The MHSAA Football Playoffs are finally here. After nine grueling weeks of regular season action, the best teams from around the state will square off in the postseason. The MSR team is ready to provide coverage of some of the best games across the state. A few are previewed below:
Rockford v East Kentwood: This Division 1 rematch pits the undefeated Rams against a hungry East Kentwood bunch. The Falcons posted a picture of themselves working out and running routes during the selection show. Eager for revenge, EK will travel up to The Ted. Randy Gregory has the complete preview.
Caledonia vs Grandville: The Fighting Scots will host their OK Red rivals on Saturday, although the contest will take place at East Kentwood. Caledonia is coming off of a loss to Rockford, and they will have their hands full with the ‘Dawgs. Tank Terry and the Grandville offense gave Caledonia a run for their money in a 50-40 shootout loss back in September. Expect plenty of offensive fireworks and another close battle on Saturday.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central vs Kalamazoo United: The Cougars are looking for their fourth straight State Championship this fall. The first of five potential roadblocks are the Kalamazoo United Titans. United, a co-op between Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic and Kalamazoo Christian, won their last two games to improve to 5-4 and secure a playoff berth. United played five teams with a winning record this fall, posting a 1-4 record. This will be their tallest task to date, as the State’s most successful program of the last decade has their mind set on returning to Ford Field.
South Christian vs Grand Rapids Christian: The Sailors are undefeated, finishing the regular season without a blemish for the first time since 2000. This week, they begin their trek through the playoffs with a familiar foe. Longtime rival Grand Rapids Christian, who they have played annually since 1972, will look to flip the script on the 42-7 defeat they suffered in the season opener. The Eagles earned a playoff berth after a 3-6 regular season, one of just a few teams in the state to do so.
East Grand Rapids vs St Joseph: The Pioneers return to the playoffs after a 2021 absence that snapped a 7-year skid. First-year Head Coach Josh Shattuck has his Pioneers on a two-game win streak headed into a massive test with St. Joseph. The Bears, champions of the SMAC, have reeled off eight straight victories after a season-opening defeat against Traverse City Central. St Joe is looking to improve on last season’s run that finished in the Division 3 semifinals with a loss to eventual state finalist DeWitt.
West Catholic vs Watervliet: Another first-year Head Coach, Landon Grove, has led the Falcons to an impressive 8-1 regular season. This matches last year’s regular season mark. Playing in Division 6 for the first time, the Falcons have their eyes on getting back to Ford Field for the first time since 2017, the last of six straight trips. Watervliet has won two straight games to improve to 6-3 entering the playoffs. The Panthers lost to Kent City 49-34 earlier in the year, but defeated a pair of playoff teams in Kalamazoo Hackett and Niles Brandywine.
Coopersville vs Cedar Springs: The Broncos are back in the playoffs, posting a 6-3 regular season mark. This week, they will open the postseason against a Cedar Springs team hungry to keep its momentum rolling. The Red Hawks have won five straight football games after starting the season 0-4. Last week, in a win-or-go-home scenario against Wayland, Cedar Springs came away with a 35-21 victory. This has the makings of an electric football game on Friday night. Coopersville will look to avenge their 45-6 defeat in last year’s opening round.
Traverse City Central vs Mona Shores (Preview by Michael Markoch)
Traverse City Central snuck into the playoffs at 5-4. The Trojans collected some nice victories over St. Joseph and Bay City Western to help their playoff résumé. A player to look out for in this matchup for the Trojans is Reed Seabase. The senior running back and linebacker has performed at a high level on both ends, and the Trojans will certainly need him this week if they want any chance at upsetting Mona Shores on the road.
As for the Sailors, they cannot be satisfied with how the regular season ended, losing 55-35 to rivals Muskegon and costing themselves an outright OK Green conference title. However, despite that disappointment, the Sailors are primed to make a run at a much bigger prize. Mona Shores was led by their running game this season. Senior running back Dahmir Farnum found the end zone 17 times, good enough to place him tied for tenth in rushing scores this year. His consistency was beneficial to first-year quarterback Jonathan Pittman. The sophomore had a very good season himself, throwing 13 touchdowns and rushing for five more in his 2022 campaign. The Sailors are the better and more motivated team in this matchup, and they should be able to take care of business at home in this one.
