Five undefeated teams, one that is ranked No. 1 in its division, plus another reigning MHSAA football champion are among those that will be featured in tonight's Prep Zone games streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com.
Here’s a look at this week’s Prep Zone matchups, along with links to media coverage heading into the games. All kick off at 7 tonight, and all also will be archived for on-demand viewing at MHSAA.tv.
DIVISION 4: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (10-0) at Marine City (10-0)
Make it eight straight seasons Marine City has won at least 10 games, and 12 of the last 13. The top-ranked Marines also will try to knock Notre Dame Prep out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. That won’t come easily. The No. 6 Fighting Irish have set a school record for wins and are enjoying their best season since 1984 – and a strong turnaround from last season’s 4-5 finish, including a 47-13 toppling of No. 7 Marysville last week. Add in the four wins from last season, and Notre Dame Prep hasn’t lost in more than a calendar year. Marine City is riding the legs of senior running back Anthony Scarcelli, who has gained for 1,363 of the team’s 3,052 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns on the ground. Fighting Irish quarterback Danny Durkin is a dangerous two-way threat – he was 10 for 13 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 150 more yards and two more scores in the Marysville win. The key could be Notre Dame Prep's defense; it’s giving up just 7.2 points per game.
Read more in the Port Huron Times-Herald.
DIVISION 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-1) at Zeeland West (10-0)
The reigning MHSAA champion Cougars are rolling again with nine straight wins since falling to East Grand Rapids on opening night – a streak that opened with a shutout and then seven straight games giving up just seven points in each. But No. 2 Zeeland West presents arguably their toughest challenge. The Dux should have some added motivation after losing to Grand Rapids Catholic 50-42 in a 2010 District final. Quarterback Miles Morrissey is again directing the No. 4 Cougars’ high-powered passing offense, with Kevin Vicari among top targets. Zeeland West again has made its run doing exactly that – chewing up yards on the ground, as evidenced by their six rushing touchdowns (and the majority of 404 total yards) in last week’s playoff-opening win against Grand Rapids South Christian.
DIVISION 6: Leslie (8-2) at Grass Lake (10-0)
For these teams, it might seem like just yesterday they were sharing the field. Actually, it was only two weeks ago that Grass Lake iced a perfect regular season with a 36-28 win over the Blackhawks. Leslie was one of only three teams that gave the Warriors a challenge during that 9-0 run. The Blackhawks are being carried one last time by a group of seniors that took over after the team’s last MHSAA Finals appearance, in 2008, went 0-9 as sophomores but improved to 6-4 last fall. Senior quarterback Brendon Smith tossed the 80-yard scoring pass that beat Manchester 34-32 last week, and all-stater Kyle Bryson is his top receiver. Grass Lake does its damage on the ground, led by Frank Vuocolo and his 1,360 yards and 13 touchdowns.
DIVISION 7: Saranac (9-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)
Pewamo-Westphalia won and Saranac was runner-up in the 10-team Central Michigan Athletic Conference, although the pseudo-championship game wasn’t nearly as close as one might’ve expected – the Pirates won 28-0. A closer game might benefit the Redskins, who have won their last four games and five overall by eight or fewer points. P-W has relied on a senior-strong group of skill players to score its most points in at least a half century, with running back Alex Thelen and quarterback Justin Thelen leading the way on that side of the ball. Saranac has continued to build this fall after last season’s historic run ended with the team’s first playoff berth since 1978. The Redskins have won three more games this fall under new coach Terry Johnson, and tonight he can lead them to their first playoff victory ever.
Read more in the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.
Zeeland West's Brad Mesbergen will be among those trying to outrun Grand Rapids Catholic Central in tonight's District final (Photo courtesy of the Holland Sentinel.).
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.)