**Article by Nick Tuori and Josh Longstreth**
The MHSAA Football season is finally here! After several months of waiting, the journey to Ford Field is back again. For the next fourteen weeks, teams from all across the state will pursue the ultimate dream. MSR is proud to be covering games each week, providing you with recaps on some of the area’s best. A preview of MSR games this week below:
Grand Rapids Catholic Central vs Willmette Loyola Academy (IL)
Grand Rapids Catholic Central finds themselves in unfamiliar territory this fall, as they enter the year on a one-game losing streak. The winners of three consecutive State Championships from 2019-21, the Cougars were stunned in the semifinals against Gladwin last year. As they begin their 2023 campaign at home on Saturday, they welcome in Wilmette Loyola Academy to town. Many local fans may remember Loyola as the school of over 2,000 students from 80 different Chicago zip codes that beat Rockford 27-7 in 2018. Last year, Loyola finished 13-1 and secured the 8A State Championship. This will be an extremely challenging test for the Cougars in Week
South Christian vs Grand Rapids Christian
South Christian returned to the throne atop Division 4 last fall, sweeping their way to an undefeated State Championship, the school’s first title since 2014. They will begin their 2023 season like so many seasons before, against their archrival Grand Rapids Christian. These two programs have met in every season since 1972, with the Sailors holding a 30-23 series edge. Last fall, these clubs met twice, both resulting in 42-7 South Christian victories.
Coopersville vs Otsego
The Coopersville Broncos will begin their 2023 season away from home on Thursday night, as they travel down to Otsego to face the Bulldogs. Coopersville is coming off of a 7-4 season in which they made their third consecutive postseason appearance, advancing to the District Finals. This year, success in the non-league portion of the schedule will dictate the playoff fortunes of the Broncos. Otsego should serve as a great opportunity for a first victory, as the Bulldogs were winless in 2022 and enter the 2023 campaign on a 13-game skid. These two teams last met in 1960, when Otsego blanked the Broncos 19-0.
East Kentwood vs Hartland
East Kentwood is traditionally known for tough non-conference schedules, and this year they hit the road once more to begin the year. This season, they will stop in Hartland, facing an Eagles program that has made three straight trips to the postseason. EK found themselves finishing with a .500 record for the first time since 2019 last fall. This week’s opener will be a crucial test for them in their pursuit to better that mark in 2023.
Hudsonville vs Howell
Hudsonville has fallen on uncharacteristically tough times the past two seasons. After two heartbreaking non-league defeats, the Eagles narrowly missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, the first time that has happened since their 2009-12 postseason drought. This year, they will look to right the ship, starting with a home game on Thursday against Howell. The Highlanders are also looking to find their way back to the playoffs this year after a 4-5 campaign last fall. This is the first meeting between these two programs.
Grandville vs Grand Blanc
Grandville welcomes Grand Blanc to town for their 2023 season opener. This is a rematch of the 2022 season opener, a game in which the Bulldogs captured a 49-25 victory. Expectations are high this season, as the Bulldogs and star tailback Jayden ‘Tank’ Terry look to avenge an early playoff exit from a season ago. Grand Blanc was one of the few playoff teams with a losing record, as they concluded the season with a 4-6 mark.
Caledonia vs Romeo
Caledonia made a storybook run to Ford Field last fall before taking a tough loss to two-time defending State Champion Belleville. This season, the Fighting Scots drop down to Division 2, giving them a new set of challengers in their title path. Their 2023 season opener is a program first, as the Fighting Scots are set to play their opening game on Friday afternoon at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Their opponent, the Romeo Bulldogs, are a model of consistent success. Romeo has made the playoffs in every season since 2004, including capturing the 2015 Division 1 State Championship. Last season, the Bulldogs finished 8-3, losing to Macomb Dakota in the District Finals.
Zeeland West vs Stevensville Lakeshore
Zeeland West heads into another season where they know what to expect from their team. A name familiar with the state playoffs, the Dux expect to be right back where they find themselves nearly every year. The Dux bring back all all-state running back Parker Holman, and he’ll be relied on heavily to begin the season. West brings in a new quarterback and a young offensive line that will look to gel early on. Look for the Dux to make some more noise in 2023.
The Lancers of Stevensville Lakeshore look to rebound after a tough 2022 season. It was an unexpected one for the Lancers as they’re one program that is quite familiar with the state playoffs. Making 12 of the last 14 postseasons, Lakeshore looks to respond in a big way this season. West got off to a quick start over the Lancers this season. They will try to kick off another season coming out of the gate in a hurry. Lakeshore will see if they can get off to their own torrid start by creating some chaos early on. The two tango this Friday night at Zeeland West.
Zeeland East vs Williamston
The 2022 season wasn’t favorable to the Zeeland East Chix, as multiple close losses seemed to derail the Chix season. But the Chix return some veteran players who look to ensure that isn’t the case this year. East ended the 2022 campaign by winning two in a row. They will look to fix some of the issues that plagued them last season to try and get off to a quicker start in 2023.
Fall comes and goes, and with each Fall, so goes the Williamston Hornets. A program that is used to having their names imprinted on the state playoffs, they head into another season expecting no different. A gut-wrenching loss to Corunna in districts last season would derail their deep run, so they will look to get over that in a hurry in 2023. It could very well come to fruition to make a deep run this season.
