Big Plays, Crucial Stops Drive Lansing Catholic to Latest Finals Fame
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
November 26, 2021
DETROIT – The Lansing Catholic defense spent the postseason nearing its peak performance.
In Friday’s MHSAA Division 6 Football Final, the Cougars reached it.
They forced five turnovers and shut down a powerful Warren Michigan Collegiate run game on their way to a 16-6 victory at Ford Field.
“Our defense is just something special. It’s a true brotherhood,” Lansing Catholic senior linebacker Mason Knippen said. “We just really started clicking as the playoffs started. Going into the season, we wanted to be a physical defense. We preached that through camp, and I think we really stepped that up as we progressed through the playoffs. We really were physical with the run and everything.”
The title was the third for Lansing Catholic (13-1), and second in three years, as it won Division 5 in 2019.
“It’s awful special, but credit (former coach) Jim Ahern for bringing in this system, and credit these guys – these guys are all like my sons,” said first-year Lansing Catholic coach Jim Baker, whose son Joey was the team's starting quarterback. “I’ve coached them since basically kindergarten, and they’re all my sons. It’s just that (Joey) happened to be the quarterback, but I love all these guys to death. It’s special just to be the head coach of these unbelievable men.”
To win title No. 3, Lansing Catholic needed to hold off a suddenly explosive Michigan Collegiate passing game in the fourth quarter, and it did so with big plays of its own. Four of the final five Michigan Collegiate drives ended with a turnover, as Brandon Lewis, Dan Shipman and Knippen each had an interception, and Jack Jacobs forced and recovered a fumble. Knippen’s interception sealed the victory with 1:36 remaining in the game.
Lansing Catholic gave up only 40 points, or eight per game, during its playoff run.
Neither team could get much going for much of the first half, and for Lansing Catholic that meant some great field position going to waste. Lansing Catholic started four of its first five drives in Collegiate territory, but didn’t get on the board until Jonah Richards hit a 20-yard field goal with 4:58 to play in the second quarter.
“I’m so proud of (the defense). They played so hard,” Michigan Collegiate coach John Guth said. “They were out there a long time. We were trying to give certain individuals some breathers, but they were just really grinding it out. They knew what they had in front of them, they knew how explosive they were, but, man, they played so good. They kept us in the game.”
The offense started clicking for Lansing Catholic on its next possession, as it drove 72 yards on eight plays in just 1:18 to take a 9-0 halftime lead, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Joey Baker to Owen Biergans.
Michigan Collegiate (11-3) had a much tougher time of it, recording two first downs and 53 yards of offense in the first half despite holding a slight edge in time of possession.
Lansing Catholic extended its lead to 16-0 late in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run from Baker, and it was the defense that had a big hand in that one, as well. The drive started on the Michigan Collegiate 27-yard line after an interception and return by Shipman.
Based on the tenor of the game up until then, 16 points seemed like enough, but the Michigan Collegiate offense found some life on the ensuing drive thanks to some big plays in the pass game. That included a 37-yard touchdown pass from Deion Black to Trevon Redding in which Redding caught the ball between a pair of Lansing Catholic defenders, and lunged into the end zone with one on his back. The two-point attempt failed, leaving it a two-score game at 16-6, but the 80-yard drive more than doubled the Michigan Collegiate total yardage up to that point.
Black finished with 220 yards on 10 of 26 passing. Redding led the receivers with four catches for 97 yards. Alfonso Gray III had a pair of interceptions for the Michigan Collegiate defense, while Black, Elijah Bush and Teshawn Thomas each had nine tackles.
Biergans led the Lansing Catholic defense with 11, while Knippen had eight. Baker finished with 181 yards on 17 of 39 passing. Senior Alex Watters caught six passes for 78 yards, and Biergans caught seven for 69.
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its second championship in three seasons Friday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Cougars’ Brandon Lewis (24) cuts upfield as Michigan Collegiate’s Alfonso Gray III (3) gets in position to make contact. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
Last 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)