By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A very recognizable 27 football programs have combined to win the 56 MHSAA 11-Player championships contested so far this decade.
Perhaps that’s the best way to illustrate the anticipation surrounding this weekend’s Finals, kicking off Friday morning and concluding Saturday evening at Ford Field.
Back will be reigning champions Clarkston in Division 1, Warren DeLaSalle in Division 2, Muskegon in Division 3 and Jackson Lumen Christi in Division 6. But we are guaranteed two first-time champions, and could finish with up to five.
Joining the final weekend march for the first time will be Hudsonville Unity Christian in Division 5, and both Division 8 finalists Breckenridge and Reading. Edwardsburg played at Ford Field last season for the first time, but will return seeking its first MHSAA title in this sport – as will other past runners-up Muskegon Mona Shores, Chelsea and Madison Heights Madison.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Montague and New Lothrop are past champions but returning to the Finals for the first time in a decade or longer. Detroit Martin Luther King and Portland are only a few seasons removed from their last trips to Ford Field and back hoping to add to their title legacies.
See below for a look at all of the finalists taking the field, powered by MI Student Aid. Tickets cost $10 and are good for all four games on one day; only cash will be accepted at the door. Click for a full schedule. Also, for the first time, Ford Field will host a pair of Special Olympics Unified flag football games prior to the start of Saturday’s four 11-Player Finals. Teams from Brighton, Holt, Mason and Sparta will take the field at 9:40 and play 20-minute exhibitions. Unified Sports programs combine students with and without intellectual disabilities on competitive athletic teams.
The first two Friday and Saturday Finals will be broadcast live on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary and PLUS channels (check cable/satellite box listings for your specific channel) with the third and fourth games both days available live on FOX Sports Detroit PLUS only. All eight games also can be viewed live on FOXSportsDetroit.com and on the FOX Sports app. Games will be archived for on-demand viewing on MHSAA.tv, which also will live stream the first three postgame press conferences each day. Audio broadcasts will be available on the MHSAA Network website live both days.
Rankings below were voted on by The Associated Press’ media panel – teams that were ranked in different divisions for the regular season are noted. Statistics are current.
CLINTON TOWNSHIP CHIPPEWA VALLEY
Record: 13-0, No. 2
Coach: Scott Merchant, 10th season (68-38)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2001.
Best wins: 28-16 over No. 3 Belleville in Semifinal, 42-7 over No. 6 Dearborn Fordson in Regional Final, 51-10 (District Final) and 24-17 over honorable mention Macomb Dakota, 31-26 over No. 5 Saline.
Players to watch: WR/DB David Ellis, 6-0/195 sr. (630 yards/9 TDs receiving, 3 TDs kick return, 1 TD punt return); RB/DB Andre Chenault, 5-7/195 sr. (1,030 yards/14 TDs rushing); QB Tommy Schuster, 6-0/185 sr. (1,653 yards/24 TDs passing); TE/LB Marcel Lewis, 6-1/220 sr. (4 TDs receiving).
Outlook: Chippewa Valley has been building toward this, with a 10-win season and District title a year ago followed by this fall’s perfect run through one of the most competitive leagues in the state. Lewis – committed to Michigan State – was an all-state linebacker last season and leads a defense that held powerful Belleville last week to its fewest points in two years. Schuster was an honorable mention all-state quarterback in 2017 and has led the offense to a program-record 515 points, spreading the ball to a number of playmakers. Ellis will sign with Indiana University and running back/defensive back Ja’Von Kimpson (11 rushing touchdowns) is committed to Miami (Ohio).
Record: 11-2, No. 8
Coach: Kurt Richardson, 32nd season (254-88)
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2017).
Best wins: 21-3 over No. 5 Saline in Semifinal, 13-0 over No. 7 Lapeer in Regional Final, 28-25 over No. 10 West Bloomfield.
