By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The first weekend of high school football season always is filled with new beginnings. But that doesn't mean that all making fresh starts are completely unfamiliar.
A pair of grand old stadiums will have new looks. Thousands of fans are expected to file into Flint’s Atwood Stadium on Thursday and Mount Pleasant’s Community Stadium on Friday for the first games after both received major renovations this offseason.
And plenty of stars from last season are back for another go. Thousands more will likely pour into Wayne State University on Saturday for the Prep Kickoff Classic to watch six of the Detroit area's annual MHSAA Finals contenders, and top teams from all over the state are facing off against each other to get 2015 underway.
There are no shortage of games to watch, no matter where you call home. Below is a look at games that stand out from each of eight regions across the state, plus from our group of 8-player matchups. All are Friday unless noted. Records listed are from 2014.
And make sure to follow results as they come in on the MHSAA Score Center, and come back to Second Half later Monday for our round up of the most significant results from the first week.
Bay & Thumb
Marysville (7-4) at Richmond (10-2) (Thurs.)
Richmond advanced to the Division 4 Regional Finals last season with its first double-digit win season since 2003 and thanks to two over Marysville – 47-0 on opening night and 48-6 in the District Final. But the Vikings quietly have earned six playoff berths in seven seasons and might have an opening for revenge this week with an experienced lineup taking on a Richmond team filled with new starters.
Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (4-5) at New Lothrop (11-1) (Thurs.), Millington (9-2) at Vassar (5-4) (Thurs.), Davison (4-5) at Fenton (9-1) (Thurs.), Grand Blanc (5-4) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (8-3).
Warren DeLaSalle (11-3) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) at Wayne State (Sat.)
The reigning Division 2 champion, DeLaSalle, takes on a favorite this season in King. The Crusaders are keyed by some of the state’s most impressive offensive players in receiver Donnie Corley and running back Martell Pettaway, while the Pilots will attempt to slow them returning important cogs back from a defense that gave up only 12.8 points per game last fall.
Others that caught my eye: Clarkston (14-0) at Macomb Dakota (8-3) (Thurs.), East Kentwood (11-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (10-3), Muskegon (12-2) at Detroit Catholic Central (4-5), Southfield (9-4) vs Detroit Cass Tech (12-1) at Wayne State (Sat.).
Beal City (10-3) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-5)
These nonconference rivals have opened with against other all but two seasons going back to 1991, and this weekend will do so to debut the renovated Community Stadium. The Aggies are coming off another long playoff run, just missing a third straight trip to the MHSAA Finals with a three-point loss in the Semifinal. Sacred Heart hasn’t made the Finals since 2010, but is riding 10 playoff appearances over 11 seasons and looking to avenge some heavy losses to Beal City as of late.
Others that caught my eye: Clare (8-3) at Ithaca (13-1) (Thurs.), Mason (8-4) at Okemos (6-4) (Thurs.), Madison Heights Madison (9-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-3) (Thurs.), Midland Dow (10-1) at Mount Pleasant (7-4).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Mendon (10-2) at Boyne City (12-1) (Thurs.)
Boyne City is following up tying its best record ever and falling by only four in last season’s Division 6 Semifinals by taking on perennial power Mendon in what should be one of the state’s best games outside Detroit this weekend. The Hornets have won at least 10 games eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 12. Boyne City has made the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons and set a school record scoring 500 points in 2014.
Others that caught my eye: Reed City (9-3) at Baldwin (10-2), Marquette (7-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (9-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-2) at Mancelona (6-4), Sault Ste. Marie (5-4) at Petoskey (9-3).
Southeast & Border
Rockford (8-3) at Saline (12-2)
Expectations are high after Saline made the MHSAA Finals last season for the first time, falling to Clarkston 33-25 in the Division 1 championship game. Quarterback Joshua Jackson is among returnees and is considered one of the state’s most dynamic at his position. But teams learned long ago they can’t look past Rockford – and that’s hardly made a difference as the Rams haven’t missed the playoffs since 1994 and went 8-3 last season despite being outscored for the season.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Northview (6-4) at Chelsea (9-3) (Thurs.), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (13-1) at Tecumseh (5-5) (Thurs.), Pittsford (7-3) at Morenci (10-2), Clinton (10-1) at Manchester (8-2).
Portage Northern (7-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (9-2) (Thurs.)
These two are facing off on opening night for the second straight year and after three games of significance over the last two seasons. Although Portage Northern beat Lakeview 28-24 in last season’s opener, Lakeview beat the Huskies in their Division 2 District Final 21-0 after eliminating Northern in the first round in 2013, 31-7. Lakeview didn’t lose again after last season’s opener until falling in the Regional Final.
Others that caught my eye: Plainwell (8-2) at Three Rivers (6-4) (Thurs.), Caledonia (7-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-5), Stevensville Lakeshore (8-3) at Battle Creek Central (5-4), Mattawan (6-4) at Portage Central (7-2)
Iron River West Iron County (9-2) at Munising (12-2)
Munising made last season’s Division 8 Final and pulled off its best finish since 1980 led by a handful of elite seniors whose only other loss last fall came on opening night – 28-6 to Iron River West Iron County. The combination of both should give these Mustangs plenty of motivation against a Wykons team that has won 19 of its last 20 regular-season games.
Others that caught my eye: Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-2) at Bark River-Harris (8-3), Iron Mountain (6-4) at Ishpeming (12-1), Central Lake (6-5) at St. Ignace (10-1), Marinette (3-6) (Wis.) at Menominee (12-1) (Sat.).
Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (14-0)
Few teams in Michigan are replacing superstars on the level of graduated Lumen Christi running back Khari Willis and West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell. But both teams have been down this road before. West Catholic is the two-time reigning Division 5 champion and has 10 or more wins in six straight seasons; Lumen, while coming off its most wins since 2009, has made the playoffs 17 straight times.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-4) at East Grand Rapids (6-4) (Thurs.), Walled Lake Western (9-2) at Lowell (10-2) (Thurs.), Muskegon Catholic Central (14-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (8-2), Grand Rapids Christian (6-5) at Grand Rapids South Christian (12-2)
Kingston (7-4) at Deckerville (9-3)
A couple pockets of 8-player dominance have cropped up over the first few seasons of the sport, and these are two of the best and most consistent programs coming from Michigan’s thumb. Deckerville won the MHSAA title in 2012 and made the Semifinals last season after sweeping Kingston 14-8 in Week 2 but then 72-22 in the Regional Final. They play twice this season during the regular season alone; this one doesn’t count in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League standings, but the rematch comes in Week 4.
Others that caught my eye: Owendale-Gagetown (8-2) at New Haven Merritt (6-4) (Thurs.), Rapid River (10-1) at Onaway (4-5).
PHOTO: Saline quarterback Joshua Jackson prepares to hand off during last season’s Division 1 Final against Clarkston. Both teams’ returns to the field this weekend are among the most highly-anticipated in Michigan.