Cass Tech Comes Back, Leaves as Champ

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 26, 2016

DETROIT – Mission accomplished.

Shortly after Nov. 28 of last year, the momentum toward an MHSAA championship began at Detroit Cass Tech. The Technicians had just lost to Romeo, 41-27, in the Division 1 Final, and the work began in the weight room for a return trip to Ford Field with the mindset that there would be a different outcome.

Rodney Hall, who did not play in the Semifinal and Final last season after suffering a severe left ankle sprain in a Regional Final, threw five touchdown passes to lead the Technicians to 49-20 victory over Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 championship game Saturday at Ford Field.

Donovan Peoples-Jones was a junior and starting receiver on the team that lost to Romeo, and he said the focus on this season began almost immediately.

“When you fall down you have to get back up,” he said. “As soon as we lost, we were heartbroken. You always come into a season wanting to win a state championship. Now that we won it, it’s a dream come true.”

Coupled with Detroit Martin Luther King’s victory in the Division 2 Final on Friday, Cass Tech’s victory marks the first time two teams from the Detroit Public School League have won MHSAA titles in the same season. Cass Tech and King each have won three championships.

The Technicians also finished their first undefeated season 14-0.

An injury also added drama to this year’s title game. Austin Brown, DCC’s sophomore quarterback, suffered a broken leg in last week’s Semifinal and was on the sideline in a wheelchair.

It’s unlikely that with Brown the outcome would have been different. Cass Tech played that well.

Hall was 10 of 18 passing for 220 yards, with one interception to go with the five scoring passes – which tied the MHSAA Finals record held by three others. Peoples-Jones had six receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Cass Tech rushed for 163 yards on 22 carries and did not punt. Hall gained 58 of those yards, on seven carries.

“I’m just excited to play out here,” Hall said. “It’s great to go out, throw five touchdowns. It was fun to play in this game.

“I came in (this season) a little timid to run. My coaches got behind and gave me confidence. I was able to run in the first game, but I was still timid.”

Cass Tech trailed 14-7 before Hall and the offense began to click.

He had a big hand in the Technicians’ second touchdown. His 7-yard run gave Cass Tech a first down at the DCC 46. On a 3rd-and-15, Hall scrambled for 27 yards, and then three plays later he threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Teone Allen to tie the score at 14-14 with 5:33 left in the half.

Less than a minute later, after a DCC punt, Donovan Johnson broke free on a counter play to the left. A number of Shamrocks defenders appeared to have an angle on Johnson, but he ran untouched for a 60-yard score.

“It meant a lot to the team,” Johnson said of the run. “It was a little hole there. I knew it was going to be open on the outside.”

Cass Tech led 21-14 at halftime and outgained DCC 211 yards to 108 by that point.

DCC was unsuccessful on an onside kick attempt to open the second half, and on the second play Hall threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Parker for a 28-14 lead.

Cass Tech scored touchdowns on its next two possessions to blow the game open.

“We planned that during the week,” DCC coach Tom Mach said of the onside kick. “We thought that was a good opportunity.

“We got it put to us pretty good today.”

DCC was making a record 17th appearance in the MHSAA Finals, after sharing the previous record of 16 with Farmington Hills Harrison.

It took the Shamrocks five seconds to score their two touchdowns. They went 73 yards in 15 plays to tie the score at 7-7 on Isaac Darkangelo’s 1-yard run. On the next play, the last of the first quarter, Jack Morris returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, and the Shamrocks led 14-7. Cass Tech then scored the next 42 points.

“We just stay focused,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said. “Everyone just stayed engaged. We knew we had to pass. We had to take advantage of what we had.”

This season, Cass Tech had a lot. Peoples-Jones is rated as the state’s top college prospect. Hall committed to Northern Illinois. Jaylen Kelly-Powell has committed to Michigan, and Johnson will take an official visit to Penn State next weekend and said he will make his decision soon between Penn State and Virginia Tech.  

Nick Capatina led DCC (13-1) with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.   

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall eludes a Detroit Catholic Central defender during Saturday's Division 1 Final. (Middle) DCC's Jack Morris sprints toward the end zone for a first-half score.

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.)