Sparta vs Muskegon (Preview by Michael Markoch)
After a slow start, the Sparta Spartans recovered quite nicely, ending their year with a 6-3 record and earning a road playoff game this week against Muskegon. The Spartans love to air it out with junior quarterback Nic Gordon and they can strike quickly through the air. The Spartan offense will certainly be tested against a strong Muskegon secondary that likes to take the ball away, and something will have to give this weekend.
The Muskegon Big Reds have to be feeling good after locking up a share of the conference title with their win over Mona Shores last week. The Big Reds choose a different approach when it comes to their offense. With quarterback M’Khi Guy and running back Destin Piggee, both who contributed with huge games against Mona Shores, the Big Reds love to run the ball and throw short, efficient passes outside the numbers. This is very different to how the Spartans play. As the saying goes, “styles make fights,” and the contrasting styles in this game should lead to a good fight. Both teams come into this first round on long winning streaks, and it will be devasting to see one of them come to an end. Muskegon has the edge being at home, but don’t count out the Spartans.
Lowell vs Zeeland West (Preview by Michael Markoch)
Lowell made it out of the OK White conference to earn a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive year. The Red Arrows were a first-round exit a year ago when they lost on the road to Muskegon. This year may be different. The Red Arrows followed their leader, Jackson Reisbig, who has scored 27 total touchdowns this year, on offense. Tacho Gonzales also scored seven rushing touchdowns to help lead the backfield. The Lowell defense has held their own as well, being able to carry the load when needed, and the Red Arrows will need that version of the defense this week.
Zeeland West is a team that can challenge a team not just physically, but mentally. The Dux are going to run the ball, their opponents know that they are going to run the ball, but the question is can they stop it? Running back Parker Holman finished tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns in 2022 with 18 and last week he scored four touchdowns on only four carries. The Dux are no strangers to playoff football, you can trust that head coach John Shillito will have his group ready to go at home. This game could go quickly, but the clear edge lies with the Dux here.
Reeths-Puffer vs Forest Hills Central (Preview by Michael Markoch)
In what was one of the most pleasant surprises this year in West Michigan, the Reeths-Puffer Rockets are back in the playoffs. This is the Rockets first playoff appearance since the 2020 season. First-year head coach Cody Kater has to be proud of his team, as they navigated one of the most top-heavy conferences in the OK Green to get to this point.
The Rockets are led by quarterback Brady Ross and running back Brody Johnson, with the two combining for 28 rushing touchdowns in nine games. The Rockets lacked a true “signature win,” falling short in all three games against the conference champions, but there’s no time better to come together than the playoffs.
Forest Hills Central has been one thing in 2022: dominant. The Rangers are 9-0 and coming off a 32-0 beatdown of their rivals, Forest Hills Northern. The Rangers are led by an impressive defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a single game this entire season. That should fare well against a Reeths-Puffer team that is carried by their offense most of the time.
On offense, the Rangers rely on their quarterback, Justin Osterhouse. Osterhouse threw 11 passing touchdowns this season and his favorite target this season was clearly Ty Hudkins, who hauled in nine of those touchdowns. A sneaky player to watch out for on Friday is Rangers’ kicker Andrew Novay, who has kicked seven field goals this season. There aren’t a lot of field goal attempts at the high school level, but if the game comes down to an important kick, the Rangers can feel confident in the player they have to come through.
Against a defense that doesn’t give up a lot of ground and an offense that still packs a punch, it’s hard to envision a Rockets win this weekend. They’ve already accomplished so much this season and they’ll put up a solid fight. But, taking everything into account, the Rangers should advance past round one.
White Cloud @ Beal City (Preview by Hudson Harkness)
Beal City host White Cloud in the 1st round of the Division 8 playoffs. White Cloud found themselves hearing their name called on Sunday for the 3rd time in as many years. The Indians are coming off a tough loss to White Pigeon, 55-0. The usual high-powered offense stalled the entirety of the game. Their defense was not able to stop the Wing-T that White Pigeon runs. This week will be more of the same for their defense. Beal City lines up in the Wing-T and with what the Indians put on tape last week, I would expect White Cloud to struggle again. White Cloud can score with any team in Division 8, even if it did not show last week. The only way the Indians compete with the Aggies is if their offense is able to score nearly every drive because Beal City has the offense to score any play.
The Aggies are favored to win this district, being the 1-seed. White Cloud could hold their own if they are able to score on every drive and limit the mistakes to none. However, I do not see their offense being enough to compete with Beal City.
