1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 28, 2021

From an up-close point of view, at just more than half of Michigan’s football-playing high schools, three months of football season ended last weekend.

MI Student AidBut from a mile-high perspective, 20 teams have played just slightly more than half their games this fall – and 288 begin this weekend with the opportunity to add onto their seasons and finish among that fortunate few.

Playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for each division. More than 100 of the 144 total playoff football games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at Troy appearing on the Bally Sports Detroit primary channel tonight – click for more on how to watch.

Below are glances at games that especially pop off the page in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Howell (7-2) at Hartland (7-2)

The co-champions in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West meet again, after Hartland won the regular-season matchup 29-7 on Oct. 1. Those remain the most points given up by a Highlanders defense allowing an average of 11.9 per game, while the Eagles’ defense finished the regular season giving up an average of just 9.6 (and only five per game not counting a 46-9 Week 9 loss to No. 6 Belleville). This time Howell will have running back August Johanningsmeier, a Western Michigan recruit, who didn’t play during the first meeting.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (6-3) at Troy (8-1), Ann Arbor Huron (8-1) at Belleville (8-1), Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at Dearborn Fordson (7-2), Lapeer (7-2) at Rochester Adams (9-0).

11-Player Division 2

Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-1)

Two-time reigning Division 2 champion Mona Shores is facing a playoff road that may not include a home game. But while that adds to the challenge, the Sailors are plenty familiar with elite opponents – their losses this fall were to Division 3 top-ranked Detroit Martin Luther King and No. 5 Muskegon High. This week’s trip is especially intriguing, however – Forest Hills Central barely fell to Shores 28-25 during the last year’s playoffs and by just six points in a 2018 playoff matchup, and won their 2017 postseason meeting. The Rangers’ only loss this fall was early by four points to Division 1 No. 4 Grand Blanc.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (5-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3), Port Huron (6-3) at Port Huron Northern (7-2), Bay City Western (7-2) at Midland Dow (6-3), East Lansing (6-3) at Milford (7-2).

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (6-2) at Harper Woods (7-2)

These are familiar opponents with this their eighth meeting over the last 14 seasons, including as members together of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue from 2017-19. River Rouge has won the last five of those matchups and is continuing to build on a decade as a Finals contender as it looks to return to Ford Field for the third-straight season. But Harper Woods has been climbing. Two of those losses to Rouge in the MMAC Blue were league title deciders, and the Pioneers have made the playoffs four straight seasons (including all-in 2020) with their lone defeats this fall to Division 2 top-ranked Warren De La Salle Collegiate and Division 3 qualifier Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marquette (7-2) at Mount Pleasant (9-0), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-4) at Flint Kearsley (6-3), Warren Fitzgerald (8-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1), Riverview (9-0) at Allen Park (7-2).

11-Player Division 4

Whitehall (7-2) at Sparta (7-2)

The Spartans somewhat quietly put together a fourth-straight winning season with their two defeats this fall coming over the first three weeks and by a combined eight points. The first of those losses was opening night to Muskegon Oakridge, 22-21, which went on to defeat and then share the West Michigan Conference championship with Whitehall. The Vikings are coming off a 10-point loss at 8-1 Reed City, but can boast wins over Montague and Kalamazoo United to go with their league title share.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Spring Lake (6-3) at Grand Rapids Christian (6-3), Goodrich (7-2) at Freeland (8-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-2) at Croswell-Lexington (8-1). SATURDAY Detroit Country Day (5-3) at Redford Union (8-1).

11-Player Division 5

Comstock Park (9-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-1)

Houseman Field will host one of the most intriguing matchups statewide regardless of division. Both teams have four wins over others in these playoffs. Comstock Park bounced way back this fall from three straight one or two-win seasons to finish ahead of Sparta (see above) in winning the Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver title. The Panthers are plenty familiar with West Catholic after losing to the Falcons in last season’s playoffs and playing them either as part of the same league or nonconference the 12 seasons prior. West Catholic’s only loss this fall was to eventual O-K Blue champion Hudsonville Unity Christian, and the Falcons handed Division 7 contender Muskegon Catholic Central its lone loss.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clare (6-3) at Gladwin (9-0), Kingsford (6-3) at Kingsley (8-1), Olivet (7-2) at Williamston (6-3), Corunna (5-4) at Flint Powers Catholic (3-6).

