was ranked No. 6 (Adams was unranked) and home for this one, which qualifies this as an upset.
DIVISION 3: Adrian 28, Carleton Airport 21 – This gets the upset tag as well, with Carleton Airport entering No. 8 in Division 3 and Adrian unranked. The Maples had snuck into the playoffs at 5-4 and after losing their regular-season finale by 14 to Traverse City West.
DIVISION 4: Detroit Crockett 13, Detroit Country Day 12 – Country Day opened with a 12-0 lead, but Crockett – ranked No. 5 – emerged with a Pre-District win for the third straight season. Crockett also downed Country Day in last season’s District final.
DIVISION 5: Hemlock 21, Carrollton 14 (OT) – These former Tri-Valley Conference West league mates needed overtime to settle their Pre-District game. Hemlock finished the regular season among those getting votes in Division 6 before moving into 5 for the postseason.
DIVISION 6: Morley Stanwood 10, Shelby 7 – Maybe the finish of the night (see explanation and link below). Also a notable upset, as Shelby was ranked No. 6 heading in – although both were 8-1 during the regular season.
DIVISION 7: Iron River West Iron County 26, Ironwood 22 – These two actually aren’t that close to each other, in case you’re wondering from their communities' similar iron-themed names. But they are league rivals going back decades, and West Iron made up for last season’s loss to Ironwood with two wins this fall – by four points this time and five when they met in mid-September.
DIVISION 8: Muskegon Catholic 28, Saugatuck 0 – This game had statewide eyes watching, with Muskegon Catholic tied for the top spot in the final state poll and No. 5 Saugatuck the reigning state runner-up.
8-PLAYER: Bellaire 76, Akron-Fairgrove 58 – The number players on the field might be fewer, but the number of points frequently are more in the 8-player game.
8: Number of overtimes, combined, needed to decide two Division I games. Romeo needed five to outlast Troy Athens 34-31, and Grand Blanc downed Holt 59-52 in three overtimes.
1: Total playoff victories for Holland High, thanks to a 27-16 win over Stevensville Lakeshore in Division 3. This was Holland's second playoff game ever.
111: Number of points combined scored by Grand Blanc and Holt, which ranks 14th in the MHSAA football record book for most points scored by two teams in a game in which the losing team finished with at least 40.
13: Number of straight seasons Marine City has led off the playoffs with a win, going back to 1999, and including this fall’s 45-21 victory against Croswell-Lexington. Marine City was ranked No. 1 in Division 4 and Croswell-Lexington was No. 8.
MORE FANTASTIC FINISHES
Walled Lake Central 20, Lake Orion 17 – A fake punt followed by a 15-yard penalty eventually turned into a 20-yard winning field goal by Bryan Maxwell – and the defeat of last season’s Division 1 state champion. (Read more in the Detroit Free Press).
Temperance Bedford 28, Brighton 20 – Brighton jumped to a 20-0 lead in this Division 1 game. But Temperance Bedford quarterback Aaron Czesak ran for 133 of his 164 yards during the second half including the 27-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to give his team its final advantage. (Find out more in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus).
Morley Stanwood 10, Shelby 7 – This was named above, but worth mentioning a second time in more detail. After Morley-Stanwood took the lead with a field goal with 2 seconds to play, Shelby brought the kickoff back to inside the Mohawks’ 1-yard line – but didn’t cross it. (Read about it in Muskegon Chronicle).
Crystal Falls Forest Park 50, Stephenson 43 – The score itself means it was a wild night. (Find out the details in the Iron County Reporter.)
UP NEXT – DISTRICT FINALS
DIVISION 1: Canton (8-2) at Detroit Catholic Central (9-1) – By beating its closest rival, Canton earned a shot at No. 2 Detroit Catholic Central. DCC knocked Canton out in 2009.
DIVISION 2: Muskegon (8-2) at Lowell (9-1) – The Red Arrows are ranked No. 2 and Muskegon is No. 3. They’ve met in the playoffs the last three seasons, with the winner of this matchup twice eventually claiming a state title.
DIVISION 3: East Grand Rapids (7-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (10-0) – Their meeting two weeks ago – a 50-49 Eagles win – was arguably the most hyped regular-season game west of I-75. East Grand Rapids is No. 9 and Grand Rapids Christian is ranked No. 2.
DIVISION 4: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (10-0) at Marine City (10-0) – These are two of four undefeated teams left among the top six in this state poll, with Marine City entering No. 1 and Notre Dame Prep No. 6 – and coming off a win over No. 7 Marysville last week.
DIVISION 5: Portland (9-1) at Lansing Catholic (10-0) – These two determined the CAAC White title Oct. 8, a game the top-ranked Cougars won 42-24. But if No. 3 Portland has figured out a way to at least slow Lansing Catholic quarterback Cooper Rush, the rematch could be much closer.
DIVISION 6: Ithaca (10-0) at Montrose (10-0) – Ithaca is No. 1 and Montrose is No. 2, and that right there is enough to make this arguably the biggest game of the weekend in any division. Throw in that the Yellowjackets are the reigning state champions and are riding a 24-game winning streak – and that Montrose’s last loss was to Ithaca in last season’s Regional final – and it gets that much more intriguing.
DIVISION 7: Royal Oak Shrine (9-1) at Detroit Loyola (10-0) – This might not look like as great a matchup given Loyola’s 40-0 Prep Bowl win over Shrine just two weeks ago. But Shrine still hung on to a No. 10 ranking to start the playoffs; Loyola came in No. 2.
DIVISION 8: Muskegon Catholic Central (9-1) at Mendon (10-0) – Arguably the state’s toughest District closes with a final matching the two teams that finished the regular season tied for the No. 1 spot in the state poll. The only things separating these two are a Muskegon Catholic loss (to a Class A school) and Mendon’s receiving one more top-spot vote from the Associated Press’ five-person panel.
8-PLAYER: Eben Junction Superior Central (8-2) at Rapid River (9-1) – Of the eight teams remaining in the 8-player tournament, these two had the fourth and third-highest playoff points, respectively, at the end of the regular season.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)