Kent City @ Muskegon Catholic Central (Preview by Hudson Harkness)
Kent City travels to Muskegon Catholic Central in the 1st round of the Division 6 playoffs. The champions of the CSAA Silver, make the playoffs after missing last season. The Eagles took down Grant in week 9, 52-14. Kent City got back to their winning ways after dropping games in week 7 and 8. The Eagles ran the ball down the throat of the Tigers, like they did to ever team in the first six games. Their defense was not tested like they will be this week. The Crusaders offense ran all over Tri-County to close the regular season. MCC’s defense also stepped up big against the run game that Tri-County brings to the table. The Crusaders looked like a team that will be hard to stop when it comes to the playoffs with their physical style of play. Kent City is going to have difficulty moving the ball against a strong defense like MCC’s. The Crusaders offense should be able to move the ball against the Eagles and not have a problem.
Muskegon Catholic Central has the better team in this matchup and are coming off a big win against Tri-County. The Crusaders should be able to handle business on both sides of the ball against Kent City to advance to week 11.
Montague @ Reed City (Preview by Hudson Harkness)
Reed City will be the only CSAA team to host a week 10 matchup as Montague hits the road. Montague is the only three-win team in Division 6, and they drew a tough opponent. The Wildcats are coming off a blowout loss to Oakridge, 45-7. Montague has not looked like the team they are known for; their offense has been stagnant against teams that bring pressure and make the Wildcats get the ball out quick. Montague’s defense has had no answer to the teams that consistently run the ball and that is troubling for Montague because that is what Reed City does best. The Coyotes picked up a big win over Division 3 opponent, Cadillac 16-8 in overtime. Reed City made it difficult for the Vikings to get the ball out and in space and their offense did have trouble moving the ball but was able to punch it in when it mattered. Reed City should be able to move the ball a lot easier this week and their defense will still have plenty of opportunities to make plays in the backfield.
The Coyotes should come out on top of this one and move to the District Finals. Montague has had very little success against teams that like to run the ball right at you and that is Reed City’s specialty.
Tri-County @ Belding (Preview by Hudson Harkness)
Tri-County travels to Belding in week 10 to face familiar face in Monty Price. The Vikings fell to Muskegon Catholic Central in week 9, 41-28. Tri-County’s defense struggled and was ran all over. On the defensive side, the Vikings were just physically out matched. Tri-County’s offense was also dominated at the line of scrimmage, the Vikings like to get outside and use their speed by MCC shut that down. This week, Tri-County faces another team that dominates the line of scrimmage in Belding. The Black Knights took down a strong Hopkins in week 9, 36-14. Belding is coached by former Reed City Head Coach, Monty Price, that faced down off with Tri-County for many years and defeated the Vikings. The Black Knights brings a strong Wing-T offense that has been successful all season and a defense that has created chaos for opposing teams. The Vikings have had success against teams that run the Wing-T, but the Black Knights might be a different animal for Tri-County. This will be a game that is won or loss in the trenches and who can be the most physical inside.
This game could be considered a toss-up and one of the closer games in this 1st round in Division 5. I do think that Belding is able to keep Tri-County contained and use their physicality to their advantage. The Vikings will come in with a chip on their shoulder after thinking they should host a 1st round game.
Big Rapids @ Whitehall (Division 4)
The top seed in Division 4-District 1, Whitehall, host Big Rapids in week 10. Big Rapids is rolling going into the playoffs, winning the last 5 games, and clinching a share of the CSAA Gold title. The Cardinals offense has used many different ways to find their selves in the endzone. They have been able to use their legs and air it out. Big Rapid’s defense has stepped up when it has mattered, they have been able to stop the power run teams and the teams that like to spread it out. The Cardinals are very versatile. Whitehall is looking like one of the best teams in the state, defeating 6 teams that have reached the playoffs. They are just as if not more versatile than Big Rapids. The Vikings have plenty of athletes that use their speed to make plays from sideline to sideline. Both teams like to spread the ball out on offense and let their players make plays. On defense Whitehall is the better team, they are sound and make very few mistakes. Big Rapids is a solid defensive team but have made critical mistakes at points.
Whitehall is the top seed in the district for a reason, they are good… very good. I expect the Vikings to come out on top of this matchup due to the fact they have made few mistakes all season. Big Rapids has a shot if they come out and play a flawless game, I just don’t see it happening against Whitehall.