The two teams met last season with the Hornets controlling much of the game. East will look to turn the tide in week one. Getting over a tough hurdle could prove what things may come for the Chix in 2023. The two square off at Zeeland East this Friday night.
Newaygo vs Kent City
It’s an exciting time for the Newaygo Lions football program. The Lions open up their first season with Head Coach Ralph Munger at the helm. The Hall of Famer will look to revitalize Newaygo as the Lions are coming off a two win season in 2022. You can feel the energy in both the players and coaches. It has been nothing but positive in the off season and Fall camp for the program. They have their talent with Junior quarterback Blake Kerr and some exciting pieces on offense. The excitement has brought even more players to join the program this season. Although the CSAA Gold division is formidable, the Lions fully expect to compete at a high level in 2023.
The Kent City Eagles have been a program on the rise. Entering the 2023 season, the Eagles have made it to the State Playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. Kent City took home the Central State Activities Silver division title after a successful 7-3 campaign last season. They’ll return multiple playmakers both offensively and defensively. Many have them pegged as the favorites to take home the division again this season with a nice mix of experience and youth on the 2023 version.
The two teams have met over the past few seasons as the Eagles have held the advantage. Newaygo has a new look and it might be just what they need to get over the hump this time
around. These two will square off in Kent City this Thursday with a 7:00 start time.
Tri-County vs Comstock Park
The 2022 season didn’t end the way that the Tri-County Vikings envisioned it. The Vikings fell to Belding in their district opener and one that left a sour taste in their mouths. But that didn’t last long. It’s a team that simply used it as ‘fuel to the fire’. Tri-County returns a lot on both sides of the ball, most importantly, the offensive line. The players returning have hopes of a district title as they’ll be led by All-American track star, Owen Behrenwald. It’s a team that expects to play with more physicality starting with their offensive line which returns all five starters. They look for the work to come to fruition that will pay off with a deep State Playoff run.
After an undefeated 2021 regular season campaign, the Comstock Park Panthers didn’t expect what was in store for their 2022 season. After winning the first two games of the season the Panthers would struggle through a stretch of five games. Comstock Park did finish the season on a high note, however, as they won their last two games by a total of 80-20. Heading into the 2023 season, the Panthers will have a balanced roster with a good number of upperclassmen to support the younger players. They’ll look to see if that could be the answer in getting to the top of the conference.
This will be an interesting matchup as the two teams aren’t as familiar with each other. With both teams looking forward to start fresh in the 2023 season, getting over the top in week one could be the start of a special season for either team. The two kick off the season this Friday night in Tri-County.
Central Montcalm vs Morley-Stanwood
The Central Montcalm Hornets come into the 2023 season looking to get back to the playoffs. After three straight seasons in the playoffs, the Hornets took a bit of a step backwards last season. Central Montcalm did end the season on a high note as they won their last three games. They’ll look to see if they can continue that momentum by getting off to a quick start in week one.
It’s hard for many programs to have success every season. For the Morley Stanwood Mohawks, they are one of the few. A team that has been a staple to the playoffs for much of the past ten seasons, the Mohawks took a bit of a step in the opposite direction as they couldn’t get over the hump and finished the season 0-9. The Mohawks feature some young talent that has many excited. This could be a team that goes through some growing pains early but should be in the playoff hunt late in the season.
This is a series that has been back and forth for much of the last decade. The Hornets have the momentum at this point with Morley looking to take it back. Both look to hit the ground running in week one when the two face off at Central Montcalm high school this Thursday night.
Freeland vs Clare
There aren’t many things that are as well-oiled as the Freeland Falcons football program. The Falcons are coming off yet another successful season, one in which they finished 8-3. Two of those losses came against Frankenmuth and Goodrich who went a combined 25-3. Both made it to Ford Field last season. Freeland came up just short to that same Goodrich team by just one point in their district title matchup. They come in with high expectations again this season led by quarterback Sam Talaga, and speed demon, Ty Fournier. It’s an experienced group that has all the tools to make a deep run this season.
On the other side is a football program that has had as much success as anyone. The Clare Pioneers have not had a losing season since 2005. Last year was a different look for the Pioneers as the reigns were handed over to Head Coach, Steven Spranger. Much like the Falcons, Clare was dealt some key injuries last season. They would overcome those for much of the season before having their own sour taste in a tight loss to Standish-Sterling in a District 6 Playoff matchup. But this is a new year, and the Pioneers return a ton of talent. Clare returns many pieces on an offensive line that produced two all-conference players last season in Levi Onweller and Jake Punches. That group will add Miles Haggart who started last season at quarterback before an injury derailed his season. At the skill positions they’ll return Jayden Arthur, Westyn Bryant, and Carter Smedley who all had big seasons for the Pioneers in 2022. It won’t be easy as the Jack Pine runs through defending State Champion Gladwin, but Clare has all the pieces to return back to the top of the conference in 2023.
You couldn’t ask for a better matchup in week 1 with two teams that have extremely high expectations for their 2023 campaigns. Both teams know what to expect and they know what’s in front of them as the two are no stranger to each other. Each look to gain some big momentum to start their seasons when the two faceoff this Friday night. This one kicks off at 7:00 when Clare welcomes in Freeland.