Playoffs: Regional Finals in Review

December 16, 2011

The first MHSAA football champion of 2011 will be crowned Friday, and by the end of Saturday we’ll know who will play for the rest Thanksgiving weekend at Ford Field.

Here’s one take of the most significant results from the postseason’s third weekend, plus links to coverage from the biggest games and a brief look at all 16 Semifinals coming up Saturday.

Let us know if I missed a game or a highlight I should've mentioned by posting below. And click here for results, schedules and more. (Rankings below by The Associated Press' panel of media voters.)

1st and 10

DIVISON 1: Detroit Cass Tech 6, Warren DeLaSalle 0 – Before 2010, Cass Tech had never won a Regional championship. Now, the Technicians have won two straight.

DIVISION 2: Walled Lake Western 21, Port Huron 20 (2OT) – A celebration for one and heart break for the other as Walled Lake Western left with its first Regional title since 2001.  

DIVISION 3: East Grand Rapids 42, Holland 21 – The Pioneers avenged a Week 2 loss to the Dutch to extend their playoff winning streak to 28.

DIVISION 4: Grosse Ile 18, Battle Creek Pennfield 13 – Best win in Grosse Ile history? Gotta be up there. Pennfield was ranked No. 3, Grosse Ile unranked, and the victory gave the Red Devils their first 10-win season and second Semifinal berth ever.

DIVISION 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 55, Menominee 34 – It came a game earlier this season, but West Catholic knocked Menominee out for the second in a row. West Catholic is ranked No. 7 and Menominee No. 5.

DIVISION 6: Ithaca 22, Montague 19 (OT) – The top-ranked Yellowjackets have had few scares during their 26-game winning streak, but No. 7 Montague likely gave them their biggest of the run. 

DIVISION 7: Hudson 35, Detroit Loyola 0 – So much for rankings on this one. Loyola was No. 2 and Hudson No. 3, but the Tigers extended their own 26-game win streak in a big way.

DIVISION 8: St. Ignace La Salle 27, Crystal Falls Forest Park 14 – An Upper Peninsula team might again represent in the Division 8 Final in two weeks. But No. 4 St. Ignace will get its shot this time after knocking off near-annual Finals road-trippers, the Trojans, who came in ranked No. 6. 

8-PLAYER: Rapid River 40, Engadine 0; Carsonville-Port Sanilac 47, Marine City Cardinal Mooney 0 – A coincidence that these Semifinals both ended in decisive shutouts. But they appear to be equally decisive statements about which teams belong in Friday’s first-ever MHSAA 8-player Final.

NUMBERS GAME

26 – Winning streaks by both Hudson and Ithaca thanks to Regional wins. Hudson is the reigning Division 7 champion and Ithaca won the Division 6 title in 2010, when both finished 14-0.

42 – Combined rushing touchdowns scored this season by Carsonville-Port Sanilac quarterback Hayden Adams and running backs Ryan Davis and Dan Rickett. All have at least 11 scores on the ground.

20 – Number of completions, in 20 attempts, Lansing Catholic quarterback Cooper Rush strung together to begin Friday’s win over Dowagiac. The streak tied the MHSAA record.

6 – Seasons, out of the last eight, that Rockford has advanced at least to the MHSAA Semifinals. The Rams will play in their second straight Saturday, and have won three MHSAA championships during that run.

MORE FANTASTIC FINISHES

Detroit Cass Tech 6, Warren DeLaSalle 0 – A bit of continuation on the above comment, as the Technicians clinched that second-straight Regional title with a touchdown run with 1:38 to play. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.

Rockford 30, Grand Blanc 28 – Rockford got up 23-7 before holding off a late charge by a Grand Blanc team averaging 54 points in this season’s playoffs heading into the night. Read more about it in the Grand Rapids Press.

Mount Pleasant 28, East Lansing 20 – East Lansing led by six with 11 minutes to play before Mount Pleasant, and especially its defense, took over. Find out more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Almont 31, Jackson Lumen Christi 21 – Almont has strung together six straight winning seasons, but its only other Regional final of the 256-team playoff era ended in a loss to Lumen Christi in 2008. Two late touchdowns sent the Raiders to their first Semifinal. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.

UP NEXT – 8-player FINAL and 11-player SEMIFNALS

8-PLAYER: Rapid River (11-1) vs. Carsonville-Port Sanilac (11-1) – 7 p.m. Friday at Northern Michigan’s Superior Dome – The inaugural MHSAA 8-player Final matches teams separated by 382 miles and Mackinaw Bridge.