Clare VS Standish Sterling (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
The Clare Pioneers dropped their regular season finale last week in a tough one to Gaylord, 7-28. A week 8 loss to Shepherd has the Pioneers reeling a bit. But with the playoffs comes a renewed sense of energy. Clare is heading into their 7th post season in a row and have made the last 21 of 23. They are no stranger to this time of year. Now a young team looks to clean up some of their mistakes beginning Friday night. Clare comes off a 5-4 regular season. It hasn’t been easy, of their losses, every team has a birth in the playoffs. They’re battle tested and ready to turn the tide in hopes of a deep playoff run.
Much like many years, the Clare offense can make you pay. They churned out 28.3 ppg in the regular season but have been hurt by turnovers over the last couple of weeks. Carter Smedley is a dynamic player who can get it done in every facet account for 5 total TD’s on the year via pass, rush, receiving and defensively. Young signal caller Jayden Arthur has accounted for 831 total yards passing and running. He’s pitched in 12 TD’s total on the ground and through the air. Westyn Bryant has 453 rushing yards on the year to go with 7 TD’s. He’s also had an INT for a TD. When the offense is good, they’re really good. In their wins this season, Clare has put up 424 yards per game. Defensively they have had their struggles on the year. But it’s a defense that can limit you, in the four wins they’ve held opponents to just 112.5 yards per game. They will need to take care of the ball offensively and slow down a Standish offense that can put up yards in a hurry. If they can, they’ll have a chance of coming out of Standish with a lot of momentum and a chance to play another week.
The Standish Sterling Panthers are coming off another fantastic regular season. After making a deep run in the state playoffs last year, the Panthers have not skipped a beat. The Panthers were finally knocked off by a real good Gladwin team last week, but Standish still finishes the regular season at 7-1. That includes a conference championship. Two of those wins came against Ithaca and Millington as the Panthers were able to show their grit in coming back late in both games. They are battle tested and have goals that they hope to reach late into cool November. Standish comes in ranked in Division 6 as they look to keep their season rolling.
The Panthers are led by talented signal caller Truman King. King is a guy that takes care of the football accounting for over 105 yards per game passing. He’s turned the ball over just twice on the season through the air. The talented QB can beat you on the ground as well. The lead dog for the Standish offense is Jacob Bartlett. Bartlett averages more than 100 yards per game on the ground and is a problem getting to the ground. The Junior RB has 16 TD’s rushing on the year. Nick Niernberg has pitched in 8 TD’s on the year rushing. Brayden Sullivan leads the receiving corps with 421 yards in the air to go with 8 TD’s. Senior Cody Bartlett has helped with 3 TD’s by air.
The Panther defense is a nightmare to deal with. They give up just 13.2 ppg and have several guys that fly all over the field. Parker Masch, Gabe Morley, Bryce Giori, and Niernberg all average over 5 tackles per game. Jacob Bartlett leads the team with 3 sacks. Standish can turn you over as well having 12 INT’s on the year. King leads that group with 3.
Clare will have a tall task on their hands, but they seem to be a team that if balanced, might just be able to pull one out over the Panthers. Standish has high goals but if they take the Pioneers lightly it could have them on the outside looking in much earlier than expected. Clare will make the hour drive to Standish where the Panthers will be intent on not letting them head back with a win. This clash is slated for a 7:00 start this Friday night.
Cros-Lex VS Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
The Cros-Lex Pioneers head into the playoffs off a monumental win in their regular season finale. Jumping up early, they would have to fend off Freeland but were able to do so behind a big game from QB Gavin Espinosa. The Pioneers would end the regular season at 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the BWAC. Four of their seven wins would come against teams in the playoffs. The two losses would come against Almont and North Branch, also playoff teams.
Cros-Lex is a team that can beat you both on the ground and through the air. The Pioneers put up 32.2 ppg on the offensive side. The aforementioned Espinosa throws for nearly 184 ypg, and threw for 21 TD’s on the year to go with just 4 INT’s. His main target through the air is Trevor Soule who came up with 28 catches for 590 yards and 11 TD’s through the regular season. Espinosa also ran for 383 yards to go with 7 TD’s. They are led by bruising RB Gabriel Groppi in their rushing attack. Groppi, who has been banged up a bit this year, averages nearly 200 ypg on the ground through 5 games. He leads the team with 8 rushing TD’s. The Pioneer defense gives up just about 18.6 ppg. Joey Scaramuzzino leads that side with 11 tackles per game. Benito Mendoza leads the defense with 4 sacks.
