Division 6 Final: Play it Again, Yellowjackets

November 29, 2011

DETROIT – So began the legacy of Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith.

And so continues an incredible run by one of Michigan’s newest football powerhouses.

The Yellowjackets pushed their winning streak to 28 and claimed their second straight MHSAA championship by downing Constantine 42-14 in Friday's Division 6 Final.

They did so led by a number of last season’s top players, but minus their 2010 Final star. That’s where the sophomore Smith came in, joining the starting lineup in the season’s second week and bringing Ithaca back to Ford Field for another title.

“It’s more special just because this is the last time to suit up for most of us. We’re not going to be able to play another game next year, and we get to end on the biggest stage high school football has to offer in Michigan,” Ithaca senior linebacker/running back Garrett Miniard said. 

“I think it was almost a little jealousy of the seniors last year of being able do that, being able to go out on top. I think that kept us going throughout the season, throughout the offseason. Being able to have that luxury of going out on top just like they did.

Ithaca (14-0) hasn’t lost since its 2009 Semifinal against Montague. With two more wins to start next fall, the Yellowjackets can become the 14th team on the MHSAA record book list with at least 30 straight victories.

And Smith should be there to lead the way. He connected on 18 of 25 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown Friday, and ran for 43 yards and a score. Miniard rushed for 43 yards and two touchdowns, and had 14 tackles. And senior David Brown caught six passes for 122 yards and also ran for a score.

Smith followed the path this fall of another former sophomore starter at his position – Alex Niznak, who graduated in the spring, plays at Central Michigan now, but didn’t leave before leading the Yellowjackets to both their first Semifinal berth and MHSAA championship over the last two seasons. Niznak’s title game performance last season included 251 yards passing, 138 rushing and an MHSAA Finals-record five touchdowns running the ball.

Brown originally took over at quarterback this fall. But he was injured on opening night – after running for three touchdowns against Williamston – and missed significant time, allowing Smith to take hold of the offense. Smith finished his first varsity season with a not-too-shabby 2,310 passing yards, 969 rushing yards, and a combined 48 touchdowns throwing or running.

“Coach (Terry) Hessbrook told me to just go in there and do what I can do, and just play football,” Smith said. “I’ve got so many good athletes around me. I just need to get my players the ball and let them do what they can do.”

Ithaca twice had catching up to do in the Final, with Constantine (11-3) scoring first and then taking a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter – before the Yellowjackets rolled to 35 unanswered points.

“These kids had this goal since last year … of getting back here,” Hessbrook said. “We didn’t want Ithaca football to just be one and done, or a one-year wonder. And they’ve worked really hard.”

Constantine junior Ben Mallo did run 17 times for 189 yards and both scores. But the Falcons were without quarterback Tommy Reed, who was injured during last week’s Semifinal win over Ecorse. They played Ithaca to a 14-14 halftime tie before the Yellowjackets’ offense broke the game open.

“We’ve played offenses with that type of talent. Last week, for instance. And I’m sure Coach Hessbrook watched those films and saw some things he could do against us," Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. "It’s a lot different than what we do, and you saw we caused them a little bit of problems early in the game as well. We do our thing, they do theirs. They do their thing very well. We did ours well. We just weren’t quite there on a couple drives that ended short.”

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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.)