Players to watch: QB Jake Jensen, 6-3/180 sr. (1,101 yards/9 TDs passing, 371 yards/9 TDs rushing); RB/LB Jacob Honstetter, 5-11/190 sr. (770 yards/10 TDs rushing; 67 tackles); WR/LB Max Nicklin, 6-2/190 sr. (92 tackles); OL/DL Rocco Spindler, 6-5/270 soph. (82 tackles).
Outlook: The Wolves are seeking their fourth Division 1 championship in seven years, bolstered by a defense giving up 11 points per game – and only four per game during the playoffs. Senior linebacker Brendan Baker and senior defensive backs Keagan King and Josh Luther are among other playmakers leading a veteran group on that side of the ball. Spindler, just a sophomore, is considered among the state’s best in his class (and is the son of former Detroit Lions lineman Marc Spindler). The offense doesn’t have anyone with extraordinary numbers but does its part. Senior running back Jake Billette is the leading rusher with 784 yards, plus five touchdowns on the ground. Clarkston’s two losses, to Oxford and Oak Park, were by a combined 10 points.
MUSKEGON MONA SHORES
Record: 12-1, No. 1
Coach: Matt Koziak, eighth season (60-26)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2014
Best wins: 49-10 (District Final) and 49-42 over Jenison, 48-38 over Division 1 No. 4 East Kentwood, 33-14 over Rockford.
Players to watch: RB/LB Sincer’e Dent, 5-11/217 sr. (1,350 yards, 24 TDs rushing); QB Caden Broersma, 6-3/206 jr. (1,915 yards/19 TDs passing, 1,086 yards/18 TDs rushing); WR/DB James Gilbert, 6-2/179 sr. (1,466 yards/15 TDs receiving); TE/LB Jacob Wahlberg, 6-4/222 sr.
Outlook: Mona Shores has won its last three playoff games all by at least 21 points, and its only loss was to Division 3 finalist Muskegon in Week 8 in one of the Big Reds’ closest games this season. It’s all even more impressive considering the Sailors lost one of the state’s top playmakers in senior receiver Damari Roberson to an injury before the season started. But Gilbert has filled in to an elite degree as the main pass catcher, keeping some attention off Dent, two-way threat Broersma and junior Tre’shawn Hatcher, who has run for more than 700 yards and nine scores. Roberson and Wahlberg both have committed to Western Michigan.
Record: 11-2, No. 4
Coach: Mike Giannone, third season (27-9)
League finish: Tied for first in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Division 2 champions 2014 and 2017, runners-up 2006 and 2008.
Best wins: 35-7 over No. 2 Oak Park in District Final, 21-3 over No. 7 Port Huron Northern in Regional Final, 28-0 over No. 9 Birmingham Groves in Semifinal, 26-10 over honorable mention Warren Mott in Pre-District, 24-6 over Division 1 honorable mention Detroit Catholic Central.
Players to watch: WR/DB Joshua DeBerry, 6-1/175 sr. (701 yards/9 TDs receiving; 43 tackles/5 interceptions); RB/DB Evan Vaillancourt, 5-10/205 sr. (646 yards/14 TDs rushing); RB/LB Jacob Dobbs, 6-1/215, sr. (85 tackles/4 forced fumbles); OL/DL Daniel Motowski, 6-4/270 sr.
Outlook: DeLaSalle is seeking its third championship in five seasons with a group that may not have any individuals who stick out statistically, but just keeps winning. The Pilots gave Muskegon a 15-point game in Week 1 and didn’t lose again until falling to Detroit Catholic Central by three in Week 8 – and they avenged that loss a week later in the Catholic League A-B championship game. DeBerry and Dobbs earned all-state honorable mentions last season; Dobbs is committed to Holy Cross and Motowski to Central Michigan University. Senior quarterback Nolan Schultz has completed an efficient 59 percent of his passes for 719 yards and six touchdowns and run for 10 scores.
Record: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Shane Fairfield, ninth season (100-18)
League finish: First in O-K Black
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 45-22 over No. 5 Zeeland East in Semifinal, 34-18 over No. 7 Cedar Springs in Regional Final, 55-35 over Division 2 No. 1 Muskegon Mona Shores, 24-21 over Detroit Martin Luther King (No. 3 Division 2 poll), 36-21 over Division 2 No. 4 Warren DeLaSalle.