It’s been a wild ride for the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Eaglets. Having a bye week last week, the Eaglets would take their last regular season game in week 8, 45-20. Orchard Lake comes in making a playoff appearance in 16 of their last 20 seasons. It’s a widely known program throughout the state of Michigan. Competing against other state powerhouses in Rochester Adams, De La Salle, Brother Rice, and Detroit Catholic Central, the Eaglets would finish with a 3-5 record on the year with enough playoff points to get in. St. Mary’s is a team that can struggle to move the ball at just 15.6 points per game, but are led by solid QB play in Brayden Ledin. The Senior QB threw for 1,520 yards on the year to go with 11 TD’s and just 5 INT’s. The defense had their struggles against tough competition giving up about 26.4 ppg on the year. They’ll now look to see if the breath of playoff life can catapult them into a deep playoff run.
Don’t let the records fool you in this one. This could turn into a tight one throughout. Cros-Lex will look to see if they can pick up where they left off in the regular season finale. The Eaglets come in refreshed and will take their show on the road. The Pioneers will welcome them in for a 7:00 showdown with everything on the line this Friday night.
Freeland VS North Branch (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
We’ve finally made it, the 2022 high school football playoffs are upon us. Like most years, you’ll have a familiar name with a chance to make a deep playoff run. The Freeland Falcons have now made the playoffs in each of their last 15 seasons. The Falcons, out of the TVC Central, finished with a regular season of 7-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play. Of Freelands 7 wins, 4 of those have been over playoff teams. The two losses to Frankenmuth and Cros-Lex are playoff teams as well. Freeland would drop a tough one in week 5 to the Eagles but it was a game that was tight throughout until costly mistakes late. The Falcons would drop their regular season finale last week to the Pioneers of Cros-Lex getting back in the game after getting down early. It was a game in which Freeland may have had their eyes opened a bit going against the potent passing attack of the Pioneers. Something that could pay dividends in the playoffs if they can make the adjustments.
Freeland has had yet another great year on offense. Throughout nine games this season, the Falcons have averaged 38.7 ppg on the offensive side. There’s no denying that when they’re at their best it’s by pounding the ball on the ground. Freeland puts up nearly 270 rushing ypg. The leading man in that, is junior tailback Ty Fournier. Fournier has averaged 80 ypg on the ground to go with 10 TD’s. He averages nearly 160 all-purpose ypg. The ground game has been helped out by a handful of other Falcon ball carriers. Nick Harrington, and Sam Talaga had 6 TD’s apiece rushing through the season. Nathan Helmrich has added 5 TD’s. Evan Vasicek has added another 3 rush TD’s. When Freeland does look to beat you by air, big bodied TE Daniel Duley leads the team with 3 receiving TD’s. Not many teams have been able to force Freeland to sway away from the run game.
The Falcons have complemented their run game by a stout defense. Freeland has given up just 13.1 ppg on the year. For much of their game against Frankenmuth, they were able to tighten up against the run. Gabe Blanchard is a name that will be called out often for the green and white. Blanchard averages 8 tackles per game and has added 3 sacks on the year. Tommy Melzo is another guy that makes this defense go. He’s all over the field averaging 8 tackles per game. Brenden Vigue is a guy that helps get after the QB, finishing with 3 sacks on the year. The aforementioned Duley leads the defense with 6 INT’s.
On the other side another name that you’re hearing on a yearly basis come playoff time is the North Branch Broncos. The Broncos, out of the BWAC, are making their 5th trip in a row to the playoffs. They would finish at 8-1 overall on the year, and 5-1 in conference play. They’ve been tested as well as 4 of their 8 wins have been over teams in the playoffs. Their lone loss was a tight game against Armada.
North Branch is another team with a potent rushing attack. As a team, the Broncos ran for nearly 360 ypg on the year. They put up right at the mark of 50 ppg on offense. It’s a rushing attack that is spearheaded by a 4-headed monster. Ryan Henne leads the way with 1,006 rushing yards and 13 TD’s on the year. Aiden Swoish adds 800 yards on the ground to go with 13 TD’s. Lucas Schapman pitched in 674 rushing yards and 14 TD’s. QB Will Damaska pitched in with 6 rush TD’s. It’s a team that will take care of the ball. Damaska led them through the air with 11 TD’s to go with just 1 INT. His main target is Griffin Mabery who led the team with 6 receiving TD’s. The Broncos gave up just 12 ppg on the defensive side. Swoish led the way with 5 tpg on the year. Mabery would lead the team in INT’s with 4. Mason Howe is a guy that will get after the QB leading the team with 3.5 sacks.
