By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
DETROIT — Danny Bauder would rather trade touches for trophies.
In most other offenses, a player of Bauder's ability would be a featured running back. What team wouldn't want to keep feeding the rock to a kid who ran for 1,796 yards and 28 touchdowns this season?
Bauder did all of that damage, despite the fact he shares the load in the shell game that is Zeeland West's run-oriented Wing-T offense.
He once again had maximum impact on minimal carries, running eight times for 144 yards and a touchdown in West's 34-27 victory over DeWitt in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game Saturday at Ford Field.
Two teammates had more carries than Bauder, as the Dux rolled up 441 rushing yards on 66 carries. Cole Hession had 26 carries for 122 yards, quarterback Casey Brinks had 11 carries for 66 yards and Grant Postma had six carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
They all shared in the same accomplishment with their teammates — West's third MHSAA title in the nine-year history of the school. The Dux (13-1) were Division 4 champions in 2006 and 2011.
"I love (our offense), because everyone has a chance to get the ball," said Bauder, who got things rolling with an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. "We have three backs. We rotate them like every other drive. It's a good team offense. It's a team. I don't mind, just as long as we win."
Led by its ground attack, West appeared to be on the verge of running away with this one, building a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers wouldn't allow the Dux to coast to the championship that easily, however.
A 56-yard touchdown run by Chris Ruby and a 29-yard scoring strike from Jake Johnson to Josh Borta in a 72-second span got DeWitt within 28-20 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
West responded with a 25-yard touchdown run by Brinks with 2:57 to go in the third, but an offense that averaged 48.9 points per game coming into the contest wouldn't score again. Junior defensive back Ben Zamiara led DeWitt's defensive charge with a game-high 20 tackles, 11 more than anyone else on either team. The Panthers held West to 1-for-4 on fourth-down conversions.
"I'm pretty sore right now," Hession said. "This is one of the games I've come out of the most sore. I can feel it right now, and my adrenaline is still rushing. Props to them, because they came out and they had three or four series where they stopped us on fourth down. Not many teams can do that. They're just good."
DeWitt closed the deficit to seven points when Johnson rolled left and hit a wide-open Borta for a 75-yard touchdown with 4:25 left in the game.
The Panthers' offense would watch the rest of the game on the sidelines. The Dux milked some clock by getting two first downs before dropping back to punt from its own 48 for the only time in the game. Postma barely got off the punt, but was knocked to the ground when a DeWitt defender caught him on the leg while going for a block. West retained the ball, running out the remaining 32 seconds by taking a knee one time.
"Our punter was already hurt," West coach John Shillito said. "He was on one leg. So, it was a great effort by Grant to get the ball off and it was a break for us. We knew the game was over. You knew that all you had to do was take a knee."
DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman said going for the block was a risk the Panthers had to take, given the time on the clock and the potential field position.
"If they punt and pin us down at the 10, that's a long way to go," Zimmerman said. "We went for it. Obviously, it didn't turn out in our favor. You have to take chances when you're in that situation."
DeWitt tried in vain to play catch-up all night after falling behind 8-0 when Bauder took the ball around the left side of the Dux line and broke into the clear for an 80-yard touchdown just 45 seconds into the game. West, which attempted (and missed) only one extra-point kick all year, got two points on a pass from Brinks to Zach Poppema.
West scored on four of its five possessions in the first half, failing only on its second series when a fourth-and-five run from the DeWitt 13 came up a yard short.
The Dux shook off that temporary setback and scored on a 7-yard pass from Brinks to Hession on the first play of the second quarter. Hession ran for the 2-point conversion to make it 16-0.
Following a fumble at the West 49, the Dux took a 22-0 lead on an 18-yard run up the middle by Postma with 6:45 left in the first half. Brinks' conversion run failed.
DeWitt (13-1) finally put a drive together and got back in the game on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Justice Shankel with 3:15 left in the first half. Cameron West's extra point made it a 22-7 game.
The Dux didn't get away from their ground game with time winding down in the first half, throwing only one pass on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that yielded a 12-yard touchdown run by Postma with 1:04 to go in the half. Postma's 2-point run failed, resulting in a 28-7 halftime lead for West.
"We dug ourselves too deep a hole," Zimmerman said. "I felt if we got one more possession, we had a shot."
Johnson, a junior, was 15 for 24 passing for 289 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for DeWitt. Brinks was 3 for 5 for 35 yards and a touchdown for West.
Borta grabbed five passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
PHOTOS: (Top) Zeeland West running back Danny Bauder scampers ahead during Saturday's Division 3 Final. (Middle) DeWitt quarterback Jake Johnson tries to pull away from a Dux defender's grasp. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos).
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.)