Players to watch: RB/DB Jeremiah Lockhart, 5-10/200 sr. (1,157 yards/15 TDs); QB/DB Cameron Martinez, 5-11/190 jr. (2,316 yards/36 TDs, 632 yards/11 TDs passing); RB/LB Ali’vonta Wallace 6-0/230 sr.; OL/DL Anthony Bradford, 6-5/360 sr.
Outlook: If any team in the state has been a favorite from the first day of practice in August, it’s been Muskegon. Martinez has gone from great prospect as an underclassman to arguably the most intriguing standout in the state, while Bradford leads a starting offensive line that averages 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds. The Big Reds got a scare early from King and another in a seven-point Pre-District win over East Grand Rapids, but are the only team with wins over three other finalists playing this weekend. Bradford earned an all-state honorable mention last season and will continue his career at Louisiana State University. Senior back Demario Robinson also has run for more than 700 yards and eight touchdowns this fall; he was averaging 13.5 yards per carry entering the Semifinal as all four of the team’s top rushers were gaining 10 or more yards per carry.
DETROIT MARTIN LUTHER KING
Record: 11-2 (No. 3 in Division 2 poll)
Coach: Tyrone Spencer, third season (34-6)
League finish: First in Detroit Public School League Black
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 34-21 over No. 2 DeWitt in Semifinal, 7-6 over No. 3 River Rouge in Pre-District, 34-14 over No. 9 Warren Woods Tower in District Final, 52-38 over East St. Louis (Ill.).
Players to watch: QB Dequan Finn, 6-1/190 sr. (1,189 yards/20 TDs rushing, 1,936 yards/22 TDs passing); RB Peny Boone 6-1/215 jr. (826 yards/13 TDs rushing); LB Marvin Grant, 6-2/195 sr.; DB Ahmad Gardner, 6-2/160 sr.
Outlook: After winning Division 2 titles in 2015 and 2016, King fell just short of another Finals appearance last fall losing to eventual champion DeLaSalle by a point in a Semifinal. Moving into Division 3 for these playoffs, King navigated a loaded bracket with Finn growing his reputation as one of the state’s most dynamic quarterbacks. Grant – who has committed to Purdue – made the all-state team in Division 2 last season, and Finn earned an honorable mention. Finn will sign with CMU as will receiver Darrell Wyatt, while Gardner is committed to Cincinnati, flanker Jalen McGaughy to Northern Illinois, linebacker Rich Miller to Buffalo, senior safety Ray Williams to Youngstown State and senior offensive tackle DeShawn Ingram to Howard.
Record: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Kevin Bartz, 24th season (172-74)
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2017.
Best wins: 46-44 (OT) over No. 2 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Semifinal, 38-15 over No. 5 Three Rivers, 56-21 over Holland Christian in Regional Final.
Players to watch: RB/DB Chase Goggins, 5-8/155 sr. (1,355 yards/23 TDs rushing, 344 yards/4 TDs receiving); RB/LB Chase Sager, 6-1/195 sr. (916 yards/17 TDs rushing; 56 tackles/11 tackles for loss); RB/LB Isaiah Mitchell, 5-10/205 sr. (771 yards/15 TDs rushing); QB/DB Tre’ Harvey, 6-1/190 sr. (624 yards/9 TDs passing, 534 yards/7 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Edwardsburg made its first trip to Ford Field last season, and after an 11-point loss to GRCC in the Final came back to avenge that defeat last weekend. A first championship this weekend would top a 58-6 run over the last five seasons where all but two of those defeats have come during the playoffs. Sager was one of the team’s leading rushers in last season’s Final, when Mitchell, Goggins and Harvey all also saw time. Sophomore Drew Bidwell (72 tackles) and senior Dylan McColley (68) team with Sager for a strong linebacker group that’s helped the team give up only 10 points per game.