This one will have everything you want in a playoff football game. Both teams will look to continue to dominant on the ground and take care of the football through the air when they do throw. One turnover in this one could go a long way in factoring in the outcome. It won’t be a game for the faint of heart when Freeland heads on the road to North Branch High School. The two collide this Friday night with a 7:00 start time.
Gladwin VS Ogemaw Heights (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
Week 9 was another big test for the Gladwin Flying G’s. Gladwin would head into Standish Sterling last Friday 9 with a chance to secure another undefeated regular season. Standish another team that is highly ranked with their eyes on another deep playoff run in 2022. They would give Gladwin a battle in the first half, it would be just a 12-7 game in favor of the G’s heading into halftime. But that’s about as close as it would get. Gladwin came out and completely dominated the 2nd half of that game winning, 35-7. It should be no surprise, Gladwin has rolled over most of their opponents this season. Five of those teams are current playoff teams in Shepherd, Clare, Meridian, Notre Dame Prep, and now Standish has been added to that list. Now the fun begins, the playoffs are here. This is a team that has their eyes on a loftier goal and after last weeks performance, they appear to be as focused as ever.
On the offensive side it’s a team that has been balanced all year and that has shown in averaging 49.3 ppg through nine weeks. At the helm for the offense is experienced QB Nick Wheeler. Wheeler takes care of the ball with 9 TD’s and just 2 INT’s on the season. He’s accounted for 410 rushing yards to go with 13 rushing TD’s. Out of the backfield, Earl Esiline has led the rushing attack with 656 rushing yards to go with 10 TD’s. He’s also accounted for another 4 TD’s receiving, punt return, and an INT. Logan Kokotovich is another guy that can beat you. Kokotovich has accounted for 507 rushing yards and 8 TD’s on the season. The G’s also have guys that can beat you in various ways. Jhace Massey has totaled 366 rushing yards on the year and 8 TD’s. He’s added another 5 through the air. Kaden McDonald has 3 receiving TD’s, a punt return TD, and 1 passing TD. Lucas Mead has pitched in another 4 TD’s. It’s an offense that can beat you in various ways. As impressive as the offense is the defense might be even better. On the year Gladwin has given up just 5.3 ppg, that has included 5 shutouts throughout the season.
The Ogemaw Heights Falcons will be making their third playoff appearance in four years in 2022. They come in at 7-2 overall on the season with wins over Benzie Central and Lake City, two other playoff teams. The Falcons also battled against a very good Kingsley team but couldn’t come away with the win. Their offense has moved the ball well in averaging 30 ppg on the year. Their defense has only given up 16.1 ppg through nine weeks. Only two of those games offenses were really able to move the ball at will against them. They’ll look to see if their defense can keep them in those one and give Gladwin a battle.
We’ve reached a point in the season where every team wants to be, the playoffs. Every team has a new breath of life in hopes of making a deep playoff run. Gladwin will look to see if they can continue to dominant like much of the year. They’ll welcome in an Ogemaw Heights team that will look to see if they can leave a sour taste in the G’s mouth. Gladwin will look to make sure that doesn’t happen when these two battle this Friday night in a 7:00 playoff clash.
Frankenmuth VS Birch Run (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
The Frankenmuth Eagles come rolling into the playoffs for the 12th season in a row. Coming off another dominant performance over Flint Powers Catholic in week 9, the Eagles boast an undefeated record and stand as the TVC Central regular season champs. In their nine wins Frankenmuth has beaten five playoff teams, all handily. Now the fun really begins for a team with their eyes on a much higher prize. After making another deep playoff run last year, the Eagles hope to do the same again this year. There’s no doubt to this point, it is in their DNA to be a team that we see in late November.
The offense has been hard to contain. They’ve tuned out 40.6 ppg on the year with no defense being able to completely shut them down. Led by veteran QB Aidan Hoard at the helm, the Eagles take great care of the football. Hoard has thrown for 111 yards per game, 10 TD’s and just 4 INT’s. He’s ran for 468 yards on the year to go with 6 TD’s. Griffin Barker has churned out 486 yards rushing and 7 TD’s through nine games. Sam Barger has ran for 454 yards and 8 TD’s in just seven games. Juniors Hunter Berthal and Zak Andrews can also pitch in, both have combined for nearly 500 rushing yards and 7 TD’s on the season. Jonah Sholten has led the way receiving with 3 TD’s.
