By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Tonight begins the final third of this football regular season.
And two thirds of the 602 teams eligible for this fall’s MHSAA 11 and 8-Player Playoffs still have a chance to earn what for most is a once or twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
That percentage, as well as the number of league championships wrapped up this fall, will change drastically by the end of this Saturday night. Below is a look at some of the games that will have the greatest impact on both lists. You can catch a number of those games and 29 total live on MHSAA.tv – click for the listing and links to those games.
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Bay & Thumb
St. Clair (6-0) at Marine City (6-0)
The winner is guaranteed a share of the Macomb Area Conference Silver title, which would be Marine City’s second league title in three seasons and St. Clair’s first in 2014. Although the Mariners are scoring more than 40 points per game, their defense has been arguably more impressive giving up only 49 points over six games and no more than 14 to any opponent. But St. Clair – winner of last year’s meeting 35-21 – will provide the toughest test so far. The Saints have averaged 32 points per game against a schedule that’s included four teams still eligible for automatic playoff bids.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Clare (6-0) at Beaverton (6-0), Port Huron (5-1) at Port Huron Northern (5-1), Freeland (5-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (4-2), Flushing (3-3) at Fenton (5-1).
Almont (6-0) at Richmond (6-0)
A share of the Blue Water Area Conference title will go to the victor of this matchup for the third time this decade, and Almont has won six of the rivals’ last 10 meetings. The Raiders, as usual, are a defensive force giving up only 47 points so far while scoring nearly 50 per game against a group that includes two four-win teams and another at 3-3. Richmond’s scores have been closer against a similarly successful set of opponents – and it’s fair to believe this game will be much closer than last year’s 51-12 Almont win.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY South Lyon (6-0) at Walled Lake Western (5-1), Romeo (5-1) at Macomb Dakota (4-2), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (6-0) at Detroit Catholic Central (3-3), Livonia Franklin (6-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-1).
Carson City-Crystal (4-2) at Breckenridge (5-1)
A 16-6 Week 1 loss to still-unbeaten Beaverton keeps looking better and better for the reigning Division 8 runner-up Huskies, who have yet to be challenged since with a combined 220-14 margin of victory over the last five games. Breckenridge also owns a 3-0 record against Carson City-Crystal since joining the Mid-State Activities Conference, and last year’s 30-12 win clinched the league title. Tonight’s meeting will decide the outright championship again – and all of the above surely is motivation for the Eagles, who quietly will guarantee an eighth-straight winning season with one more victory this fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Olivet (6-0) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (2-4), Canton (3-3) at Howell (3-3), St. Johns (4-2) at Fowlerville (5-1), Williamston (4-2) at Mason (6-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Harbor Springs (5-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (6-0)
It’s hard to beat out a matchup of undefeated league leaders for the week’s top game (see Glen Lake/Kingsley below). But while those two are setting the pace in their divisions of the Northern Michigan Football League – in fact, Glen Lake has clinched a share of the Leaders – this matchup should decide the outright champion of the NMFL Legacy, either tonight or eventually. A victory this evening would give the Rams the championship after they finished second in the Legacy two of the first five seasons since the league was formed. Johannesburg-Lewiston won last season’s title thanks to an 18-15 win over Harbor Springs – and while a victory tonight would earn the Cardinals only a share of this year’s crown, their final obstacle to claiming it outright would be a Week 9 opponent that hasn’t won a game this fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (6-0) at Kingsley (6-0), Traverse City West (4-2) at Cadillac (4-2), Mancelona (4-2) at Charlevoix (4-2), Traverse City Central (5-1) at Alpena (3-3).
Southeast & Border
Jonesville (5-1) at Reading (5-1)
No one should be surprised Reading is playing tonight for a share of the Big 8 Conference title – the reigning Division 8 champion Rangers are attempting to win their third-straight league championship and have been tripped up by only unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia in Week 1. Jonesville, meanwhile, is enjoying its most memorable season in years as it pursues its first league title since 2002 after last week guaranteeing its first winning season since 2013. Also not surprising: After being shut out by the Pirates, Reading has averaged nearly 53 points per game in league play. But the Comets have given up only 43 total including just 18 in their opening night loss to still-unbeaten Hillsdale.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Ottawa Lake Whiteford (4-2) at Clinton (6-0), Dexter (5-1) at Pinckney (5-1), Coldwater (5-1) at Parma Western (5-1), Ida (3-3) at Hillsdale (6-0).
Battle Creek Lakeview (6-0) at St. Joseph (6-0)
While this doesn’t mean anything of league significance to the leaders of their respective Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference divisions, it could provide a nice confidence boost as both programs should have an opportunity for a special postseason as well. Lakeview is the best in the SMAC East, having clinched a share of that title after two straight sub-.500 overall season finishes, and the Spartans yet to allow an opponent to get within single digits. St. Joseph is tied with Portage Northern for first in the SMAC West, with its most impressive offensive and defensive output so far since finishing 10-2 in 2015.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Vicksburg (5-1) at Paw Paw (6-0), Delton Kellogg (4-2) at Kalamazoo United (3-3), Decatur (3-3) at Centreville (4-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (6-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (3-3).
West Iron County (5-1) at Ishpeming (4-2)
Tonight’s winner moves into first place by a game in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron with two league games to play. These two decided the title last season, as Ishpeming won their regular-season meeting 14-0 and then came back four weeks later and beat West Iron in their Division 8 District Final 38-0. This latest round might be decided when the Wykons are on offense. They score only 25 points per game, yet Ishpeming has given up more than 30 in four games – but won two of those.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Menominee (4-2) at Marquette (2-4), Hancock (4-2) at Iron Mountain (6-0), L'Anse (4-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (4-2), Gladstone (3-3) at Escanaba (5-1).
Hudsonville (5-1) at Rockford (6-0)
There’s still time for the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red to get shaken up regardless of what happens this weekend – Rockford finishes with third-place Grandville and fourth-place East Kentwood, and the Eagles still face the Falcons and Holland West Ottawa. But this one will play a role regardless of what’s yet to come. The Eagles somewhat stunned previously-undefeated Grandville 44-21 last week, and are only a one-point Week 2 loss to Holt from undefeated – and Holt suddenly looks like one of the Lansing area’s best. The Rams clinched a spot in the playoffs for the MHSAA-record 25th straight season, and this actually has been their best start since 2009 – despite playing nonleague versus Muskegon Mona Shores, Grand Rapids Christian and Lowell, all in contention for their O-K divisions’ titles.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Zeeland East (5-1) at Byron Center (6-0), Cedar Springs (5-1) at Lowell (4-2), Central Montcalm (6-0) at Reed City (4-2), Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-1) at Spring Lake (4-2).
Brethren (4-2) at Mesick (5-1)
Like the stories for many 8-player teams, 11-player football was not frequently kind to either of these teams for quite a few years before they made the switch – Brethren in 2016 and Mesick a year later. But the Bobcats are the reigning West Michigan D League champions, and Mesick was runner-up its debut season and is playing this fall for its first league title since 1998. Aside from a 44-38 loss to Mio in Week 1, Mesick has been a rare 8-player defensive force giving up 26 points total over the last five weeks with three shutouts. Brethren has scored 60 or more points three times over the last five weeks, making those units the likely key matchup.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY International Academy of Flint (4-2) at Morrice (6-0), Pickford (5-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-0), Kinde-North Huron (5-1) at Deckerville (6-0). SATURDAY Onekama (5-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-0).
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PHOTO: Howell players charge onto the field prior to Friday’s game against Salem, an eventual 65-7 win. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)