Record: 10-3, unranked
Coach: Josh Lucas, first season (10-3)
League finish: Third in Southeastern Conference White
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2015.
Best wins: 38-13 over No. 8 Williamston in Semifinal, 21-14 over Farmington Hills Harrison in Regional Final, 35-14 over honorable mention Milan in District Final, 28-21 over No. 3 Grosse Ile in Pre-District.
Players to watch: RB Aaron McDaniels, 5-9/175 sr. (992 yards/17 TDs rushing); WR/DB Hunter Neff, 6-4/210 sr. (1,097 yards/16 TDs receiving); QB Quinn Starkey, 6-3/180 sr. (2,268 yards/25 TDs passing); TE/DE Nick Christian, 6-5/210 sr. (477 yards/4 TDs receiving).
Outlook: Chelsea has made one of the most impressive climbs over the last month after finishing third in its league and then losing at 3-6 Alpena in Week 9. The Bulldogs have cut a touchdown off their defensive points-allowed average during the playoffs, giving up 15.5 over the last four games. The offense has remained steady, meanwhile, even as Chelsea has faced and eliminated two league champions during this postseason. Lucas formerly led the varsity for three seasons at Allegan after five as an assistant at Zeeland East.
Record: 13-0, No. 2
Coach: John Novara, 20th season (145-63)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Championship history: Division 5 champion 2012.
Best wins: 17-13 (District Final) and 16-8 over No. 5 Lansing Catholic, 40-6 over Frankenmuth in Regional Final, 35-14 over Marine City in Semifinal, 27-20 over No. 9 Montague (moved to Division 6 for playoffs).
Players to watch: RB/DB Jacob Veale, 5-10/165 sr. (1,662 yards/26 TDs rushing); QB/DE Owen Russell, 6-4/195 jr. (559 yards/8 TDs passing); OL/DE Matthew Koster, 6-0/205, sr.; OL/DE Jacob Hickling, 6-3/215 sr.
Outlook: Despite its 2012 championship, Portland remains something of an under-the-radar power statewide. But the Raiders have won at least 10 games four straight seasons and had only four single-digit victories this fall, with the rest by at least 14 points. What’s not a secret is how Portland succeeds – the Raiders went over 3,000 rushing yards for the season last week, and defensively they’re giving up an average of 165 yards and eight points per game. Senior tackle Hunter Klein (6-7, 315 pounds) is among those leading the way for Veale.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record: 11-2 (No. 10 in Division 4 poll)
Coach: Craig Tibbe, 16th season (84-79)
League finish: Third in O-K Green
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 14-7 over No. 1 Saginaw Swan Valley in Semifinal, 39-14 over No. 4 Kalamazoo United in Regional Final, 40-37 over No. 6 Muskegon Oakridge in District Final, 41-22 over Grand Rapids West Catholic in Pre-District.
Players to watch: RB/LB Hayden Large, 6-2/185, jr. (1,205 yards/12 TDs); RB/DB Malekhi Obande, 5-8/155, soph. (866 yards/7 TDs); QB/DB Isaac TeSlaa, 6-3/180 jr. (490 yards/11 TDs rushing, 468 yards/3 TDs passing); RB/DL Max Buikema, 5-10/190 sr. (781 yards/13 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Unity Christian will play in its first football championship game to conclude one of the most impressive playoff runs in any division this fall. The Crusaders opened by eliminating five-time reigning champion West Catholic before taking down three ranked teams – last week setting a program record for wins in the process of eliminating last season’s runner-up Swan Valley. And that was after navigating a league that saw four of seven teams make the playoffs, three win District titles and Zeeland East also advance to the Semifinals. Unity has run for 3,942 yards – or 87 percent of its offense this season – and Obande and Buikema have combined for 30 2-point conversions.
JACKSON LUMEN CHRISTI
Record: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Herb Brogan, 39th season (366-83)
League finish: First in Interstate 8 Athletic Conference
Championship history: 10 MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 42-20 over Montrose in Semifinal, 41-14 over Michigan Center in District Final, 34-12 over Grand Rapids West Catholic, 34-7 over Division 3 honorable mention Parma Western.
