By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The final Friday of the MHSAA football regular season always is one of the most celebratory and at the same time heart-breaking days of the entire school year.
For many, practice will continue Monday. But for the majority, tonight will mark the end of another season – or a high school career.
Fortunately for a number of those athletes, they and their teams still have control over how they'll be feeling when this night, and this weekend, is done. A total of 187 teams have qualified for the 256-team 11-player playoff field – including six teams that won their sixth games Thursday night – and 76 more can clinch a berth with a win tonight or Saturday. The 8-player field is more set, although movement could still occur among those in contention for the final spots in that 16-team field.
Here's a look at some of the games to keep an eye on this weekend, including league title games in the Detroit Public School League, Catholic League and Kensington Lakes Activities Association. And make sure to check in throughout the weekend to Score Center and then Sunday when playoff pairings are posted at 8 p.m.
Detroit and Southeast
Detroit Martin Luther King (7-0) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (8-0), Ford Field
This title decider at Ford Field has been among the most highly-anticipated games in Detroit since before the first kickoff of this season. Although this was the second since the 1990s that these schools played in different divisions of the Detroit PSL, that separation arguably has made the rivalry even bigger – especially with King stunning the reigning MHSAA Division 1 champ with a 44-13 win during last season’s PSL semifinals. Neither has come to losing since the early weeks of this season; Cass Tech hasn't given up more than six points in a game since opening night, and King hasn't let an opponent come closer than 28 points since Week 2.
Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (8-0) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (7-1), Saturday at Ford Field; Southfield (7-1) at Clarkston (7-1), Britton Deerfield (6-2) at Clinton (8-0), Walled Lake Western (8-0) at Northville (7-1).
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (7-1) at Muskegon (7-1)
This isn't as annual a scenario for Muskegon as most might think: The Big Reds did fall to Zeeland East by a point in Week 9 last season to finish second to the Chix in the O-K Black standings, but are still seeking their first league title since 2008. This is the first time Reeths-Puffer has posted a winning record since 2007, and it’s done so in impressive fashion with victories over one playoff qualifier and three more that can earn bids tonight. Still, Reeths-Puffer is seeking its first win over the Big Reds since 1999.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (5-3) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-3), Holland West Ottawa (5-3) at Hudsonville (5-3), East Kentwood (5-3) at Rockford (7-1), Zeeland West (7-1) at Byron Center (6-2).
Menominee (8-0) at Marquette (5-2)
Marquette fell big to Menominee in 2012, but has won two of the last three between the Greater Northern UP Conference rivals – and can force a three-way tie for the league title by beating the Maroons tonight. Menominee has yet to be challenged significantly – only reigning Division 8 champion Harbor Beach has gotten within 20 points of the Maroons this season as they've built the second-highest playoff point average among teams expected to fall into Division 5.
Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (7-1) at Cheboygan (6-2), L'Anse (7-1) at Munising (5-3), Crystal Falls Forest Park (8-0) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-3), Newberry (3-5) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3).
Bay and Thumb
Fenton (8-0) at Lapeer West (7-1)
Beating second-place Lapeer West tonight would give Fenton 20 straight Flint Metro League victories and make outright another league title, the Tigers’ third straight. But Lapeer West also has a fine football tradition stretching back into the late 1980s, and the Panthers would love nothing more in their final regular season game than to win a share of one more league title. Lapeer West will combine with Lapeer East next fall.
Others that caught my eye: Lake Fenton (7-1) at Montrose (8-0), Davison (4-4) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (7-1), Sanford Meridian (7-1) at Clare (6-2), Plymouth (5-3) at Grand Blanc (6-2).
Southwest and Border
Watervliet (8-0) at Lawton (8-0)
This trumps Edwardsburg/Paw Paw as the top game from the southwest and border areas because a league title is on the line. Watervliet and Lawton split the Southwestern Athletic Conference South title last season, and one of the two has won the league the last four seasons – with Lawton also finishing second the two times Watervliet finished first. The Panthers survived a three-point scare last week against Decatur and can finish their first perfect regular season since 1999.
Others that caught my eye: Edwardsburg (8-0) at Paw Paw (8-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (7-1) at Constantine (5-3), Saugatuck (7-1) at Gobles (5-3), Battle Creek St. Philip (8-0) at Lawrence (6-1).
Lower Up North
Boyne City (7-1) at Grayling (7-1)
This highly-anticipated Lake Michigan Conference deciding game has come to fruition thanks to some close calls including two Grayling wins by a touchdown or less and Boyne City’s victory last week over motivated Elk Rapids. This is a repeat of the 2012 scenario; both also entered that Week 9 game undefeated before Grayling won 21-0.
Others that caught my eye: Mio (7-1) at Lincoln Alcona (8-0), Kalkaska (6-2) at Elk Rapids (5-3), Cadillac (8-0) at Traverse City Central (5-3), Petoskey (5-3) at Ogemaw Heights (5-3).
Homer (8-0) at Grass Lake (7-1)
This is the showcase game of the Cascades/Big 8 Conference crossover series, with Grass Lake one of three that shared the Cascades title and Homer the outright champion in the Big 8. The Trojans also are attempting to finish their first perfect regular season since 2005. The last time these teams met was in 2004.
Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (8-0) at Howell (5-3), Grand Ledge (4-4) at Holt (4-4), New Lothrop (8-0) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0) at Alma College, Chelsea (2-6) at Haslett (5-3).
PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech (green jerseys) will attempt to avenge last season's Detroit Public School League playoff loss to Martin Luther King when those teams meet tonight in this season's championship game. (Photo courtesy of Detroit PSL.)