'3rd-Quarter Team' West Catholic Shows Why in Record-Setting Triumph

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 25, 2022

DETROIT – When Negaunee senior Phil Nelson returned the opening kickoff of the second half Friday and tied the Division 6 championship game at 14, it woke something up inside Ford Field.

Unfortunately for Negaunee, that something was Timmy Kloska.

“I just saw that kick return, and it really fired me up,” the Grand Rapids West Catholic senior running back said. “Our o-line got going, the holes were opening and we just got going.”

Kloska dominated the rest of the game, rushing for 172 yards and four touchdowns during the second half, leading West Catholic to a 59-14 victory. It was the sixth Finals title for West Catholic, and first since 2017. 

The Falcons’ 59 points set the record for an 11-player Final, breaking the mark set by both Flint Powers Catholic and Saginaw Nouvel in 2011.

“It’s great,” said Kloska, who finished with 241 yards rushing for the game. “Me and all my friends, and all the players on the team, we’ve worked really hard for this. This has been a dream since we were in seventh grade, watching all those state championships. It’s a great feeling because we’ve worked so hard.”

The Falcons’ Danny Groskiewicz (24) and Joe Debski bring down a Negaunee ball carrier.West Catholic put on an offensive display, gaining 520 yards of total offense and averaging 14.9 yards per play. That number sat at 16.8 yards per play entering the fourth quarter. 

The Falcons had five touchdowns of longer than 30 yards, and three longer than 60. They were also remarkably balanced, as they gained 295 yards on the ground and 225 through the air on the arm of quarterback Bernie Varnesdeel.

“Our coaches, all week, have put us in good positions,” said junior receiver Carter Perry, who had touchdown receptions of 72 and 32 yards in the first half. “When you get put in that position, it’s almost easy to make the plays and execute them.”

It started right away, too, as Perry’s 72-yard score came on the first play from scrimmage.

“I knew right before the game he was going to be wide open,” Varnesdeel said. “We were working on that play all week at practice, and he’s been open most of the time. He was the main option right there, so I just hit him and executed.”

Despite the big-play success, West Catholic (13-1) wasn’t able to pull away from Negaunee because it barely had the ball during the first half.

Negaunee (13-1) had a 20:03-3:57 edge in time of possession, and ran 37 plays to West Catholic’s 13. But it took until the final play of the half for the Miners to get on the scoreboard. They scored on a 6-yard pass from Ty Jacobson to Nelson on 4th-and-goal to make it 14-7 at halftime. The scoring toss was set up by a 32-yard pass on a reverse flea flicker from Jacobson to Eli VanBuren on a third down near midfield.

“Our gameplan was really similar from the first half to the second half, but you have to give Negaunee a lot of credit,” West Catholic coach Landon Grove said. “They did a really good job. They slowed the game down. They ate up a lot of clock. That’s credit to them. They got us out of rhythm, and they kind of forced our hand a little bit by not letting us have the football.”

When Nelson ran the kick back to start the second half and tie the game at 14, it seemed as if Negaunee’s strategy was working perfectly. 

West Catholic players celebrate Friday’s win. But West Catholic’s 45 unanswered points to end the game negated all of that.

“We ran out of gas,” Negaunee coach Paul Jacobson said. “We played toe-to-toe with them for a half, Phil had a great return to start the second half. I don’t know if we woke a sleeping giant. It was a combination of that, and we kind of ran out of gas. Then they rolled that second half on us.”

The Falcons scored 31 points in the third quarter, and didn’t take up a lot of time in doing so. 

Kloska had touchdown runs of 61, 16 and 3 yards, and Varnesdeel threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a 68-yarder to Andrew McAlary. Carson Beekman added a 31-yard field goal.

Those five drives lasted a total of 4:35.

The difference between the third quarter and the first half, however, was that the West Catholic defense was getting the Negaunee offense off the field.

“Kind of our M.O. this year has been third quarters,” Grove said. “Kind of coming out with our hair on fire and taking over games. That’s what we did again today. That’s a testament to our defensive staff for making those adjustments they needed to make. Then our kids buying into those adjustments and believing in the process.”

Kloska added a 13-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, while Elliot Zainea had a 26-yard touchdown run for the Falcons.

Varnesdeel was 5-of-10 passing on the night for his 225 yards and three scores. McAlary had three catches for 121 yards, and Perry had his two for 104.

Charlie DeBruyn led the West Catholic defense with 10 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and forced a fumble.

Kai Lacar led Negaunee with 45 yards rushing, and Ty Jacobson was 7-of-12 passing for 78 yards.

“I’m just proud of these guys, the way they battled adversity,” Paul Jacobson said. “They battled a ton of different stuff this year. Just the ups and downs, they were able to stick together. We really preach a family mentality, and they stuck together through and through. I’m proud of these guys.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) West Catholic’s Carter Perry (13) gets upfield during his team’s Division 6 championship win. (Middle) The Falcons’ Danny Groskiewicz (24) and Joe Debski bring down a Negaunee ball carrier. (Below) West Catholic players celebrate Friday’s win. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)