DIVISION 1: Rockford (11-1) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (11-1) – 1 p.m. at Battle Creek Central; Utica Eisenhower (11-1) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (9-3) – 1 p.m. at Troy Athens – Rockford, DCC and Utica Eisenhower are ranked 1-3, respectively, and Cass Tech didn’t make the top 10 heading into the playoffs. But the Technicians have proven their merit. The Rockford/DCC game is a rematch of the 1998 Class AA Final, which DCC won before these players had started elementary school. Eisenhower is playing for its fifth Finals berth, and first since 2003.

DIVISION 2: Lowell (11-1) vs. Walled Lake Western (11-1) – 11:30 a.m. at Central Michigan; Birmingham Brother Rice (8-4) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (9-3) – 1 p.m. at West Bloomfield – Brother Rice beat King on opening night 28-21 and entered the postseason tied for No. 7 in the state poll with Wyandotte-Roosevelt, which King shut out last week. Lowell and Walled Lake Western aren’t completely unfamiliar either – they faced off on opening night 2010. The Warriors have won their three playoff games by a combined 11 points, and will look to harness a Lowell offense that has scored fewer than 35 only once during October and November. 

DIVISION 3: Mount Pleasant (12-0) vs. East Grand Rapids (9-3) – 1 p.m. at Ferris State; Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary (10-2) – 1 p.m. at Jackson’s Withington Stadium – Three of the top four in the Associated Press poll plus the reigning state champ making up this field, and the No. 1 Oilers are the next to try to halt EGR’s playoff winning streak (see above), which has included wins over Mount Pleasant three of the last four seasons. Orchard Lake St. Mary also is a regular in this round, coming off three MHSAA runner-up finishes in the last four seasons. Harper Creek's last Semifinal appearance, in 1999, also was against the Eaglets.

DIVISION 4: Comstock Park (10-2) vs. Zeeland West (12-0) – 1 p.m. at Jenison; Grosse Ile (10-2) vs. Marine City (12-0) – 1 p.m. at Birmingham Groves – Top-ranked Marine City and No. 2 Zeeland West are likely heavy favorites against unranked opponents. But like Grosse Ile (see above), Comstock Park is riding high in the underdog role and is in its first Semifinal since 1983.

DIVISION 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-2) vs. Lansing Catholic (12-0) – 1 p.m. at East Kentwood; Almont (11-1) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (8-4) – 1 p.m. at Ortonville Brandon – Last season’s champion West Catholic must now defend against this fall’s top-ranked favorite Lansing Catholic. But the other game has similar intrigue: Almont is No. 4 and knocked off annual giant Jackson Lumen Christi, while Flint Powers knocked off a giant itself on the way here in No. 3 Millington. 

DIVISION 6: Iron Mountain (11-0) vs. Ithaca (12-0) – 1 p.m. at Northern Michigan; Constantine (10-2) vs. Ecorse (10-1) – 1 p.m. at Gibraltar-Carlson – Top-ranked Ithaca is headed back to the Superior Dome for the second straight season, and knocked off No. 3 Iron Mountain in the same round, same location on the way to last year’s MHSAA title. Constantine is looking to break through playing in its third straight Semifinal, but faces an Ecorse team that has won 10 games for the first time.

DIVISION 7: Traverse City St. Francis (11-1) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (11-0) – 2:30 p.m. at Central Michigan; Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) vs. Hudson (12-0) – 1 p.m. at Vicksburg – All four of these teams entered the playoffs ranked among the top six, and St. Francis, Nouvel and Hudson have combined to win an MHSAA championship six straight seasons (Nouvel’s two came in Division 6). P-W has never played in a final – but also has never been 12-0.

DIVISION 8: St. Ignace La Salle (12-0) vs. Fowler (10-2) – 1 p.m. at Traverse City’s Thirlby Field; Mendon (12-0) vs. New Lothrop (12-0) – 1 p.m. at Howell – Mendon has taken down two top-eight teams so far this postseason, but No. 3 New Lothrop might be the toughest still with a defense giving up 3.9 points per game. The winner will take on a rejuvenated power – St. Ignace is playing for its first MHSAA Final berth since 1985, while Fowler is looking to get back to Detroit for the first time since 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)

 

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)