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High school football picks: Predicting Saturday's championship games


David Goricki of The Detroit News breaks down each of the four MSHAA high school football championship games at Ford Field on Saturday.

Division 1

No. 1 Belleville (13-0) vs. No. 9 Caledonia (12-1), Saturday, 1 p.m.

▶ How did they make it here?

Belleville, the defending champion, was ranked No. 1 in The News' preseason rankings and lived up to the hype, behind sophomore sensation Bryce Underwood, the No. 1 ranked quarterback in the nation for the 2025 class, according to 247Sports. Underwood threw for five TDs in last year’s state championship win over Rochester Adams and has continued to impress, throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 35 TDs, while averaging more than 10 yards a carry and seven TDs, including two rushing TDs and the two-point conversion for the difference in a 29-28 overtime win over Detroit Cass Tech in the state semifinals.

After head coach Jermain Crowell was suspended by school administrators while the MHSAA is investigating him for possible violations of the state’s undue influence rule, former defensive coordinator DeJuan Rogers has stepped in and done a great job, making sure his players keep their composure when facing adversity, including coming back from a 21-14 deficit by scoring a TD to pull even with just over a minute left in regulation in the semifinal game to force OT.

Caledonia has advanced to Ford Field by playing great defense, avenging a 38-15 Week 9 loss to Rockford with a 14-13 district final win, then continuing to play strong defense in a 42-14 regional final win over Grand Ledge and shutting out a talented high-scoring Clarkston team, 21-0, in a state semifinal.

Caledonia moved up from Division 2 to Division 1 this season after losing to Traverse City Central in a state semifinal game last year. Caledonia has a strong ground game, rushing for more than 3,500 yards, led by dual-threat quarterback Mason McKenzie and running back Brock Townsend, who each have rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Players to watch

Bryce Underwood, So., QB, Belleville: Underwood showed what he could do on the big stage last season, when he threw for 284 yards and five TDs without an interception in a 55-33 win over Rochester Adams. Since that game, he has gotten taller (6-foot-3) and stronger (190 pounds), a reason he is a threat to run the ball more this season while still throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 35 TDs.

Mason McKenzie, Sr., QB, Caledonia: McKenzie had developed into a talented dual-threat quarterback, rushing for more than 1,500 yards and 19 TDs while also throwing for close to 1,500 yards and 20 TDs. McKenzie rushed for 98 yards on 18 carries and threw a TD pass before twisting his ankle and having to be helped off the field late in the semifinal game, so will he be ready at full strength for the title game?

How can each team win?

Crowell guided Belleville to its first state championship in program history last year, then stressed developing a running game to play smash-mouth football to fatigue opponents in the late stages of the game. Mission accomplished, as Belleville rushed for more than 400 yards in a district final win over Saline, then piled up more than 300 yards on the ground in a regional final win over Detroit Catholic Central.

Yes, Belleville has a balanced attack, where opponents have to pick their poison, a reason it has averaged nearly 50 points and has a 1,000-yard rusher in four-star junior linebacker Jeremiah Beasley, who can beat you on both sides of the ball. Oh, and Belleville also showcases a threat in Kevin Simes, who is an excellent return man in special-teams play.

Caledonia can win if it jumps out to an early lead to gain confidence, since its last state-final appearance came back when it won Division 3 back in 2005, when most of its current players weren’t even born. Caledonia has talented players, including McKenzie, Townsend and 6-2, 225-pound junior Derek Pennington Jr., son of Caledonia coach Derek Pennington, who caught a TD pass in the semifinal win while also leading the defensive charge.

Prediction

Belleville is just too explosive, with the ability to get big chunk plays in both the running and passing games and have players who are used to playing on the big stage, a reason it has won 24 straight games, dating back to last season. Pick: Belleville 28, Caledonia 17

Division 3

No. 14 Detroit King (9-3) vs. No. 19 Muskegon (11-2), Saturday, 7 p.m.

How did they make it here?

King won the state championship last year and returned star quarterback Dante Moore, whom Sports Illustrated named the No. 1 player in the nation for the 2023 class.

Moore lost several of his top receivers to graduation after last season and worked hard to develop chemistry with Jameel Croft, Jacobe Oglesby and sophomore Damon Stennis, along with talented running back Sterling Anderson to make a return trip to Ford Field to try and repeat as state champions.

Muskegon is a traditional power, earning its eighth title-game appearance since 2012, but only its first in the last three years. Coach Shane Fairfield has done an outstanding job this season, helping his team fight back from a 3-2 start, when it was battling injuries, to make the postseason run.

After a 38-36 loss to Zeeland West in Week 5, Muskegon avenged the loss with a 27-20 regional final win, when standout quarterback M’Khi Guy ran for 138 yards and three TDs and tailback Jakob Price added a big performance.

Players to watch

Dante Moore, Sr., QB, Detroit King: Moore, an Oregon commit, is closing out his career in style, completing 67.8% of his passes for 2,117 yards and 28 TDs with just three interceptions. He is spreading the ball around too, having Croft (40 receptions, 727 yards, nine TDs) as his big-play receiver with Anderson (43 receptions, 468 yards, six TDs) and Stennis (17 receptions, 292 yards, three TDs) also producing in the passing game.

M’Khi Guy, Jr., QB, Muskegon: Guy gets things going in Muskegon’s running attack, rushing for 1,510 yards and 24 TDs, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. He rarely throws, but when he does, it usually goes to Destin Piggee.

How can each team win?

