1st & Goal: 2021 Week 5 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

September 24, 2021

The football talk is turning up as we reach the midpoint of the 2021 regular season.

MI Student AidMuch of what’s coming to the MHSAA office these days concerns the first-time fully-implemented “enhanced strength-of-schedule” format for selecting this year’s playoff qualifiers. So as we prepare to look at some of the games that will shape the field, here’s a quick review of the process that eventually will get us to 256 teams for 11-player and 32 teams in the 8-player brackets.

Let’s start with 11-player and start with the most fundamental change. Teams no longer make the playoffs by winning a certain number of games. Six-wins-and-in is out. Just like for 8-player, the field will be selected solely based on playoff-point average accrued as a combination of success and opponents’ strength of schedule.

The calculation of playoff-point average actually changed last year – but because nearly every team made the postseason due to a temporary COVID-19 restructuring, the new math mostly went unnoticed. Simply put, the newer formula is designed to reward a team for scheduling strong opponents by giving it bonuses based on opponents’ successes throughout the season – no matter if that team won or lost when it played those opponents. Those bonuses also are assigned differently, with points awarded by Division instead of the former “Class” of an opponent. Click here for a further breakdown of the differences between old and new formats.

One more important thing to note: Playoff divisions for 11 and 8-player are determined before the season instead of after Week 9. So teams know every possible opponent long before the playoffs start and can follow their progress toward making the field every week on the MHSAA Website.

MHSAA.tv will carry more than 160 games live this weekend, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's DeWitt/Grand Ledge matchup on its PLUS cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming games both Saturday (Paw Paw at South Lyon East) and Sunday (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice at Detroit Catholic Central). See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center and see below for glances at some of the games that could impact league and playoff races the rest of the regular season. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

Bay & Thumb

Freeland (4-0) at Frankenmuth (4-0)

The Eagles have not lost a league game since Week 4 of 2014, a stretch of 42 consecutive conference wins including the first three of this fall’s Tri-Valley Conference East slate. Freeland could provide the greatest threat yet to that run. While Frankenmuth won last year’s matchup 41-3 in the delayed regular-season opener, the Falcons went on to make the Division 5 Semifinals as the Eagles advanced to the title game at Ford Field. (Freeland and Frankenmuth lost to eventual champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central in successive weeks.) That success has carried over for both. Freeland opened this season downing reigning Jack Pine Conference champion Clare, and last week’s 43-13 victory over Essexville Garber was similarly notable. The Eagles, meanwhile, are the only team to defeat Goodrich so far.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Midland Dow (2-2) at Bay City Western (4-0), Millington (4-0) at Carrollton (3-1), Richmond (3-1) at Croswell-Lexington (3-1), Mount Pleasant (4-0) at Midland (2-2), Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse (3-1) at Port Huron (3-1).

Greater Detroit

Warren De La Salle Collegiate (3-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (4-0)

The way Detroit Catholic League Central teams have begun this season, it will be hard to not pick one of that league’s matchups as the Detroit area’s premier game over the next few weeks. This one gets the nod over Sunday’s Detroit Catholic Central/Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice showdown in part because De La Salle is coming off a 21-16 win over the Warriors and already has an important edge in the standings. But also making this intriguing is the bounce-back success of St. Mary’s, which finished 2-4 a year ago but has opened with a series of nice wins including over Hudsonville and Harper Woods.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Brownstown Woodhaven (4-0) at Allen Park (4-0), Belleville (3-1) at Dearborn Fordson (4-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-1) at Romeo (4-0), South Lyon (4-0) at White Lake Lakeland (4-0).

Mid-Michigan

Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0) at Hastings (4-0)

The Saxons were among the best stories of the 2020 season, as they broke a string of seven straight sub-.500 finishes to win a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title. Hastings actually lost last year’s opener to Parma Western, but started its turnaround the next week by downing the Titans 14-13. The Saxons are up to nine straight regular-season wins, but get a Lumen Christi team this time that has an opening win over reigning Division 7 champion New Lothrop to its credit after putting everything back together to finish last fall with a Regional Finals run.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-0) at Beal City (3-1), Grand Ledge (4-0) at DeWitt (3-1), Montrose (3-1) at New Lothrop (3-1), Fowler (2-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City (4-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (4-0), Saturday

