Part of the enchantment of high school sports is the relatively small window athletes receive to play them. Most get four seasons – and most football players just two on the varsity team under the frequently and fondly-referenced “Friday night lights.”
It will be the first playoffs for thousands of players and the start of the last playoffs for thousands more as 11-Player District Semifinals and 8-Player Regional Semifinals kick off with 128 games, and 16 more Saturday.
The mini heat wave finishing its run through Michigan is another reason to check out a first-round game in person. But if you’re not heading out, you still can watch nearly all of them – as of Thursday evening, 122 of this weekend’s 144 playoff games will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv, viewable with subscription. Keep up with scores as well and Round 2 matchups as they’re determined on the Football Playoff Scoreboard.
Here are just a handful of the intriguing matchups as this postseason gets underway. Games are Friday unless noted.
11-Player Division 1
Rochester Adams (6-3) at West Bloomfield (7-2) – WATCH
These two rank among the most successful playoff teams in the state over the last three seasons, with West Bloomfield a combined 8-2 in the postseason with a Division 1 championship in 2020, and Adams a combined 7-2 (not counting a COVID-related forfeit in 2020) with a runner-up finish in 2021 after the Highlanders defeated the Lakers 14-13 in a Regional Final during that run. This fall West Bloomfield was third and Adams fourth in the Oakland Activities Association Red, thanks in part to the Lakers’ 36-32 win in their Week 5 meeting. West Bloomfield also handed Southfield Arts & Technology its only defeat, 31-20 in Week 8.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Catholic Central (7-2) at Novi (7-2) – WATCH, St. Clair Shores Lakeview (7-2) at Macomb Dakota (7-2) – WATCH, Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at Westland John Glenn (7-2) – WATCH.
11-Player Division 2
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (7-2) at Muskegon Mona Shores (6-3) – WATCH
This is also a rematch, as Mona Shores opened the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green schedule with a 28-10 win over Reeths-Puffer – and in fact, the Rockets are seeking their first win over Shores since 2016. But this also has been Reeths-Puffer’s winningest season since 2013, and they enter this opener coming off impressive back-to-back victories over Zeeland East 35-21 and Zeeland West 14-12, the latter avenging a 2022 defeat. Shores also defeated West, 14-6 two weeks ago, but was edged by East 21-20 in the regular-season finale.
11-Player Division 3
Zeeland East (6-3) at Zeeland West (6-3) – WATCH
Zeeland West has won its last six meetings with its neighbor, including once in the playoffs, since East swept a pair in 2018. The Dux claimed this season’s first matchup 36-13. But that shouldn’t be an indication a repeat is a sure thing. As noted above, East is coming off a one-point win over Mona Shores – avenging a 42-7 loss from a year ago and breaking a two-game losing streak to the Sailors since they rejoined the same league in 2020. West meanwhile has lost three straight games, but those beg for context as well – those defeats came to Muskegon High, Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer, and all by eight points or fewer. Muskegon is the only team to score more than 14 points on the Dux, and the Big Reds put up just 22 in their six-point Week 7 win.
11-Player Division 4
Lansing Sexton (8-1) at Portland (9-0)
This is a rematch of the Week 8 decider for the Capital Area Activities Conference White title, and Portland’s 41-0 win over then-undefeated Sexton further emphasized the mightiness of the Raiders’ defense this year – they’ve given up just 47 points and also shut out Berrien Springs last week. Portland is up to No. 3 in the final coaches poll and enters having won District titles in Division 5 the last two seasons (and its Regional two years ago) and with a combined 29-5 record going back to the start of 2021. But Sexton, enjoying its best season since 2017, is ranked No. 10 and certainly has the ability to flip things if it can build up some success on offense and keep Portland’s off the field.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Big Rapids (8-1) at Spring Lake (7-2), Wayland (6-3) at Grand Rapids South Christian (6-3) – WATCH, Croswell-Lexington (7-2).