King has defeated Muskegon in the championship game before, 41-25, in 2018, behind the coaching of Tyrone Spencer. King has an elite quarterback in Moore who is playing at the top of his game, throwing for 452 yards and four TDs in a semifinal rout of Mason.

Anderson has been a threat to cause damage in the running game (1,019 yards, 13 TDs, 7.3-yard average) and short-passing attack, making Croft an even bigger threat in the deep game.

Muskegon has enjoyed a history of talented running quarterbacks, including Cameron Martinez (Ohio State) and La’Darius Jefferson (Western Michigan) the last time it won a state title back in 2017.

Well, Fairfield now has M’Khi Guy running the show, and he too can make things happen in the running game, rushing for 313 yards and six TDs in the 49-21 semifinal win over DeWitt.

Prediction

Look for King to repeat as state champion, with Croft closing out his career by being an impact player on both sides of the ball, before moving on to play at Kansas. Pick: King 27, Muskegon 21

Division 5

Gladwin (13-0) vs. Frankenmuth (13-0), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

▶ How did they make it here?

Gladwin punched its ticket to Ford Field for the first time with a shocking 28-21 victory over a Grand Rapids Catholic Central team, which entered postseason play as the two-time defending Division 5 state champion, also winning the Division 4 state title in 2019.

Gladwin has a defense that has limited opponents to fewer than 10 points per game, while picking off 16 passes, setting the tempo by earning five shutouts in the first six games and an explosive offense that averages more than 45 points, led by 1,000-yard rusher Earl Esiline, Logan Kokotovich and quarterback Nick Wheeler.

Frankenmuth dominated Division 4 state finalist Goodrich in the season opener, 27-2, and continued its strong play throughout, outscoring its opponents by a 171-13 margin, including a 38-0 semifinal win over Detroit Country Day during the playoffs.

Frankenmuth’s success should come as no surprise, since it has been a consistent winner, including a trip to Ford Field back in 2020, a title-game loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

Players to watch

Nick Wheeler, Sr., QB/DB, Gladwin: Wheeler gets things done at a high level, running the offense as a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for more than 1,000 yards and rushing for nearly 900, along with intercepting five passes from his secondary spot, including one in the final minutes to secure the win over GRCC.

Griffin Barker, Jr., RB/LB, Frankenmuth: Barker is the team’s leading rusher, running for nearly 100 yards in the semifinal win over Country Day, including a 34-yard TD run and a 10-yard TD reception on a pass from Aidan Hoard in the third quarter.

How can each team win?

If it can take down the giant in GRCC, Gladwin can win the title.

However, it must continue to take care of the football, something it didn’t do at the end of the regular season, but it has done a much better job during its postseason run.

Obviously, Gladwin’s defense can force turnovers, and Wheeler & Co. need to get their hats on the ball in this one.

Why not? Frankenmuth’s offense has been unstoppable, scoring on every possession in a 49-7 quarterfinal win over Flint Hamady, then scoring on every possession against Country Day, aside from its final drive of the half and then to end the game.

Frankenmuth’s front seven is special, limiting opponents to under 150 total yards per game, 25 yards rushing and 120 through the air, capped off with its special semifinal appearance when Country Day had negative total yards for the game.

Prediction

This is going to be a great game between two unbeaten teams that prove they belong in the title game. Look for Frankenmuth’s experience of playing at Ford Field to be the difference, with linebacker Dalton DeBeau and running back Sam Barger playing in the title game two years ago. Pick: Frankenmuth 28, Gladwin 27

Division 7

Jackson Lumen Christi (10-3) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (13-0), Saturday, 10 a.m.

How did they make it here?

Lumen Christi regrouped after an 0-3 start to the season to win 10 straight games, displaying outstanding defense during the postseason run, where it has outscored opponents by a 103-20 margin, including a tight 7-6 regional final win over Lawton, followed by a 20-7 semifinal win over Napoleon.

Legendary coach Herb Brogan has guided Lumen Christi to 394 wins and nine state championships, the last coming in 2018.

Traverse City St. Francis has dominated opponents on its way to a 13-0 record, averaging 47 points and more than 300 rushing yards per game.

Perhaps the most impressive win was a 63-0 regional final win over traditional power Ithaca, piling up 302 total yards in the opening quarter for a 28-0 lead, then pushing the margin to 56-0 at halftime. St. Francis followed that up with a 53-8 rout of a New Lothrop team, avenging a 42-35 loss in the 2020 championship game.

Players to watch

Joe Lathers, Sr., QB/LB, Lumen Christi: Lather,s has developed into a talented dual-threat quarterback, throwing for close to 1,000 yards while rushing for more than 700 to get Lumen Christi back to the big stage to try and earn its first state title since ’18.

Wyatt Nausadis, Sr., QB/DB, St. Francis: Nausadis has proven to be a good decision-maker and leader while running the high-scoring attack. Heading into the semifinal game against New Lothrop, he had thrown for 17 TDs and just one interception, while running for close to 1,000 yards.

How can each team win?

Well, for one, Lumen Christi has one of the premier coaches in Brogan who can find a weakness … if there is one. Brogan put together a challenging schedule to prepare Lumen Christi for the postseason, which could pay dividends at Ford Field.

Simply put, St. Francis can win because it has in dominating fashion time and time again. St. Francis has an outstanding running attack and could control the clock, unless Lumen Christi can step up defensively and force an early turnover to gain the momentum.

Prediction

Look for Lumen Christi to force that early turnover and take advantage of it by taking the early lead, then building confidence from there. Pick: Lumen Christi 22, St. Francis 18