1st & Goal: 2021 11-Player Semifinals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 19, 2021

Our final 32 11-player football teams are one more win from playing at Ford Field.

MI Student AidAt this time of year, and with the added detail we have on each Semifinal below, that’s plenty of introduction.

All 16 games will be broadcast live. Bally Sports Detroit will feature on its primary channel the Division 1 Semifinal between Sterling Heights Stevenson and Belleville, and the other 15 games can be watched on MHSAA.tv.

Division 1

Rochester Adams (12-0) vs. Grand Blanc (12-0) at Howell

This might be one of the weekend’s most difficult games to predict, because these teams seem to match up so well. Senior running back Elijah Jackson-Anderson (1,119 yards/16 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Hunter Ames (1,795 yards/21 TDs passing), plus a defense giving up 15 points per game, has keyed Grand Blanc’s school-record playoff run. Adams, aiming for its first Final since 2003, is giving up 11 points per game and following the lead of junior quarterback Parker Picot (1,165 yards/18 TDs rushing, 4 TDs passing) and senior running back Griffin Henke (863 yards/15 TDs rushing).

Sterling Heights Stevenson (10-2) vs. Belleville (11-1) at Troy Athens

Belleville is playing a Semifinal for the fourth-straight season and hoping to book its first trip to Ford Field. Freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood is a player to remember this weekend and for the next three years. Stevenson is playing in its second Semifinal in three seasons and seeking its first Finals berth since 2009 on the rushing attack of seniors Jordan Ramsey (1,204 yards/16 TDs rushing ) and Jordan Kwiatkowski (1,283 yards/15 TDs). Senior Biagio Madonna is another big-time playmaker, running for 872 yards and 12 touchdowns and throwing for 1,011 yards and five scores.

Division 2

Traverse City Central (11-1) vs. South Lyon (12-0) at Greenville

A long-awaited opportunity is on the line for both; Central is seeking to reach the Finals for the first time since 1988 (and first time since Traverse City West opened), while South Lyon last played in a championship game in 1995. Senior Josh Burnham (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has exceeded high expectations, running for 1,315 yards and 25 touchdowns and throwing for 934 yards and 14 scores while also starting at linebacker. Junior Reed Seabase (1,175 yards/12 TDs rushing) carries a significant load on offense as well. Last week’s 29-23 overtime win over Portage Central was South Lyon’s first by fewer than 14 points. Junior Tommy Donovan (895 yards/16 TDs rushing) is among playmakers, and senior Braden Fracassi (865 yards/8 TDs passing) has stepped in well after the Lions lost their starting quarterback to injury midway through the regular season.

Livonia Franklin (7-5) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (11-0) at Hazel Park

The Pilots – last season’s Division 2 runners-up – have been one of the teams most expected to reach this point, especially after their undefeated run through the Detroit Catholic League Central. Junior quarterback Brady Drogosh led last season’s run and remains tough to slow down – he’s run for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns and thrown for 1,285 yards and 10 scores. Franklin entered the playoffs 4-5 and defeated three teams that were a combined 22-8. Two of the Patriots’ top three scoring outputs of the season have come during the postseason run.

Division 3

St. Joseph (8-4) vs. DeWitt (11-1) at Jenison

The reigning Division 3 champion Panthers returned the majority of their playmakers this fall and have scored 48 points per game led by senior quarterback Tyler Holtz (2,483 yards/36 TDs passing, 829 yards/11 TDs rushing) and senior receiver Tommy McIntosh (1,107 yards/19 touchdowns receiving). St. Joseph is playing to make the Finals for the first time since 1988. The Bears are grinders, with more than 2,800 yards rushing led by juniors Trey McGinnis (902 yards/14 TDs) and Joron Brown (850 yards/12 TDs).

Mason (10-2) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (11-1) at Wayne Memorial

The Bulldogs coming off one of the biggest wins in their history, 20-17 over Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, to reach the Semifinals for the first time. Next up is another team most expected to be back at this level. King is looking to return to Ford Field for the third time in four seasons. Junior quarterback Dante Moore is one of the most heralded players in Michigan, and for plenty of reasons – he’s thrown for 2,626 yards and 37 touchdowns over 10 games on the field (two wins were by forfeit). Mason has put together more than 4,000 yards of total offense, with sophomore running back AJ Martel (1,430 yards/23 TDs rushing) the key cog.

Division 4

Edwardsburg (12-0) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (12-0) at Portage Northern

A pair of recent champions will face off – both won titles in 2018, Edwardsburg in Division 4 and Unity in Division 5. Three years later, both are on similar paces as those title winners. Edwardsburg’s average margin of victory this fall is 48 points, thanks to a defense giving up less than five points per game and a rushing attack that’s run for 4,400 yards with five backs gaining between 400-700. Unity’s average margin of victory is 45 points with an offense that has scored at least 40 every game. Senior Drew Chandler has run for 1,242 of the Crusaders’ 4,500 on the ground.