The defense is one of the best in the state giving up just 5.6 ppg. Swan Valley has been the team to put up the most on the Eagles, with just 16 points in their week 2 meeting. Colin Main leads the way for the defense with 5.8 tackles per game and 6 sacks. He’s helped out by talented LB Dalton DeBeau. Debeau averages 5.3 tackles on the season and has pitched in 3 sacks. Speaking of sacks, the Eagles love to get after the QB. As a whole, Frankenmuth has totaled 37 sacks on the year. Brenden Marker is tied for Main with 6 sacks on the year. Drew Titsworth comes in with 5, Derrick Simmons and Carter Weiss with 4 apiece, Ryan Tutt along with Nicklaus Hoesman with 3 apiece. During this time of year, having a kicker that can pile up points can be a huge advantage as well. Frankenmuth has that in kicker Will Soulliere. Souliere has converted 46 of 47 PAT’s on the year and is 10 of 13 on FG’s account for 76 total points.
On the other sideline will be a familiar foe in the Birch Run Panthers. The Panthers were able to grab some momentum in their regular season finale beating Clio, 35-15. It was enough to help themselves get into the 2022 playoffs. They know the task won’t be easy. The Panthers dropped a week 3 matchup to the Eagles, 12-51. But with the playoffs comes a new sense of life for some teams, Birch Run hopes they can ride some momentum heading into their showdown. Frankenmuth has owned this series but during this time of year, you can throw all of that out the window.
They’ll come in with full confidence in their offense. The Panthers scored at about 28.7 ppg in the regular season. They are led by standout RB Kahleel Brown. Brown comes into this weeks playoff matchup with 1,838 rushing yards to go with 23 TD’s. He would carry 45 times in week nine for 261 yards and 3 TD’s capping off a tremendous regular season. He’s helped out, however, QB David Lopez has pitched in 428 rushing yards and 5 TD’s on the season. There’s no denying that the defense will have to pull their weight with a new season upon us. They gave up 28.1 ppg in the regular season. When the defense is good, the Panthers can hang with anyone. They’ll need that with new life in the playoffs.
These two are no strangers to each other. Frankenmuth will look to see if they can continue their dominant ways over the Panthers in the first week of the playoffs. Birch Run will look for a way to help out Brown and Lopez if they want to upend the Eagles. Expect each fanbase to be out and alive on Friday night when the two collide with a 7:00 kickoff.
Shepherd VS Muskegon Oakridge (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
The Shepherd Bluejays have has a monumental 2022 season. Coming off a tough 2021 campaign the Bluejays have gone 6-3 on the season and now make their third trip in four years to the playoffs. Shepherd lost a couple tough ones early in the season and started 1-2 on the year before winning five of their last six. They got off and running early in an impressive win over Clare. The Bluejays would drop their regular season finale last week but battled a very good Ithaca team the entire way. They look to get over that loss in a hurry with a break of playoff air. It’s a point in the season where anything can happen and the Bluejays look to make good on what has been their best season since 2005.
After struggling to score early on in the season, Shepherd has improved dramatically in that area. The Bluejays have scored at a tune of 30 ppg over the last six weeks of the season. That’s been big for Shepherd as their defense has played at a high level for much of the year. The Bluejay defense has given up just about 21 ppg on the season. Since giving up 54 points to a very good Gladwin team, Shepherd has held opponents to 17.3 ppg. It’s a team that continues to make big strides and is hitting on all cylinders, something that is crucial this time of year when anything can happen.
Oakridge has imprinted their name in the playoffs every year since 2004. They come into this one at 8-1 on the season, the lone loss coming to a Whitehall team who is undefeated. In fact, the schedule has not been easy for the Eagles. Of the nine opponents played, seven of those teams are playoff bound when they begin on Friday. They’re a battle tested bunch that comes in looking to feed off a fantastic regular season.
The offense has moved the ball at will for much of the year. Averaging over 30 ppg with only being shutdown by the aforementioned Whitehall team. The defense is just as impressive giving up just 16 ppg game. Outside of the Whitehall game, the Eagles have not let an offense hit the 20-point mark on them.
