Dow Charged to Make Deep Playoff Run

November 10, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

MIDLAND — When Midland Dow football players looked at the playoff accomplishments of past Chargers teams, it felt like they were getting a lesson in ancient history.

There was the 1976 team that won the MHSAA Class A championship back when there were only two rounds in the playoffs. There was the 1997 squad that reached the Class A title game, winning three times in the postseason before losing to Farmington Hills Harrison at the Pontiac Silverdome.

And that's it.

For a program as consistently solid as Dow, it seems strange that only two teams in school history were able to win more than one playoff game.

"Sometimes it's matchups, sometimes it's getting a couple breaks to go your way," Dow coach Jason Watkins said. "When you get to this round of the playoffs, all the teams are going to be good."

So far, none of the teams in their path have been better than the Chargers.

They have made a task that has been difficult for past Dow teams look easy, winning 42-7 over crosstown rival Midland in the first round before beating Fenton, 41-14, in the District championship game.

"It's a big win for the development of the program," Watkins said after eliminating Fenton for the second time in three years. "Since 2010, this is our fourth trip to this round; we came away empty each time. It's nice to be able to finish that and get that District championship. It's a good landmark for us. Let's try to grow the program."

The 10th-ranked Chargers (10-1) will travel to second-ranked Walled Lake Western (11-0) on Saturday to play for the Regional championship.

"It's awesome," Dow junior quarterback Bruce Mann said. "We're gonna be on the board for a long time. People are going to be able to see us and remember us."

It hasn't been a lack of opportunities that has made this season's achievement so rare for Dow. Beginning with the unbeaten 1976 MHSAA championship team, Dow has 30 winning seasons in the last 40. The Chargers have made the playoffs nine times in the last 19 years.

They won their playoff opener each of the past two years and in three of the previous five years, but had their seasons end in the second round.

"It feels great," Dow senior receiver Justin Cook said. "I've been on two losing teams in the District Finals the past two years. The third time's the charm, I guess. It feels really good to finally get the (second-round) win. We're clicking at the right time. We're getting better each week."

Those currently wearing the green and gold of Dow are mindful of those who went before them, laying the foundation for such a strong program.

"It's huge for everyone that is involved, all of the past classes who didn't make it this far or got beat at this step," senior receiver Mike Robb said. "It's a big deal."

The season didn't begin like one that was shaping up to be special. The Chargers lost their opener to Mount Pleasant, 34-20. Not that there's any shame in that — the Oilers are 9-2 and still alive in Division 3.

In that game, Mann had only 26 yards of offense in the first half, as Dow fell behind 21-0 by halftime. He had 281 yards in the second half — and hasn't slowed up since.

It was Mann's first game in a Dow uniform after playing varsity as a freshman and sophomore for Bay City Western, where his dad, also Bruce Mann, formerly was the coach.

Led by Mann, the Chargers have scored at least 41 points in each of the last five games. Over that span, he is 81 for 109 (74.3 percent) passing for 1,451 yards and 24 touchdowns. For the season, he has 35 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in leading Dow to 10 consecutive victories.

"Coming into Dow, I had a bunch of friends, so it didn't take long to jell," Mann said. "It was just me calming down and realizing I'm not the only player and I have 10 other teammates behind me helping me succeed."

Mann has spread the wealth, throwing 11 touchdown passes to Robb, and nine apiece to Cook and Devontae Stine.

"Bruce has been picking up the offense each week," Cook said. "He's playing out of his mind. Every week, he's getting better. You can tell by the way he plays. He doesn't turn the ball over anymore."

Robb, the team's most dangerous receiving weapon, has become a dual threat in recent weeks.

Watkins moved him to defense for the regular-season finale against Midland. In that game, Robb returned an interception for a touchdown, in addition to catching four touchdown passes. In the playoff rematch a week later, Robb had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Robb's hot streak continued against Fenton, as he caught two touchdown passes, blocked a punt and grabbed his fourth interception in three games.

"Right time, right place," Robb said of his newfound knack for picking off passes. "I love playing football. Wherever coach wants to put me, that's where I'll play."

"He's always been a special teams and offensive player for us," Watkins said. "We only moved him up to defense two weeks ago. It's something we saw in the scheme of things and the teams we were playing against. There was an opportunity to use his athleticism and some of his natural instincts. He's been on a pretty good little run the last couple weeks."

The same could be said for the Chargers as a whole, as they attempt to further enhance their legacy.

Years from now, perhaps 2015 will be spoken of with the same sense of awe as 1976 and 1997.

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. 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) A collection of Dow defenders makes a tackle during a win this season against Flint Powers Catholic. (Middle) Chargers quarterback Bruce Mann has thrown 35 touchdown passes this fall. (Click for more from

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.)