Drive Complete: 2017 Finals in Review

November 27, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

Every November, the MHSAA Football Finals give players, coaches and fans an opportunity to see what everyone else has been talking about.

These last two weekends were no different. We saw powers restored and others emerging. We witnessed two first-time winners finish perfect seasons and another champion win for the fifth straight year. We enjoyed performances from some of the talented stars we’d only read about, and encores by others returning to the championship round – including the now-winningest coach in Michigan high school history.

Second Half covered all 10 championship games last weekend at Ford Field and two weekends ago at the Superior Dome, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2017 Finals.

Finals in Review

11-Player Division 1: Clarkston 3, West Bloomfield 2

This one had an intriguing circumstance from the start: West Bloomfield, playing its first Final, had tied for first and Clarkston finished third in the Oakland Activities Association Red during the regular season with the Lakers beating the Wolves 37-16 in Week 4. The rematch ended with the second fewest points scored in MHSAA Finals history.

11-Player Division 2: Warren DeLaSalle 41, Livonia Franklin 6

DeLaSalle took its lead 16 seconds into the game on a fumble return touchdown and never slowed down in winning its second championship in four seasons. Franklin, playing in its first title game since 1975, had turnovers on three of its first four possessions (and a turnover on downs to end the other one) and never got rolling again.

11-Player Division 3: Muskegon 28, Farmington Hills Harrison 10

Muskegon won its first championship since 2008 after finishing runner-up four of the last five seasons. The Big Reds finished one of the most impressive runs in recent playoff history, winning on average by 37 points over its five postseason victories. Harrison – led by all-time winningest coach John Herrington – did give Muskegon one of its toughest tests.

11-Player Division 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Edwardsburg 31

After winning a 2016 Division 4 title game that saw only 17 points scored between the two teams, GRCC repeated in a game featuring 73. The Cougars came back from an early deficit as standout running back Nolan Fugate put together one of the top rushing performances in Finals history. The Eddies were playing in their first championship game and made this arguably the most entertaining of the weekend.

11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 34, Saginaw Swan Valley 7

Grand Rapids West Catholic tied two more programs by winning its fifth straight MHSAA championship, jumping out to a 34-0 lead led by three-year quarterback Gaetano Vallone and a number of others who have contributed to multiple titles. Swan Valley was making its first Finals appearance, but will be a strong candidate to return next fall.

11-Player Division 6: Jackson Lumen Christi 40, Ithaca 34

What was expected to be one of the most competitive Finals didn’t disappoint, as the Titans came back from a 13-8 halftime deficit to repeat. They put up some of the biggest rushing numbers in championship game history to offset the dual danger posed by Ithaca quarterback Joey Bentley, who threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Yellowjackets worked for a chance to win.

11-Player Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia 21, Saugatuck 0

These teams met in the playoffs for the third straight season but first in a championship game. P-W, despite losing quarterback/defensive end Jimmy Lehman to a hand injury near the end of the second quarter, hung on through a scoreless second half to repeat as champion.

11-Player Division 8: Ottawa Lake Whiteford 42, Saginaw Nouvel 21

Whiteford returned after finishing runner-up in 2016 to claim its first MHSAA football championship. The Bobcats got on the board before the first minute was over and totaled 484 yards as quarterback Thomas Eitniear and running back Logan Murphy both ran for three touchdowns.

8-Player Division 1: Central Lake 32, Deckerville 30

Central Lake came back from 2-7 last season, its last in 11-player, and 10 points down during the second half of this game to win its first MHSAA football championship and first in any sport since 1980. The Trojans went ahead to stay with 2:49 to play.

8-Player Division 2: Crystal Falls Forest Park 54, Portland St. Patrick 12

The Trojans claimed their first championship since 2007 and first as an 8-player program, but in similar style as their 11-player winners. Forest Park ran for 481 yards and built a 30-point lead by halftime.

Record Report

Clarkston’s three points against West Bloomfield tied the record for fewest by a winning team (with Ann Arbor Pioneer’s 1987 team) and the five points scored between the teams ranked as the second fewest for a Final. The two also combined to tie the record for most punts, with 14, with Clarkston’s Jermaine Roemer tying the individual Finals record with eight.

Brandan Madigan made the “quickest touchdown” list by returning a fumble return 13 yards for a touchdown 16 seconds into Warren DeLaSalle’s Division 2 win. Warren DeLaSalle also tied for the third-most points in a quarter, putting up 31 during the second in its win over Livonia Franklin.

Warren DeLaSalle’s Riley Garrison and Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Liam Putz both drilled two field goals, joining seven others who have done the same (two hold the record at three field goals). Garrison also made the extra points list with five on five tries.

Farmington Hills Harrison broke the record it previously held with Detroit Catholic Central by playing in an 18th MHSAA championship game, this its first since 2010. The MHSAA Football Playoffs began in 1975.