This one could get interesting of the Eagles don’t jump on Shepherd fast. The Bluejays are a team that can beat you in nearly any facet of the game. Oakridge will look to see if they can take care of the ball and put Shepherd in a hole early. The Bluejays will take the nearly 2-hour hike over to Oakridge for this one where the Eagles will be waiting for them. They will collide this Friday night with a 7:00 start time.
Swan Valley VS Essexville Garber (Preview by Josh Longstreth)
For now the 11th season in a row, and the 20th time in 23 years, the Swan Valley Vikings head into the playoffs. The Vikings left little to be desired in a dominant win over Bullock Creek in week 9. Up 23-0 at halftime, Swan Valley would go on to win that one, 37-0. After a rough start to the season, the Vikings come in as one of the hottest teams out of the TVC. The Vikings have won 6 of their last 7, with the lone loss coming to a very good football team in the Freeland Falcons. Swan Valley would finish the season at 6-3. A team that is trending up late in the season, they’ll look to keep their momentum going with the playoffs incoming.
The Viking offense has really had things rolling over the course of the last seven weeks. Strong QB play has helped with that and is needed moving forward if they want to make a deep playoff run. Young signal caller Colten Klein has grown throughout the year averaging 152 passing yards per game to go with 11 TD’s and 6 INT’s. He’s pitched in 3 rushing TD’s on the year. Tyler Drain leads the Viking backfield. Drain has averaged over 100 yards per game through nine weeks, reaching the endzone 8 times on the ground. Drain is vital in Swan Valleys success this year. He had one of his best games of the season against Garber, piling up 177 yards on the ground to go with 3 TD’s. The Vikings have some size in their pass catchers. Sam Wickham and Drew Kaeckmeister both stand at 6’2 and they show it. Wickham averaged 51 ypg receiving on the year and hauled in 3 TD’s. Kaeckmeister would pile up 407 receiving yards on the year and 8 TD’s. It’s an offense that can churn out big yardage if defenses aren’t on par.
The defense has played much better as the season has gone on. They hold teams to about 19.7 ppg , much of that coming to Cros-Lex and Frankenmuth in the first two weeks of the season. Luciano Finley leads the way for the defense with 6 tackles per game. He’s helped out by Kaidon Achtabowski who pitches in 5.6 tackles per game and has had 11 tackles for loss on the year. Cody Ueberroth helps with 5.4 tackles per game. Jacob Brocht leads the team in sacks with 3. Payton Guilbeaux is a ball hawk for the Vikings in the secondary. He leads the team with 4 INT’s through nine games.
The Essexville Garber Dukes are now making their 4th playoff trip in a row, and have made the playoffs in 18 of their last 23 seasons. The Dukes were able to grab a huge win in the regular season over previously undefeated Pigeon-Bay. Garber comes in at 6-3 on the season and know all too well about the Vikings. The Dukes would drop a tight one to Swan Valley in week 3, 21-27. It has been an up and down season for the Dukes but they now have renewed life in the playoffs. They have nothing but payback on their mind when it counts in hopes to keep playing deep into November.
When the offense is rolling they’re hard to contain. Putting up 30.5 ppg on the season, only two teams could contain the Dukes in steady defenses Freeland and Frankenmuth. They are led by outstanding QB Cade Coquillard. The Senior signal caller piled up 173.6 yards per game, 18 TD’s, and threw just 5 INT’s on the season. He added 337 rushing yards and 7 TD’s on the ground. The Dukes will look to beat you through the air. Brayden Tacey led the way for the receiving corps with 570 yards and 6 TD’s. Fellow receiver, Max Fellows, helped with 431 yards and 6 TD’s. That’s not it though, 6’3 TE Ethan Burrows is another guy that can beat you. Burrows pitched in 312 yards and 5 TD’s. The offense was able to stay balanced in the week 3 meeting and they could look to do the same this week.
The defense knows how to hold their own giving up just 16.2 ppg with four games going as shutouts. Burrows leads that group with 12.7 tackles per game. Coquillard pitches in 9.1 per game, and Tanner Szczepanski helps with 7.9. Adam Petro is the leading sack-man with 3. It’s a defense that can thrive of of turnovers. The Dukes defense came away with 16 INT’s in the regular season. Burrows leading the way with 5, Fellows and Elijah Theisen with 3 apiece.
This one is expected to be a nail-biter as the two teams have gone back and fourth throughout the years. The Dukes look to see if they can turn the tide after an early season loss to the Vikings. Swan Valley high school will be rocking Friday night when the Vikings welcome in Garber for a 7:00 battle.