Division 7 Football Final: Blue Streak
November 26, 2011
DETROIT – Only a few drives into the MHSAA Division 7 Final, Bennett Lewis came to Saginaw Nouvel coach Mike Boyd with a request.
Give me the ball until Pewamo-Westphalia stops me.
Never happened. The senior running back ran for five touchdowns, and his Panthers scored 56 points – both to set or tie MHSAA Finals records.
And both were accomplished over just two quarters as Nouvel cruised to a 56-26 win and its third football championship.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of my teammates, especially the offensive line. We’ve been playing together a long time and they really executed in the first half,” Lewis said. “Their defense is one of the defenses we can run our offense against really well. We just executed and made big plays. ”
This championship goes with Nouvel’s back-to-back Division 6 titles in 2006 and 2007, and the Panthers finished 13-0 to match their perfect record in 2006. Pewamo-Westphalia made its first appearance in an MHSAA Football Final and finished 13-1.
The Panthers had scored 63 and 62 points, respectively, during the first two rounds of the postseason. And as Boyd said after, he had an offense built for speedy strikes – especially at an inside venue like Ford Field.
Nouvel blew past the previous MHSAA Finals record of 42 points in one half set by both Farmington Hills Harrison in 2000 and Jackson Lumen Christi in 2001.
“Maybe our third drive, Bennett came off the field and came right up to me and said, ‘I want the football. Until they stop me, give me the football,’” Nouvel coach Mike Boyd said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’
“Great competitors, great leaders. Just a great group.”
Lewis, the Associated Press’ Division 7-8 Player of the Year this fall, ran 15 times for 200 yards – all in the first half – to push his season rushing total to 2,077. The five touchdowns gave him 36 rushing for the fall. Senior quarterback Joseph Buchalski was 7 for 10 passing for 196 yards and three scores. He also ran five times for 50 yards – again, all in the first half.
“That’s the best team I’ve ever played. The fastest. (And) I don’t hesitate to say Bennett Lewis is the best player I’ve ever played,” P-W senior quarterback/cornerback Justin Thelen said. “We fought, and I’m proud of that. But they had us on our heels right away.”
Thelen was 10 for 21 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Alex Thelen ran 16 times for 77 yards and a score. It was a tough end to a courageous run by the Pirates, who suffered through the death of classmate and baseball teammate Brendon Nurenberg in a car crash earlier this month, but battled through with his memory an additional motivator.
“He was just a fun guy. The guys loved being around him. And the guys rallied around that,” P-W coach Brad Weber said. “They did it for Brendon for the most part. They knew he would have fun, so they did too.”
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.)