11-Player Division 6

Michigan Center (8-1) at Jonesville (9-0)

This is a rematch of last season’s District Final won by Michigan Center 28-22, and they just missed seeing each other in the Big 8/Cascades crossovers of this year’s Week 9. Jonesville won the Big 8 Conference this fall, and then edged Cascades champion Addison 20-14 last Saturday in the Comets’ only game this season closer than 16 points. Michigan Center was second in the Cascades after a one-point Week 4 loss to Addison, but since the Cardinals have shined in close games winning three by eight points of fewer.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Calumet (7-2) at Menominee (5-4), Boyne City (8-1) at Grayling (7-2), Erie Mason (5-4) at Ida (7-2), Detroit Pershing (5-4) at Detroit Southeastern (6-3).

11-Player Division 7

Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-2) at Reese (8-1)

All three co-champions of the Greater Thumb Conference West play in the same District, and these two are meeting again after Reese won the Week 7 matchup 27-18. The Rockets are enjoying their first winning season since 2013, losing only to Bad Axe – the third co-champion in the GTC West. Laker has enjoyed more recent success, with this its sixth-straight playoff appearance. The Lakers edged Bad Axe by a point Week 8 to create the shared league title. Bad Axe travels to Hemlock on the other side of the District bracket.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY New Lothrop (6-3) at Montrose (7-2), Lutheran Westland (8-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1), Bad Axe (7-2) at Hemlock (5-4). SATURDAY East Jordan (7-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (8-1).

11-Player Division 8

Centreville (7-2) at Addison (8-1)

Four of the top 14 teams in Division 8 playoff points are in the same District (Reading and Hudson are on the other side). Addison entered as the No. 3 team and Centreville is No. 10 and also the reigning Division 8 champion. As noted above, Addison’s lone loss came last week to Division 6 No. 11 Jonesville, and Centreville’s defeats came to a pair of Division 7 teams including No. 6 Muskegon Catholic Central. Both are league champions and have put up similar numbers overall this fall – but the difference may be found when Addison is on offense (averaging 43.8 points per game, but 48 not counting the Jonesville loss) and Centreville is on D (12 points allowed per game, but only 8.6 after opening night.)

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowler (6-3) at Flint Beecher (4-5), Reading (6-3) at Hudson (9-0). SATURDAY Bark River-Harris (6-3) at Beal City (8-1), Frankfort (6-3) at Iron Mountain (6-3).

8-Player Division 1

Rogers City (8-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (9-0)

Inland Lakes dove into 8-player last season with great success, and Rogers City is following the same path in its first season this fall while the Bulldogs have been even better in their encore. Inland Lakes reached the Division 1 Semifinals in 2020 and is coming off its closest game of this season, a 14-point win over Gaylord St. Mary. Rogers City is coming off its defeat – 44-36 to Newberry – but didn’t give up a point in September and won its first three games of October against teams sitting now at .500 or better.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Rudyard (7-2) at Munising (7-2), Tekonsha (7-2) at Martin (9-0). SATURDAY Britton Deerfield (8-1) at Deckerville (7-1).

8-Player Division 2

Colon (8-1) at Portland St. Patrick (9-0), Saturday

These have been two of the most dominating 8-player programs in the state over the last four years, with Portland St. Patrick defeating the Magi 44-34 last season in a Regional Final on the way to the Shamrocks finishing Division 2 runners-up for the third time in four seasons. Colon was the Division 1 champion in 2019, and its only other losses over the last two seasons were to reigning Division 1 champion and current favorite Adrian Lenawee Christian. Portland St. Patrick long has thrived offensively, scoring 43.6 points per game this fall, while Colon has established itself as a defensive juggernaut over the last three seasons and has given up 11 points per game with five shutouts.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mio (6-3) at Hillman (6-3), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-2) at Kinde North Huron (9-0). SATURDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-2).

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO Edwardsburg, here on offense against Otsego, brings a 9-0 record into the Division 4 playoffs. (Photo by Gary Shook.) 

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.)