By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
During a football season full of new and different this fall, this weekend will be right up there for first-time opportunities.
With the regular season shortened to six games because of COVID-19 precautions, tonight begins the first MHSAA Playoffs with nearly every team in the state taking part. And with more playoff games than ever before, this first round will see 15 games played Thursday night.
The 11-player bracket kicks off with District First Round games, while 8-player begins in the Regional First Round. Click for links to all 10 brackets and monitor the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for scores as they come in.
Spectator limits remain in effect (check with your local school for purchasing information). So if you can’t attend in person, check out one or more of 87 games being broadcast on MHSAA.tv or FOX Sports Detroit.
Let’s take a glance at a game that jumps out from each division this opening weekend. Games below are Friday unless noted.
Lake Orion (3-2) at Grand Blanc (5-1)
The Bobcats haven’t reached the second round of the playoffs since 2012, but have seemed on the verge of taking a step – and last week’s 14-13 win over previously-undefeated Saline provided an indication the time may be now. Lake Orion had trouble with league rivals Clarkston and West Bloomfield this fall, but has to be one of the stronger five seeds – this District is topped by three undefeated teams.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (3-3) at Davison (6-0), Utica Eisenhower (2-4) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-3). SATURDAY East Kentwood (2-3) at Hudsonville (4-2), Detroit Western (5-1) at Dearborn Fordson (4-2).
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (4-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (5-1) at Forest Hills Eastern
Everything looks to be going the Rangers’ way heading into this rematch, as they’ve won all five recent meetings with Forest Hills Northern – including 28-13 in Week 5 – and picked up a share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with Friday’s win over Lowell. But the Huskies are on a roll too; they’ve won their last four games, all by double digits, and also including a victory over the Red Arrows.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lowell (3-3) at Byron Center (5-1), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2-4) at Roseville (4-2), Ypsilanti Community (3-3) at Dearborn Heights Crestwood (5-1), Birmingham Groves (3-3) at Auburn Hills Avondale (3-3).
Trenton (3-3) at Allen Park (4-2)
These Downriver League rivals also have met in the playoffs the last two seasons. Allen Park won both of those games and also this regular season’s opener, 29-7. But that’s only half the history. Before this fall’s first meeting, Trenton had taken the last three during the regular season. Semi-related, both played Brownstown Woodhaven to nearly matching one-score losses over the last five weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Parma Western (4-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-2), Sturgis (3-3) at Coldwater (4-2), Garden City (3-3) at South Lyon East (4-2), Gibraltar Carlson (4-2) at River Rouge (4-1).
Imlay City (4-2) at Croswell-Lexington (5-1)
This is a rematch of a season opener, won by the Pioneers 54-12. But the Spartans have gone on to guarantee their second-straight winning finish (after a string of mostly sub-.500 seasons over the last decade). That said, Croswell-Lexington was a seven-point loss to North Branch from a perfect regular season and league title – also a good improvement story after finishing 4-5 a year ago.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ada Forest Hills Eastern (3-3) at Allendale (3-3), Plainwell (3-2) at Vicksburg (4-2), Armada (3-3) at Goodrich (5-1), Detroit Henry Ford (3-3) at Detroit Country Day (3-2).
Belding (5-1) at Hopkins (5-1), Saturday
This is among the most surprising first-round matchups, as these two played for the O-K Silver championship just three weeks ago. Chalk it up to being in a District that includes an unbeaten team and four at 5-1. The Vikings’ got the best of their first meeting with Belding, 34-28, but are coming back off a week off while the Black Knights went on to win their last two games by a combined 108-3.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake Odessa Lakewood (3-3) at Portland (5-1), South Haven (4-2) at Dowagiac (3-3), Hillsdale (4-2) at Olivet (5-1). SATURDAY Ogemaw Heights (3-3) at Kingsford (3-2).
Kent City (5-1) at Clare (6-0)
This is another big-time matchup for the first round, with third-seeded Clare the Jack Pine Conference champion and sixth-seeded Kent City the winner of the Central State Activities Association Silver title. The Eagles’ lone loss came in last week’s finale, 26-20 to Muskegon Orchard View, and they’ll surely be revved up play spoiler this time. But they’ll have to figure out a Pioneers defense giving up only 9.3 points per game in what could be a low-scoring one – Kent City gives up just 8.8 on average.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Negaunee (3-3) at Gladstone (2-3), Harrison (4-2) at Sanford Meridian (4-2), Comstock (3-3) at Niles Brandywine (3-3). SATURDAY Flint Hamady (3-3) at Detroit Pershing (3-3).
Houghton Lake (4-2) at Evart (4-2)
In just six games, Evart tied its win total from a year ago and best season since 2016. After opening 0-2, the Wildcats got rolling with a 29-22 win over Houghton Lake and now are seeking their first playoff win since 2012. The Bobcats are coming off a loss to undefeated Oscoda but still guaranteed to end with their third winning season in four years. Whoever comes out on top in this rematch will see Highland Conference champ McBain next week.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Morley Stanwood (4-2) at Ravenna (3-3), Hesperia (4-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-1), Delton Kellogg (3-3) at Bronson (3-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (2-4) at Hanover-Horton (4-2).
Gwinn (3-3) at East Jordan (3-3)
One of these teams will end the night celebrating its first playoff win since 1999 – both are seeking to break a two-decade drought. After a fast start, East Jordan has had some troubles especially on offense the last two weeks – but with one more win, the Red Devils would equal their total from last season. Gwinn is a tough read because two wins came by forfeit. But a 22-14 loss two weeks ago to undefeated West Iron County is an indication the Modeltowners will be up for this challenge.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankfort (3-3) at Saginaw Nouvel (4-2), Marlette (3-3) at Unionville-Sebewaing (4-2), Saugatuck (3-3) at White Pigeon (3-2). SATURDAY Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (2-4) at Harbor Beach (3-3).
Deckerville (4-2) at Merrill (5-1), Saturday
Deckerville had a few stumbles against the co-champions in its league, but few programs have done the playoffs better over the last decade – Deckerville is 16-7 during the postseason since moving to 8-player in 2012. Merrill is the latest new force in 8-player, not entirely surprising after back-to-back 6-4 finishes in 11-player the last two seasons, and will be looking to extend the run into its first playoff win since 2010.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Genesee (4-2) at Mayville (6-0). SATURDAY Newberry (3-3) at Onaway (6-0), International Academy of Flint (3-3) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (6-0), Camden-Frontier (2-4) at New Buffalo (3-3).
Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-3) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-1), Saturday
These longtime league and occasional playoff rivals in 11-player will face off for the first time in 8-player – and first time at all since 2015 since Lake Linden-Hubbell made the format switch this fall. The Lakes are 3-1 on the field and gave undefeated Powers North Central easily its closest game, falling 34-22 two weeks ago. Forest Park has played two games on the field, but both were wins over teams that entered the postseason with .500 records.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Rudyard (3-3) at Rapid River (5-1), Climax-Scotts (3-3) at Colon (5-1). SATURDAY Ashley (3-3) at Peck (3-3), Waldron (4-2) at Tekonsha (4-2).
PHOTO by Robert Batzloff.