By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Some of the strongest followings of high school football in this state take place in some of our smallest communities.
And some of Michigan's smallest towns should see some of the best games of this week, the midpoint of the 2012 regular season.
See below for this observer's picks of the best matchups from your corner of the state. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings.
(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)
Bay and Thumb
Vassar (4-0) at Reese (4-0)
A move into the Greater Thumb Conference West five years ago, from the Tri-Valley Conference East, has paid off for Vassar. The Vulcans are 30-14 in that time, including a 4-0 start this fall during which they’ve outscored opponents 127-6. The only league team they haven’t beaten since the move: Reese, which handed Vassar its only GTC West losses the last two seasons and is averaging 45 points per game.
Others that caught my eye: Merrill (2-2) at Carrollton (4-0), Saginaw Swan Valley (4-0) at Freeland (3-1), Mount Pleasant (2-2) at Midland (4-0), Essexville Garber (3-1) at Millington (3-1).
Livonia Churchill (4-0) at Canton (3-1)
Churchill is lining itself up well for its best season in decades. The Chargers have the most playoff points in the state through four games, have scored at least 35 points in each, and with a another win over Canton – Churchill beat the Chiefs by a point last season – the Chargers will be heavy favorites to win their first league championship since 1979. What about Canton? Its only loss this season was by a point to undefeated Midland.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Cass Tech (4-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary (3-1), Farmington (4-0) at Oak Park (4-0), Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-0) at Detroit University Prep (4-0), Wyandotte Roosevelt (4-0) at Taylor Truman (4-0).
Cedarville (4-0) at Eben Junction Superior Central (4-0)
In no other division is the importance of playoff points as cut and dried as in 8-player. The top 16 teams, based on playoff points, make the postseason. Simple as that. These two are in fine shape so far; Cedarville is second only to Portland St. Patrick in points, and Superior Center is third. And they’re also two of three 4-0 teams atop the Bridge 8-Man Football Alliance (Rapid River is the third.). Cedarville and Rapid River shared the title in 2011.
Others that caught my eye: Powers North Central (3-1) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-0), Iron Mountain (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (2-2), Hurley, Wis (2-2) at Bessemer (3-1), Engadine (2-1) at Rapid River (4-0).
Southwest and Border
Watervliet (4-0) at Hartford (4-0)
No league’s teams have enjoyed more nonconference success than the members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference South. Five of the six have started the season 4-0, with these two perhaps the most impressive so far. Watervliet has followed its 10-win season of last fall by outscoring its first opponents in 2012 by a combined 204-13. Hartford hasn’t been far behind that pace, winning all of its games by at least 28 points.
Others that caught my eye: Lawton (4-0) at Decatur (4-0), Three Rivers (3-1) at Edwardsburg (3-1), St. Joseph (3-1) at Portage Central (3-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (4-0) at Niles (3-1).
Whitehall (2-2) at Montague (3-1)
These West Michigan Conference rivals have played annually for the “Bell” since 1906, with Montague winning the last five meetings. Despite a big loss to Muskegon Oakridge, the Wildcats have won their other three games this fall by a combined score of 152-0. But don’t count out Whitehall; after a 2-0 start, its losses were by eight and four points to Shelby and North Muskegon the last two weeks, respectively.
Others that caught my eye: Caledonia (4-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-1), East Grand Rapids (2-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (3-1) at Fifth Third Ballpark, Hudsonville Unity Christian (2-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (3-1), Muskegon Oakridge (4-0) at Ravenna (2-2).
DeWitt (3-1) at St. Johns (4-0)
Both coming off of one-point wins last week, these Capital Area Activities Conference Red rivals either will be worn down, or more likely raring to go against what has arguably become the biggest rival for both. These teams haven’t had to play this many close games in a while, and this one should be tight too – all four Redwings wins this season have come by six or fewer points, and DeWitt has scored as many as it has given up. The Panthers hold a 4-3 edge since the series was renewed in 2005.
Others that caught my eye: East Lansing (4-0) at Holt (2-2), Charlotte (2-2) at Mason (4-0), Portland (4-0) at Williamston (3-1), Comstock Park (3-1) at Belding (2-2).
Lower Up North
Pellston (4-0) at Pickford (4-0)
Pellston is arguably the biggest surprise of the northern Lower Peninsula – the Hornets had won a combined four games over the last three seasons, and last won four in one season in 2002. But Pickford also has to be excited about its best start since 2005, especially in its first season in the Ski Valley Conference, which added teams and split into the North and South this fall. The Panthers are just two more wins from their first playoff berth since 2007.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (3-1) at West Branch Ogemaw Heights (2-2), Onaway (4-0) at Mancelona (4-0), Lake City (4-0) at McBain (2-2), Boyne City (4-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (2-2).
PHOTO: Saginaw Swan Valley (white jerseys) defeated Alma last week to remain atop the Tri-Valley Conference Central standings. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)