Muskegon sits 11th with 10 MHSAA Finals appearances and moved up to tied for 10th with six championships. La’Darius Jefferson earned multiple entries with his 245 yards and four touchdowns rushing, tying for fourth-most points (24) in one Final, third most total touchdowns and also rushing touchdowns in a game and eighth most rushing yards.

Harrison’s Ben Williams earned entries for his 91-yard opening kickoff touchdown, both among the longest kickoff returns and fastest touchdowns (16 seconds into the game) scored in a Final.

Nolan Fugate capped his career with one more jaw-dropping rushing performance. The Grand Rapids Catholic Central running back ran for 306 yards, one shy of tying the Finals record, and his 392 total yards ranked seventh all-time. He did tie Finals records with five touchdowns and 30 points and tied for third with four rushing scores. Kicker Alec Winden tied for the fourth-most extra points making all six of his tries.

Edwardsburg also took home two Finals records, as Nick Bradley tied the longest running play with a 90-yard touchdown dash; his run equaled Nick Williams’ for Farmington Hills Harrison in 1994. Caden Goggins tied the 2014 record set by Tommy Scott of Muskegon Catholic Central by bringing a kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown.

Grand Rapids West Catholic moved up lists with its eighth MHSAA Finals appearance and sixth championship, and into a first-place tie with a fifth-straight title. Farmington Hills Harrison 1997-2001 and East Grand Rapids 2006-2010 also won five consecutive Finals. Grand Rapids Catholic Central also moved up the Finals appearances list with its seventh, while Jackson Lumen Christi is tied for eighth most with 12 and Ithaca added its seventh as well. Lumen Christi’s championship was its 10th, good to tie for the sixth-most titles.

Jackson Lumen Christi became the third team to rush for more than 500 yards in a Final, its 514 yards the third most and its 67 carries second. Sebastion Toland ran for 244 yards – ninth-most by one player – and teammate Kyle Minder made that list with 206 yards. The team’s 523 yards of total offense tied for fifth most, and its 24 first downs tied for eighth.

Ithaca’s Joey Bentley made his last game another great one, even in defeat. His four touchdown passes tied for fifth-most in a championship game, and his 329 total yards of offense – 89 rushing, 240 passing – also earned a record book entry.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s offense impressed to open Finals weekend, tying for third with six rushing touchdowns and becoming the latest of 24 teams that did not punt in a championship game.

Crystal Falls Forest Park set an 8-Player Finals record with 481 yards on the ground, rushing 52 times without throwing a pass. Peter Ropiak had the second-most yards in one game, 275 on 16 carries, while backfield mate Connor Bortolini was added for scoring 26 points on four rushing touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Ropiak’s total yards also qualified in the total offense category, and the team’s eight rushing touchdowns also set a record.

Central Lake made the rushing list with 316 yards in its 8-Player Division 1 win over Deckerville, and also the first downs list with 21.

Portland St. Patrick’s Colin Cook was added for seven punts in the 8-Player Division 2 game against Forest Park. Cook averaged 34.1 yards per punt with a long of 63.

Stories behind the scores

Repeat again: For the second straight season, there were four repeat champions at the 11-Player Finals – this time, as noted above, Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Division 4, Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5, Jackson Lumen Christi in Division 6 and Pewamo-Westphalia in Division 7. Also noted above, West Catholic next fall will attempt to become the first team in MHSAA football history to win six straight titles.

First-time celebrations: Ottawa Lake Whiteford in 11-Player Division 8 and Central Lake in 8-Player Division 1 claimed their first championships, showing off powerful running games against opponents who had won championships previously – Whiteford over Saginaw Nouvel and Central Lake over Deckerville.

Running ran the day(s): In an era of wide-open spread offenses, power running ruled the 2017 Finals. Start with Whiteford and Central Lake mentioned above; Crystal Falls Forest Park set an 8-Player Finals record for rushing while Jackson Lumen Christi put rushers on the all-time record book list for the second straight season. Muskegon threw two passes and didn’t complete any in running away in Division 3, and the Division 4 Final between GRCC and Edwardsburg featured a combined 675 rushing yards.

We may never see this again: Clarkston’s 3-2 win over West Bloomfield was the lowest-scoring Final in 30 years, but how the teams got to five total points might end up rarer. Clarkston’s points, of course, came on a field goal by Roemer from 30 yards out on the final play of the second quarter. But to that point, West Bloomfield led for 15 minutes thanks to a safety when a punt snap sailed through the end zone. For unrelated comparison’s sake, two of our four Baseball Finals in the spring were higher scoring, and only one was decided by the same close margin.

Hawks’ last stand: Farmington Hills Harrison finished something of an unexpected run by playing in its 18th MHSAA football championship game, capping the season that saw Herrington become the winningest coach in state history with a 435-108-1 record. The school will close in spring 2019, and Herrington will coach the final season next fall; he has served as coach since the school opened in 1970. Harrison’s enrollment likely will fall without the usual underclassmen next year – which could make the Hawks an interesting contender staying in Division 3 or moving into Division 4 or 5.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

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.)