Tri-unity Christian Back on Top As Titus Leads Overtime Surge

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 26, 2022

EAST LANSING – The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team fell short last season in its bid to add another state championship to its storied history.

Senior point guard Brady Titus wasn’t about to let history repeat itself.

Titus scored a game-high 33 points to propel the Defenders to a thrilling 56-45 overtime win over Ewen-Trout Creek in Saturday’s Division 4 Final at the Breslin Center. 

“There was so much motivation, just coming up short last year,” Titus said. “Just knowing that we lost to a team that we could’ve beat really carried on into this year, and there’s a great sense of relief knowing that we really did this as a team.

“I’m more than thankful, and it’s hard to describe how I feel right now other than a lot of excitement.”

The Defenders (20-6) lost to Detroit Douglass a year ago, 46-41, but gained redemption by outscoring the Panthers 13-2 in overtime Saturday.

Tri-unity Christian/Ewen-Trout Creek basketballTri-unity captured its fifth Final, but first since 2011 under longtime coach Mark Keeler, who watched his team struggle in the second quarter after a strong start.

The Defenders led 16-11 after the first quarter, but Ewen-Trout Creek opened the second with an 11-1 surge to snare a 22-17 lead.

The Defenders countered with a 6-0 run to hold a slim 23-22 advantage, but Ewen-Trout Creek ended the half with seven straight points.

A 3-pointer from Eric Abramson at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 30-23 lead at the half.

“I was proud of my guys because we didn’t quit or get discouraged after that buzzer 3-pointer at the end of the first half,” said Keeler, who was appearing in his 10th Final. “Ewen-Trout Creek was gutty and tough, and they dominated the boards in the first half.”

Titus, who will play in college at Indiana Tech, scored 23 of his points in the second half and overtime after being held to 10 points in the first half.

He was poked in the eye inadvertently early in the third quarter, and it fueled his play.

“It was an accident for sure, but me being the person I am I took it personally,” Titus said. “That really fired me up to just go out there and play and compete.”

Titus stepped up several times when his team needed him during the second-half rally.

His driving lay-up with 33 seconds left knotted the score at 43-43 and sent the game to overtime after the Defenders got a defensive stop in the closing seconds.

Tri-unity Christian basketball“He does it so often,” Keeler said of Titus’ heroics. “He’s just an amazing young man, and he made plays for us.”  

Tri-unity turned to its defense in overtime to help secure the win. 

Sophomore Owen Rosendall, who made three 3-pointers and finished with nine points, had a steal and took a defensive charge, while junior center Hanif James had a huge blocked shot with the Defenders clinging to a 47-45 lead in the final minute. He then scored inside on an assist from Titus.

“I don’t really go for blocks because I try to keep my hands up as straight as possible,” said James, who had seven points and seven rebounds. “If I see it, I go for it, and then Brady has great vision and I know he’ll find me when I’m open.”

Ewen-Trout Creek (22-3) was playing for its first Finals title since 1972.

The Panthers also finished Class D runner-up in 1982, losing to Covert 105-94.

“Overtime losses are always tough, but an overtime loss in a state championship game is something else,” Ewen-Trout Creek coach Brad Besonen said. “The fight and the grind these guys bring to the court every night showed tonight in front of a big audience on a big stage in one of the biggest games we can have as a high school team. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.” 

Jaden Borseth finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the Panthers, while Brendan Polkky had 14 points and Abramson added 12.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Tri-unity’s Hanif James (34) gets a hand on a shot attempt by Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jaden Borseth. (Middle) The Defenders’ Ethan Eerdmans (10) works to get past Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jonah Nordine. (Below) Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler raises the championship trophy toward his team Saturday. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage

By Jason Juno
Special for

June 28, 2024

Ewen-Trout Creek graduate Jake Witt is playing for a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. The memories of high school sports, and the impact they’ve had on his journey to the NFL, have stuck with him through his college days and even now as a professional.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 300-plus receiving yards he went for in a game against the eventual 8-player state champion back in 2017. 

The regular-season basketball game where 3,276 fans turned out to watch his Panthers play just a few months later.

The teamwork prep sports taught him. The family atmosphere he got to be a part of on the high school football team.

“Football was definitely the sport I felt the most family-type feeling with it,” Witt said earlier this week after fishing on Erickson Lake while back in the Upper Peninsula before training camp begins next month. “That’s what drew me back to wanting to play football in college, was my opportunity in high school to play and getting that feeling with the guys and that family-oriented feel.”

Witt played two years of high school football. He lined up exclusively at wide receiver for Ewen-Trout Creek as a junior and then was more of a blocking tight end when E-TC and Ontonagon joined forces as a co-op program when he was a senior.

