NORTHERN-CENTRAL PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: Dow sneaks in at 5-4; Wooer has Kingsley back in playoffs; best bet to win a title
After falling just short of completing a game-winning drive against cross-town rival Midland High, the chances of Midland Dow making the playoffs seemed slim.
At 5-4, one win shy of the six required for automatic qualification, the Chargers were going to have to spend the weekend waiting to see if they had accumulated enough playoff points throughout the season to make it in.
“Obviously disappointed in tonight, and wish it would’ve come out better,” Dow senior quarterback Shane Astrike said in the aftermath of the 14-8 loss to Midland, “but now, there’s nothing that we can do, except hope and pray that we get another shot at it.”
It was looking like an odd couple of days, not knowing if the season was over or not.
“That’s what I told the boys: What a weird feeling. Your season might be over, it might not. I told them, I don’t know what to tell you about how to balance your emotions this weekend, I really don’t,” Charger coach Jason Watkins said in the immediate aftermath of the game. “I think the smartest course would be to plan on playing next week, but Monday, we might be picking up your equipment.”
Monday came and went without a collection of the equipment, primarily because Sunday night brought the news: The Chargers had made the playoffs for the 14th time in school history, but the first time as a 5-4 team.
It’s just the 10th time (in 42 seasons of playoffs) that the loser of the Midland-Dow game has made the postseason, and the ninth time that both of the rivals have made it in the same year.
In the previous eight years when both made it, three times the rivals have met up again in the playoffs. In 2005 and 2015, the two teams met in back-to-back weeks — Week 9 and the opening round of the playoffs — with the winner of the regular-season game winning the rematch. In 2013, they met again in the regional finals, and Midland won for the second time, again.
This time, if the two are to meet again, it would also have to be in the district finals.
Both teams are in Region 2 of Division 2, with Dow (5-4) taking on Flint Metro League co-champion Flushing (7-2) on Friday. Midland (6-3) will go on the road to take on Swartz Creek (6-3), the Flint Metro’s third-place team.
And if Dow moves on, it’ll be without all-purpose back Nick Sierocki, who’s in a cast after a season-ending foot injury in Week 8.
For the full playoff bracket, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the West Side, CLICK HERE.
For a preview notebook from the East Side, CLICK HERE.
Here’s a look at other playoff storylines around the central and northern regions of the state:
WOOER BACK HOME — In the decade that Tim Wooer was gone from Kingsley, the Stags made the playoffs four times, but went 0-4, outscored by a 168-36 margin in those four appearances. They went 45-45 in the regular season, as well.
After a decade spent 17 miles northwest, at Traverse City West, Wooer returned to Kingsley this fall, and orchestrated a turnaround of fortunes again. The Stags, 1-8 a year ago, went 8-1 in the regular season, their only loss coming to No. 2-ranked Traverse City St. Francis.
The Stags host Tawas (5-3) in Friday’s playoff opener, and should they win, it would be the first postseason victory since 2006, the year after Wooer led Kingsley to the Division 6 championship.
While his teams were just 56-42 at Traverse City West, Wooer does have the resume of a program-builder. His Titans teams made the playoffs seven times in his 10 years there, and he’s taken his squad to the playoffs in 18 of 24 seasons as a head coach. Kingsley hadn’t made the postseason before he arrived in 1999, and proceeded to take the Stags to the playoffs eight of the next nine years, going 68-29 overall.
Even before that, he took a moribund Farwell program to the playoffs twice in five seasons, going 28-19, winning its first-ever Jack Pine Conference title in 1998. Since he left after the 1999 season, the Eagles have gone 34-139, with two winnings seasons.
For our panel’s picks of the top 20 first-round games, CLICK HERE.
For the final regular-season top 25 ranking, CLICK HERE.
BEST BET TO WIN A STATE TITLE — It would be hard to bet against Pewamo-Westphalia pulling off a three-peat in Division 7, but it is a crowded field of contenders in that division, with New Lothrop, Ottawa Lake Whiteford and Madison Heights Madison.
Same could be said with Traverse City St. Francis in D6, having to deal with Jackson Lumen Christi, Ithaca, Flint Hamady and Warren Michigan Collegiate.
But there is one team that appears poised to take that next step.
After losing 34-7 in last year’s Division 5 title game, Saginaw Swan Valley hasn’t really come close to losing yet this season, outscoring their opponents 374-81. The Vikings’ closest call was a 21-12 victory in Week 1 over a Division 3 Cedar Springs squad that rolled to an OK White title and an 8-1 record.
Grand Rapids West Catholic, the five-time defending D5 champion, is in the field, but as a 5-4 squad, that may not be favored to make it out of a strong district. Don’t necessarily count the Falcons out, though. In their first of the five championship seasons, 2013, they entered as a 5-4 squad, before ripping off five straight wins.
No. 3 Reed City is on the other side of the regional bracket from Swan Valley, as is No. 7 Manistee, while No. 6 Muskegon Oakridge or West Catholic wouldn’t be a threat until the semifinals.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP — Might be in Division 6, where Ishpeming Westwood (7-2) travels to Calumet (9-0) to reprise a Week 3 meeting. The Patriots’ only two losses of the regular season came on Sept. 7 and 14, when they were a bit banged up, losing to the Copper Kings (14-12) and to the Ishpeming Hematites (44-36), both of which went 9-0. Since then, a healthier Westwood has won five straight (two by forfeit), outscoring opponents 112-0. The 12 points allowed to Westwood was the second-most allowed by Calumet all season, as the Copper Kings outscored opponents 313-53 in the regular season.
JUST HAPPY TO BE IN — Coming off a 1-8 season, Howard City Tri-County started the 2018 season 2-4 before running off three straight wins to close out the season, and sneak into the playoffs at 5-4. It’s the first winning season for the Vikings since 2005, and the first playoff berth since 2004.
Reed City went a perfect 9-0 to win the Central State Activities Association Gold Division title, but they were joined in the playoffs by Tri-County (5-4), Remus Chippewa Hills (5-4) and Big Rapids (5-4).
The Oscoda Owls have been in the playoffs two of the last three seasons, so that’s not new, but still found themselves in some rarified air this season by winning the North Star League crown — the first league title for the program since winning the Northern B title in 1976 — and posting the program’s first eight-win season in 42 years, as well.
The Owls play at Iron Mountain (7-2) to open up the D7 playoffs on Saturday.
WILL DEFENSE DO IT? — The Mt. Pleasant Oilers averaged 33 points per game on offense, which is a relatively healthy total for a team that went 9-0. But the impressive statistic is on the other side of the ball, where the Oilers allowed just 68 points all season — the fewest by a Mt. Pleasant team since the 1994 squad allowed 46 — for an average of 7.5 points per game. Only playoff-bound Midland topped the 20-point plateau against the Oilers this season.
Mt. Pleasant takes on Petoskey (5-4) in the Division 3 playoffs.
The unbeaten DeWitt Panthers were only slightly behind that pace, allowing 75 points, 27 of them in a 63-27 Week 9 blowout of Lansing Waverly. The Panthers didn’t give up more than 14 points to any other regular-season opponent, and had given up just 14 total points in their first five games against Capital Area Athletic Conference Blue Division opponents.
DeWitt opens play in the Division 3 bracket against St. Johns (5-4).