11-Player Division 5
Gladwin (7-2) at Ogemaw Heights (8-1) – WATCH
The only loss of Ogemaw Heights’ most successful regular season since 2009 came in the opener on the road at reigning Division 5 champion Gladwin, 42-28. The Falcons get the Flying Gs at home this time, and have given up just under 10 points per game on average since that defeat. Ogemaw Heights has downed five playoff teams over those eight games including previously-undefeated Almont 21-7 last week. About 40 miles southeast, Gladwin impressively ran its Jack Pine Conference winning streak to 19 games and three straight championships, and those defeats came last week to Frankenmuth and Week 7 to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep – which are 16-1 between them.
11-Player Division 6
Detroit Old Redford (8-1) at Detroit Edison (6-3), Saturday
Old Redford has built its most successful regular season, and the climb has been stunning. The Ravens didn’t play a game in 2020 or 2021, then went 4-5 last year before doubling their victories this fall – with their only loss in the season opener to playoff team Dearborn Heights Robichaud. Old Redford won the Charter School Conference Silver but should get one of its toughest challenges in Edison, which spent more than a month in the coaches poll top 10 and reached No. 6 on the list on the way to earning six wins for the third time in four seasons and after going just 2-7 a year ago. Edison tied for second in the Charter School Conference Gold behind undefeated Warren Michigan Collegiate.
11-Player Division 7
Traverse City St. Francis (4-4) at Charlevoix (8-1) – WATCH
This is another fascinating rematch. These two didn’t play in the same league this fall, but they did open against each other with St. Francis winning 41-40 while filling in almost an entirely new starting lineup. The Gladiators were coming off finishing Division 7 runner-up a year ago and had to navigate six more eventual playoff qualifiers – but reached the postseason again, and now a large group of new contributors at the start of the year have a season of experience against strong competition. Charlevoix bounced back and didn’t lose again – or let anyone closer than 13 points on the way to winning a league title and reaching eight wins for the fourth-straight season.
11-Player Division 8
Fowler (8-1) 40.333 at Ithaca (9-0) – WATCH
The Division 8 bracket is loaded. Six teams are undefeated and five more have lost only once, and this game matches one from each group. Ithaca is playing in Division 8 for the first time and brings a streak of 15 straight league championships, Division 7 District titles two of the last three seasons and a current team that is outscoring its opponents on average 50-5 with shutouts in five of its last six games. But Fowler has seen this caliber of competition. The Eagles’ lone loss was 27-14 to Division 7 contender Pewamo-Westphalia in Week 6, and the Pirates are the only team to score on Fowler since Sept. 1. The Eagles have given up only 53 points this season with six shutouts, and five of those shutouts were of playoff teams including Frankfort, Laingsburg and McBain since the P-W loss.
8-Player Division 1
Mendon (7-2) at Gobles (7-2) – WATCH
Gobles made the switch to 8-player in 2021 and has strung together two straight seven-win seasons, with this fall’s coming against a schedule featuring five teams with winning records. Mendon wasn’t on this year’s slate after a league change, but they’ll meet again after the Hornets won their matchup a year ago 36-6. Gobles has scored 53 points in all of its wins and has its 2022 points total by more than 100. Mendon, last season’s Division 2 runner-up, remains similarly able to match points with most and lost only to still-undefeated Climax-Scotts and Adrian Lenawee Christian.
8-Player Division 2
Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-3), Saturday – WATCH
For more than a decade, this was a notable regular-season finale in the 11-player Great Western Conference, with these two meeting again in the playoffs six times between 2004-15. Forest Park switched to 8-player in 2016, Lake Linden-Hubbell in 2020, and this is the third season in a row they’ll meet in the regular season and playoffs. Forest Park won the Week 6 matchup this fall 36-28, but also won last year’s regular-season matchup 22-14 before the Lakes flipped things in the Regional Semifinal 44-12.
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PHOTO DeWitt’s Elliott Larner (3) unloads a pass during a Week 9 win over Lansing Waverly. (Photo by TCP-Photography.)