He ultimately decided to play basketball first in college, at Michigan Tech. But two of his three finalists were football opportunities.

“Obviously playing basketball from second grade on, people would probably assume that I would want to play basketball in college,” Witt said. “I think that just goes to show that football in those two years had a big impact and obviously it led me to where I am when I played at Northern and where I am today.”

Witt played only one year of basketball at Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan University to attend as a student only before being talked into playing football. 

He was initially a tight end there before moving to tackle because of injuries during a game against Ferris State. He dominated, not allowing a sack or even a quarterback pressure against what was considered the best Division II defensive line in the country. 

He stayed at tackle for what was left of that season and then all of his final year at Northern. Despite his limited time at the position, he had the attention of NFL scouts and entered the draft. The attention reached a fever pitch during his pro day at Central Michigan when he wowed with his athleticism. His 9.92 Relative Athletic Score, a way to measure players’ athletic testing while accounting for their size, was one of the best for an offensive tackle prospect since it began being used in 1987.

Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer.He was drafted with the 236th pick, in the seventh round, by the Colts in 2023. 

His first training camp was cut short due to a hip injury, and he was then placed on season-ending injured reserve. But he’s back healthy and ready to go. He practiced at second-string left tackle during the offseason camp this spring and now hopes to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with training camp set to begin in a month.

“I want to go into training camp, play well and then play well enough to where they can’t release me off the 53,” Witt said. “The next goal is to play in a game. And I think that will start with special teams, that will start with field goal. And then from there, obviously, everybody is one week of great practice away from playing with the offense, one injury away from playing in a game with the offense.”

Those who watched him during his high school days in the U.P. likely wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen.

Witt is still the only receiver to go for 300 or more receiving yards in 8-player football in state history, according to the MHSAA record book. And he did it twice, a 325-yard game against Eben Junction Superior Central as a junior and the 305-yard performance against Crystal Falls Forest Park as a senior.

The Ontonagon co-op team had mostly stuck to running the ball that season, but looked for Witt through the air against the eventual state champion Trojans.

“I think it was 345 (yards), I think they sent in the wrong number,” Witt said. “That was one game where we switched things up with our offensive attack and threw the ball a lot more, and it ended up paying off for us very well. We were down big at halftime, and we pushed back and we were in a battle with them in the second half. It was a great game. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a lot of fun.”

He enjoyed both years of high school football – even while mostly blocking on the line as a senior despite having shown previously to be a more-than-capable receiver.

Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023.“A lot of the offense wasn’t focused on me anymore, which was great,” Witt said. “It made me a much more well-rounded football player. It made me a much better athlete, it gave me a better perception on things as a football player versus just being a receiver. I think both years were great for different reasons.”

Witt said every sport he played in high school was beneficial to him going forward. Basketball, for example, taught him teamwork and coordination. 

“And just relationship building is huge; for me, it helped me move on to the professional football level,” he said.

No high school game was quite as memorable for him as that regular-season basketball game at Michigan Tech on a chilly Wednesday night in Houghton.

Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay were tied atop the U.P. small-school poll. With that type of matchup, and the chance for fans in the Copper Country to see the 6-7 Witt and his above-the-rim play that’s pretty unique in the U.P., the game was moved from Dollar Bay’s tiny gym to Michigan Tech. (He wasn’t quite 300 pounds like he is now, but he was close – and he came into that game averaging 27 points and 16 rebounds per game with no one able to match his size and strength.)

They expected a crowd; they got 3,276. The latest arriving fans had to sit on the floor on the baseline.

“You don’t see that very much in Division 4 basketball even in the playoffs,” Witt said. “Just having that atmosphere, and especially having it between two of the best U.P. teams at the time, and having the storyline that was behind the game was great – and one of the most memorable events to this day still for me.”

Witt is looking forward to the challenge of training camp and achieving his goals in Indianapolis. But he’s not rushing away a U.P. summer. 

He helped out at last week’s U.P. Football All-Star game. He was happy to provide insight for any players headed off to play college ball, and they helped the Marquette County Habitat for Humanity with the finishing touches on one of their houses.

Over the next month, he’ll still be training, going over the playbook and doing position skill work. As happy as he was to help out last week, he’s happy to be on the lake again, too, fishing like a normal Yooper.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that and train,” Witt said. “Just trying to destress before I get back into it.”

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Jake Witt played for Ewen-Trout Creek during a 2018 basketball game at Michigan Tech, and at right Witt takes a photo with area youth baseball players last summer. (Middle) Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer. (Below) Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023. (Photos by Jason Juno.)