Freeland (11-1) vs. Chelsea (12-0) at Lapeer

The Falcons are playing in their fifth Semifinal – and second straight – hoping to reach the Finals for the first time. Senior quarterback Bryson Huckeby (1,522 yards/15 TDs passing, 8 TDs rushing) and senior Garrett Pistro (1,037 yards/18 touchdowns rushing) lead a balanced offense. Chelsea has reached the Semifinals four straight seasons and eliminated reigning champion Detroit Country Day last week. The Bulldogs hope to return to Ford Field for the first time since 2018 with senior running back Trenton Hill (1,400 yards/29 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Lucas Dunn (1,440 yards/18 TDs passing) leading a similarly-balanced attack.

Division 5

Frankenmuth (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (12-0) at Mount Pleasant

This is a rematch of last season’s Division 5 championship game, a 48-21 Catholic Central win. The Cougars lost star quarterback Joey Silveri to injury early this season, but senior John Passinault (1,765 yards/33 TDs passing) has stepped in and been outstanding as well with lots of help from senior tight end Nolan Ziegler (1,039 yards/23 TDs receiving). Frankenmuth also returns one of its best playmakers in senior running back Cole Lindow (1,794 yards/20 TDs rushing), while senior Cole Jankowski has stepped in well at quarterback with 18 rushing touchdowns and six more passing.

Portland (10-2) vs. Marine City (12-0) at Novi

These are two more teams familiar with this stage, as both last made the Semifinals in 2018 and won championships during the last decade. Marine City is giving up only nine points per game and has three players averaging at least 10 yards per carry, led by junior Zach Tetler (1,302 yards/27 TDs rushing). Portland’s strategy also isn’t a secret, and just as effective – four Raiders have run for 700 or more yards and eight touchdowns apiece.

Division 6

Standish-Sterling (10-2) vs. Lansing Catholic (11-1) at Clare

Standish-Sterling is one of the comeback stories of the year, after finishing 1-6 a season ago. The Panthers now run into Lansing Catholic, making its third-straight trip to the Semifinals and having won Division 5 in 2019. Senior Joey Baker (2,523 yards/27 TDs passing) is the latest great Cougars quarterback, and senior Alex Watters (1,063 yards/14 TDs receiving) also was among stars of that 2019 team. Standish-Sterling’s defense has been outstanding during the playoffs, giving up 21 points over three games, and senior Laine Thibault (1,396 yards rushing) is solid leading the offense.  

Michigan Center (11-1) vs. Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-2) Ypsilanti Lincoln

Both are seeking their first championship game appearances. Michigan Center has gotten here with a defense giving up 11 points per game and an offense keyed by multi-talented senior quarterback Kaydin Hiland (1,322 yards/19 TDs rushing, 7 TDs passing, 7 TDs receiving). Michigan Collegiate is paced by an excellent dual-threat QB as well – senior Deion Black has run for 1,134 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 13 scores.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Cedar Springs

These two combined have played in seven Semifinals and three championship games over the last five years. P-W complements a defense giving up six points per game with an offense led by two runners with at least 800 yards and 10 touchdowns apiece. All of the Pirates’ nonleague wins, including in the playoffs, have been over teams that won conference titles this fall. St. Francis is the reigning Division 7 runner-up, having fallen by just seven points in last season’s Final. The Gladiators haven’t scored less than 48 points during the playoffs, led by senior quarterback Charlie Peterson (1,677 yards/21 TDs passing).

Lawton (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) at Battle Creek Harper Creek

These two have vastly different playoff pasts but could look very similar when they meet. Lawton is playing in its first Semifinal, relying on a defense giving up eight points per game and a senior running back in Jake Rueff with incredible numbers – 2,253 yards and 46 touchdowns on the ground. Lumen Christi is a regular in late November, and the recipe is similar – the defense gives up 13 points per game, and the offense runs the ball with five backs gaining between 400-900 yards this fall.

Division 8

Ubly (12-0) vs. Beal City (11-1) at Mt. Morris

Reigning runner-up Ubly has yet to play a single-digit game this fall. Sophomore quarterback Evan Peruski is averaging 11.1 yards per carry for 1,009 total, along with 17 touchdowns rushing, and he’s thrown for eight more scores. Beal City’s only loss was opening night by a point to Ravenna, and the Aggies have been rarely challenged otherwise. They are winning by 29 points per game, giving up just under nine on average.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-1) vs. Hudson (12-0) at Adrian College

Hudson’s defense has been an intriguing follow, giving up just under six points per game and last allowing more than eight in Week 5. The Tigers match that with an offense that’s rushed for 3,600 yards, led by senior Nick Kopin’s 1,397 with 16 touchdowns on the ground. Whiteford is undefeated in-state, with its lone defeat to an opponent from Ohio, and all of the Bobcats’ wins have been by double digits. Senior Cole Giesige is a big part of a balanced offense, running for 1,241 yards and 21 scores this fall.

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PHOTO Sterling Heights Stevenson’s Jordan Ramsey (5) fends off a potential tackler during his team’s Semifinal win. (Photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)