This means little in the short run as these two play in different divisions of the Northern Michigan Football Conference, but could say a lot if they continue on to win league championships and make playoff noise. They’ve long been rivals, playing together in multiple conferences including the NMFC’s Legends division through 2019, and they represent some of the best this region has to offer with Boyne City ranked No. 5 in Division 6 by playoff-point average and St. Francis No. 4 in Division 7. Boyne City is giving up only six points per contest and will try to match a Gladiators offense averaging 50 points and coming off two straight games scoring 63.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grayling (3-1) at Kingsley (4-0), Traverse City Central (3-1) at Petoskey (3-1), Maple City Glen Lake (1-3) at Charlevoix (3-1), East Jordan (3-1) at Oscoda (2-2).

Southeast & Border

Riverview (4-0) at Monroe St. Mary's Catholic Central (4-0)

Monroe St. Mary and Milan often are the talk of the Huron League, but Riverview is looking again like possibly the team to beat after winning last season’s league title and opening this fall’s conference schedule by outscoring three opponents by a combined 116-17. The Pirates have won 11 straight league games going back to mid-2019, including 35-7 over St. Mary in last year’s opener. But the Falcons are surging as well and already have overcome a major league obstacle, defeating Milan last week 21-15.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petersburg Summerfield (3-1) at Adrian Madison (2-2), Napoleon (3-1) at Hanover-Horton (2-2), Hudson (4-0) at Ida (3-1), Sand Creek (3-1) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (3-1).

Southwest Corridor

Edwardsburg (4-0) at Plainwell (4-0)

It’s impossible to not marvel a bit at Edwardsburg’s work again this season. The Eddies have outscored their four opponents by a combined 203-7, and those four opponents are a combined 11-1 not counting their Edwardsburg defeats. Enter Plainwell, potentially headed toward an 11th-straight .500 or better season, riding its best start since 2013 and boasting a defense giving up just under nine points per game. The challenge is mighty, of course, but the Trojans can’t be overlooked.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Watervliet (4-0) at Berrien Springs (4-0), Constantine (4-0) at Parchment (3-1), Niles (3-1) at Vicksburg (3-1), Centreville (3-1) at White Pigeon (4-0).

Upper Peninsula

Hancock (2-2) at Houghton (3-1)

Go back probably to 2013 – when Houghton need to defeat Hancock in Week 9 to make the playoffs – for the last time this rivalry carried so many additional implications. Houghton is off to its best start since 2016 and would be part of the Division 6 playoff field if the season ended today, while Hancock can eclipse last season’s win total with another one tonight and could make up some ground in the Division 5 playoff race.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Iron Mountain (2-2) at Bark River-Harris (3-1), Marquette (3-1) at Gladstone (2-2), Manistique (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-1), Kingsford (3-1) at Escanaba (1-3).

West Michigan

Hudsonville (2-2) at Rockford (4-0)

The Eagles’ record requires the context of their losses being to Saline and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – which are a combined 8-0 – and by just a combined six points. Hudsonville edged Jenison by just a point last week and make any feelings of early disappointment all but disappear with a similar result against the Rams. The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powers missed their regular-season game against each other last season, but Rockford won their playoff matchup to run their streak in the rivalry to six.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Reed City (3-1) at Big Rapids (3-1), Grand Haven (3-1) at Caledonia (4-0), Byron Center (4-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (3-1), Muskegon Mona Shores (3-1) at Zeeland East (3-1).

8-Player

Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-0) at Colon (4-0)

This is another strong candidate for 8-player regular-season game of the year, combining storylines and successes. Colon will attempt to hand Lenawee Christian its first defeat in two seasons of 8-player football and was the only team to come close to slowing the Division 1 champion Cougars last season – Lenawee Christian won their matchup 24-6, but scored 47 or more points against their other 10 opponents and are up over 61 points per game this fall. The Magi – Division 1 champs two seasons ago – enter this meeting having posted two straight shutouts and averaging nearly 53 points per contest. But the Cougars aren’t just tough to stop; they also are giving up just under seven points per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-0) at Norway (3-1), Newberry (301) at Rudyard (4-0), Genesee (3-1) at Burton Atherton (3-1). SATURDAY Suttons Bay (4-0) at Munising (3-1).

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: Alma defenders begin to collapse the pocked during Freeland’s Week 2 win over the Panthers. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)