Cass City Chases History in Rematch

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 8, 2019

Sandyn Cuthrell and his Cass City teammates have a simple way to make sure they are properly prepared for each game – treat every week like it’s Laker week.

As they prepare for their District Final, the Red Hawks won’t have to pretend, as for the second time this season, it’s actually Laker week. 

The Red Hawks will host archrival Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker at 7 p.m. Friday for the Division 7 Region 4, District 1 championship. The winner will advance to the Regional Final against either Madison Heights Madison or Detroit Loyola.

The win-or-go-home nature of the postseason adds more to this rivalry game, but it’s also a chance at some program firsts for the Red Hawks. A win would give them their first ever District championship and first ever 10-win season.

“This one, it’s probably the biggest game in Cass City history,” said Cuthrell, a four-year starter at quarterback for the Red Hawks.  “We’re not going to let it be ruined.”

Plenty is on the line, but what the Red Hawks have accomplished to this point already puts them among the best teams in school history. 

Cass City won nine straight games after a season-opening 16-14 loss against Montrose – a team that is still alive in the Division 6 playoffs – and won the Greater Thumb Conference West for the second straight season. 

It has also allowed 50 points. Total. All season.

“We’re not like huge; we’re all just super fast,” said Cuthrell, who also plays defensive back. “All these years building up to this year, we’ve been really heavy on the weight room every year. We’re all not huge guys, but we’re all really quick and fast. We can swarm to the ball, and there’s not a lot of big plays that can happen when the defensive backs are quicker than the receivers.”

Outside of the Montrose game, the Red Hawks haven’t allowed more than eight points in a game this season and had four shutouts. During six conference games, they allowed a total of 22 points. It’s the program’s best defensive performance since the 1950s.

“Coach does a really good job preparing us throughout the week,” junior running back and linebacker Alex Perry said. “We’ve been able to communicate with each other really well. The line gets a good push, so the linebackers can come in and clean it up. And the defensive backs shut down the pass.”

The offense has done its fair share, as well, averaging 40.1 points per game despite scoring just 14 in Week 1. So, while the defense’s numbers are eye-popping, most of the season has seen the Red Hawks be dominant in all phases.

“When you coach this long, hopefully you come across a team that gels really well, and that’s what happened this year,” Cass City coach Scott Cuthrell said. “We have a good group of kids, and they all get along really well on and off the field, and they all have a common goal. This is a group of kids that I’ve enjoyed going to coach every night.”

Players vouch for the camaraderie on and off the field and cited that as a main reason this year’s team has been special and capable of doing what no team at Cass City has ever done. 

“We’re more than a team. We hang out all the time,” Perry said. “This year, we just flow and really mesh together.”

Perhaps at no time this season did the Red Hawks mesh together as well as they did the first time they lined up against Laker. A 51-0 win in Week 4 marked the second-straight year Cass City had defeated its rival, but prior to the 2018 win, Laker had won nine straight in the series. 

“Last season’s win meant a lot to us,” senior halfback and cornerback Hadyn Horne said. “We’re 10 minutes apart, and it’s just a battle for our area. It’s always been a really big game around here, probably the biggest game in the Greater Thumb Conference. We know in the playoffs it’s pretty much like coming in with a 0-0 record. They’re going to be a lot better than what they were when we played them the first time. Obviously we beat them bad last time, but it’s all about who wants it more.”

The two teams have met twice in a District Final (2014 and 2017). Some of the current players were on the field for the 2017 loss, including Sandyn Cuthrell, who said it was “like getting stabbed in the heart.”

Not wanting to have that feeling again is quite the motivation, but so is making program history.

“That would mean a lot,” Horne said. “I think down the road, I’ll look back at that and know, ‘That was our team that did that.’”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cass City defenders including Alex Perry (44) pursue the Laker quarterback during this season’s first game against their rival. (Middle) Sandyn Cuthrell (6) breaks through the line for the Red Hawks. (Photos courtesy of the Cass City athletic department.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)