Players to watch: RB/LB Nick Thomas, 6-0/205 sr. (1,690 yards/30 TDs rushing); QB Joe Barrett, 6-2/195 sr. (1,180 yards/11 TDs passing); TE/DE Dayton Keller, 6-4/240 sr. (591 yards/2 TDs receiving); OL/DL Keegan Smith 6-3/285 jr.
Outlook: Lumen Christi has yet to have a game closer than 15 points as it marches for a third straight Division 6 title. The Titans have won all four of their playoff games by at least 22 points and are giving up nine per game for the season, with only two of 12 opponents scoring more than 14 (Lumen played 12 games, with an open date Week 9). Senior Cy’Aire Johnson is another exciting player to watch; he starts at defensive back but also is second on the team with nine touchdowns – five receiving and four rushing. Keller earned an all-state honorable mention in 2017.
Record: 11-2 (No. 9 in Division 5 poll)
Coach: Pat Collins, 15th season (137-41)
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Championship history: Division 6 champion 2009 and 2008, Class CC runner-up 1992.
Best wins: 14-7 over No. 2 Traverse City St. Francis in Semifinal, 30-14 over No. 9 Schoolcraft in Regional Final, 25-24 over Division 5 No. 6 Muskegon Oakridge.
Players to watch: RB/SS Bryce Stark, 5-10/191 sr. (1,579 yards/25 TDs rushing; 61 tackles); QB/SS Drew Collins, 6-2/190 soph. (1,805 yards/16 TDs passing, 417 yards/7 TDs rushing); WR/CB Kenyan Johnston, 5-11/165 sr. (808 yards/8 TDs receiving, 3 TDs rushing; 4 interceptions); OT/DL Luke Marsh, 6-5/290 sr. (77 tackles)
Outlook: Montague made its first Final since the 2009 championship run and has seen its share of tough competition. In addition to the wins above, the Wildcats also took losses to Division 5 finalist Portland and another Division 5 District winner, Reed City. Stark and Marsh made the all-state team last season as juniors, when Montague’s only defeat came in the Regional Final. Two juniors play big defensive roles this time; defensive back Brennan Schwarz leads with 121 tackles plus three interceptions, and linebacker Mark Vanderleest is second on the team with 86 tackles.
MADISON HEIGHTS MADISON
Record: 13-0, Tied for No. 3
Coach: James Rogers, third season (31-5)
League finish: First in MAC Silver
Championship history: Division 5 runner-up 2006.
Best wins: 37-34 over No. 7 Cassopolis in Semifinal, 38-0 over No. 10 Detroit Loyola in District Final, 20-7 over Division 4 No. 9 St. Clair, 28-6 over Farmington.
Players to watch: QB/DB Austin Brown, 6-1/190 sr. (2,060 yards/22 TDs passing, 1,831 yards/33 TDs rushing); RB/LB Khyron Franklin, 5-9/185 sr. (1,121 yards/8 TDs rushing); WR/DB Troye Williams, 5-11/185 soph. (689 yards/7 TDs receiving); OL/LB Adam Long, 5-10/190 jr. (181 tackles, 2 forced fumbles)
Outlook: Madison had made its share of playoff runs since it’s last trip to the Finals, missing last year’s championship game with a 14-7 loss to Saugatuck in the Semifinals. They’ve taken the next step with elite play on both sides of the ball, and with most of its regular-season schedule against much larger opponents. The defense is giving up 11 points per game and has an incredible 81 sacks, with seniors Chauncey Earnest (18 sacks), Caelon Eason and Kaylen Jackson (both 14) and junior Aaron McClure (6) bringing the heat up front. Brown has thrown for a combined 4,732 yards and 54 touchdowns and run for a combined 2,225 yards and 41 scores over the last two seasons. He has a big target in 6-4 junior Isaiah Pollard, who has 11 touchdowns on 21 catches.
