1st & Goal: 2021 11-Player Semifinals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 22, 2021

The 11-Player Football Finals field is set. Ford Field, here we come.

MI Student AidAfter crisscrossing the Lower Peninsula on Saturday for Semifinals, all vehicles will be pointed toward downtown Detroit this weekend – including parades from a few communities we’ll be seeing for the first time.

Belleville, Warren Michigan Collegiate and Lawton, welcome to a Thanksgiving week like no other. The other 13 teams that will be making the trip Friday and Saturday have been to this point before – including three just 10 months ago – and surely they’d agree this trip to Detroit will be unforgettable.

Below is a glance at how all 16 took the final step to earn the opportunity.

(We’ll review Saturday’s 8-Player Finals – won by Adrian Lenawee Christian and Powers North Central – during a look back at all 10 football championship games next week.)

Division 1

Belleville 40, Sterling Heights Stevenson 26

In their fourth-straight Semifinal, the Tigers (12-1) earned their first Finals trip. Freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood threw three touchdown passes and ran for one more as Belleville scored the most points Stevenson (10-3) had allowed in a game since a Week 1 loss to Rockford. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Rochester Adams 40, Grand Blanc 20

Adams (13-0) won a matchup of undefeated teams to reach the Finals for the first time since 2003, showing its defensive might again in shutting down a Bobcats offense that averaged 42 points per game entering the day. Grand Blanc finished its longest tournament run and winningest season at 12-1. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 2

Traverse City Central 56, South Lyon 20

The Trojans (12-1) earned their first Finals trip since 1988. Central took a 42-7 lead into halftime as Josh Burnham scored three touchdowns, and blocked a field goal attempt too. South Lyon (12-1) was making its first Semifinal appearance since 2004. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Warren De La Salle Collegiate 49, Livonia Franklin 14

The Pilots (12-0) will play in their fourth Division 2 Final in five seasons, with an opportunity to finish undefeated for the first time during the playoff era. Junior quarterback Brady Drogosh threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, including a 73-yarder. Franklin finished 7-6 after entering the playoffs 4-5. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

Detroit Martin Luther King 46, Mason 7

The Crusaders (12-1) advanced to their fourth Final in six seasons and first since 2019. While topping 40 points for the seventh time in 11 games played on the field, King also lowered its playoff points-allowed average to 9.5 with a second-straight game giving up a single score. Mason completed its winningest season, and longest playoff run, at 10-3. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

DeWitt 43, St. Joseph 7

The Panthers (12-1) will return to Ford Field with an opportunity to repeat as Division 3 champions. DeWitt built a 29-0 halftime lead, as quarterback Ty Holtz threw three first-half touchdown passes, including 69 and 40-yarders to Tommy McIntosh. St. Joseph (8-5) was playing in its first Semifinal since 2007 after entering the postseason 5-4. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 4

Chelsea 30, Freeland 27

For the second straight week, Chelsea came up with a big play at the end to advance. This time it was a near-goal line stand to stop a Freeland offense that had gotten two rushing and two passing touchdowns from quarterback Bryson Huckaby. The Falcons finished a second-straight Semifinal run 11-2. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.

Hudsonville Unity Christian 58, Edwardsburg 8

The Crusaders (13-0) moved into second all-time for scoring in one season at 751 points with their 11th game putting up more than 50, and with a defensive showing to match – Edwardsburg (12-1) entered the game averaging 53 points per. Unity’s Abraham Rappuhn scored three first-half touchdowns, including an 81-yarder. Click for more from FOX 17.

Division 5

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 35, Frankenmuth 0

The rematch of last season’s Division 5 championship game saw Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-0) go up 21-0 midway through the first quarter. Cougars quarterback John Passinault ran for three touchdowns and threw for the other two. Frankenmuth finished 12-1, its only losses the last two seasons to GRCC. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Marine City 27, Portland 7

The Mariners (13-0) are headed back to Ford Field for the first time since 2013 after another dominating defensive performance – they haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game, and lowered their per game defensive average to 9.1 allowed per contest. The Raiders finished 10-3. Click for more from the Port Huron Times-Herald.

Division 6

Lansing Catholic 18, Standish-Sterling 7

The Cougars will be returning to Ford Field seeking a second championship in three seasons to go with a 2019 title in Division 5. The Cougars (12-1) matched defense with defense, scoring their second-fewest points this fall but holding Standish-Sterling to a tie for the latter’s lowest output. The Panthers finished 10-3, making an incredible jump from last season’s 1-6 record. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Warren Michigan Collegiate 36, Michigan Center 29

Michigan Collegiate (11-2) earned its first trip to the Finals, thanks in part to a series of big plays by Deion Black on both sides of the ball. The teams were tied after three quarters, and traded scores in the fourth with the Cougars reaching the end zone last. Michigan Center finished 11-2, setting a program record for wins. Click for more from MLive-Detroit.

Division 7

Lawton 21, Jackson Lumen Christi 20

The Blue Devils are headed to the Finals for the first time after following up a memorable Regional Final win with perhaps an even more unforgettable Semifinal finish. Landon Motter’s two-point conversion with 46 seconds to play put Lawton (13-0) up for good. The Blue Devils had jumped out to a 13-0 first-half lead but found themselves trailing Lumen Christi (11-2) by a point heading into the fourth quarter. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Pewamo-Westphalia 28, Traverse City St. Francis 21

The Pirates (13-0) will have a chance to win a second Division 7 title in three years after holding off last season’s runner-up St. Francis (12-1). The teams were tied 14-14 heading into the final quarter, and P-W’s defense was able to slow St. Francis’ offense for most of it, for the game holding the Gladiators to their fewest points this season and well below their average of 50 per game. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 8

Beal City 12, Ubly 7

The Aggies (12-1) will return to the Finals for the second time in three seasons thanks to the latest of a string of strong defensive showings. Beal City lowered its points-allowed average to 8.3 per game by stopping an Ubly offense that had averaged 45 per game entering Saturday. The Bearcats (12-1) were last season’s Division 8 runners-up up. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Hudson 28, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 22

The Tigers (13-0) advanced to their first championship game since 2010 relying again on an excellent defense to slow down a Whiteford offense averaging 51 points per game, but also on the legs of Bronson Marry – who ran for four second-half touchdowns as Hudson came all the way back from a 22-0 halftime deficit. It was the only loss to an in-state opponent this fall for the Bobcats (11-2). Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

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PHOTO Traverse City Central's Carson Bourdo (11) tries to break away from a South Lyon defender during Saturday's Division 2 Semifinal win. (Photo by Jamie McNinch.)

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.)