Record: 12-1, No. 2
Coach: Clint Galvas, 10th season (105-14)
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference
Championship history: Division 8 champion 2006.
Best wins: 51-22 over Lake City in Semifinal (No. 4 Division 6 poll), 26-14 over No. 1 Pewamo-Westphalia in Regional Final, 51-12 over Montrose.
Players to watch: QB/DB Avery Moore, 6-2/210 jr. (1,533 yards/22 TDs rushing, 1,578 yards/20 TDs passing); RB/LB Will Muron, 5-9/180 soph. (669 yards/10 TDs rushing, 1 TD punt return); WR/DB Aidan Harrison, 6-3/190 sr. (673 yards/14 TDs rushing, 20 TDs receiving, 1 TD kickoff return); OL/DL Garrett Birchmeier, 6-3/250 sr.
Outlook: Perhaps no team statewide has been on the verge of getting back to the Finals more than New Lothrop, which improved last week to 98-10 over the last nine seasons but had three Semifinal losses during that run before downing previously-unbeaten Lake City this time. Moore generates plenty of excitement from his quarterback spot, but Harrison will get plenty of defensive attention – he’s qualified for the record book for single-season touchdowns and will sign with Missouri. The only loss came in Week 9 to Traverse City St. Francis, a Division 6 semifinalist.
Record: 13-0, (No. 6 Division 7 poll)
Coach: Rick Bailey, 31st season (209-105)
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 28-6 over Ottawa Lake Whiteford (T-No. 3 Division 7 poll) in District Final, 65-48 over No. 8 Pittsford in Pre-District, 55-7 over Grass Lake.
Players to watch: RB Ethan LoPresto, 5-8/165 sr. (2,422 yards/27 TDs rushing; 57 tackles/15 tackles for loss); QB/DB Alex Price, 6-2/190 sr. (627 yards/10 TDs rushing, 844 yards/9 TDs passing); RB/LB Anthony Willoughby, 5-9/180 sr. (559 yards/13 TDs rushing; 54 tackles); FB/LB Ben Affholter, 6-2/275 jr. (269 yards/4 TDs receiving; 119 tackles/5 forced fumbles).
Outlook: Reading’s season so far has included its first Semifinal run since 2008, a program record for wins and earning a trip to the Finals for the first time ever. LoPresto has led an offense that’s chewed up 5,505 yards on the ground; in addition to those mentioned above, junior Elijah Strine has run for 623 yards and 11 scores. But just as much credit should be paid a defense that earned its seventh shutout of the fall last week against Holton and is giving up 7.2 points per game. Junior Nick Affholter (6-3/302) and senior Caleb Miller both have more than 20 tackles for loss.
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Record: 13-0, tied for No. 1
Coach: Kris Robinson, sixth season (39-23)
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 12-0 over No. 3 Harbor Beach in Semifinal, 12-6 over Ishpeming (No. 5 Division 7 poll) in Regional Final, 37-12 over No. 4 Johannesburg-Lewiston in District Final, 30-12 over Carson City-Crystal.
Players to watch: RB Hunter Collins, 5-10/185, sr. (1,022 yards/15 TDs rushing, 3 TDs receiving); QB Carter Staley, 6-2/215, sr. (947 yards/13 TDs rushing, 949 yards/10 TDs passing); RB/DB Lukas Ebright, 5-6/160 sr. (300 yards/8 TDs rushing, 460 yards/3 TDs receiving, 1 TD punt return); OG/LB Hunter Smith, 6-2/255 sr.
Outlook: Breckenridge is another that has made an incredible climb; the Huskies were 0-9 just three seasons ago. Robinson has turned the Huskies into a power with a defense this fall that’s earned eight shutouts (not counting a forfeit win) and is giving up only 4.1 points per game, and an offense keyed by a talented backfield including 2017 all-state honorable mention Collins. He and Staley get many of the headliners, but it’s important to note they run behind four seniors and a junior who average 6-2, 235 pounds.