The Drive is Complete: Finals in Review

December 4, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A crowd of more than 52,000 fans – 5,000 more than in 2012 – plus countless others watching on Fox Sports Detroit witnessed the end of one era, the beginning of another and the continuation of one of the most impressive in the nation while watching the MHSAA Football Finals over the last two weekends.

Second Half covered all nine championship games, with quick recaps and links 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 2013 11 and 8-Player Finals.

Finals in Review

D1: Clarkston 32, Detroit Catholic Central 14 – Clarkston’s proud football tradition now includes its first MHSAA Finals appearance and championship, thanks in part to running back Ian Eriksen’s 237 yards and three touchdowns rushing. The Shamrocks fell in the championship game for the third straight season and despite avenging the first two losses by beating two-time reigning champion Detroit Cass Tech in the Semifinal. Click to read more.

D2: Birmingham Brother Rice 38, Muskegon 21 – The Warriors sent out longtime coach Al Fracassa with the team’s third straight MHSAA championship and first 14-0 season. Fracassa finished his career with a record of 430-117-7 at Brother Rice and Royal Oak Shrine and the most wins in Michigan football coaching history. Click to read more.

D3: Zeeland West 34, DeWitt 27 – The Dux have now won two MHSAA titles in two divisions over the last three seasons after also claiming the Division 4 championship in 2011. Zeeland West plowed to 441 yards rushing on 6.7 per carry. But to DeWitt’s credit, the Panthers didn’t let down despite an early 22-0 deficit and nearly blocked a punt late that could’ve set up a game-tying rally. Click to read more.

D4: Marine City 49, Grand Rapids South Christian 35 – In arguably the weekend’s most competitive scorefest, Marine City outlasted the reigning champion. The score was tied midway through the third quarter and South Christian pulled within seven points of the lead two minutes into the fourth. Click to read more.

D5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 27, Menominee 14 – Despite just making the playoffs at 5-4 and with a one-point win in Week 9, West Catholic marched through the postseason and beat Menominee for the fourth time in the playoffs in the last four seasons. The Falcons had finished runner-up in 2012, losing 12-9 to Portland. Click to read more.

D6: Ithaca 41, Clinton 22 – Despite trailing as late as four minutes into the third quarter, the Yellowjackets kept their reign going another season with a fourth straight MHSAA title, one short of tying the football record for consecutive championships. Ithaca also added to their 56-game winning streak, which is tied for longest in the nation for 11-player teams. Click to read more.

D7: Ishpeming 22, Detroit Loyola 12 – The highly-anticipated rematch of the 2012 Final ended with the same victor as Hematites quarterback Alex Briones led his team to the championship for the second time by a nearly identical score. Ishpeming won last season 20-14 and entered these playoffs ranked No. 1, while Loyola was No. 2. Click to read more.

D8: Muskegon Catholic Central 35, Beal City 12 – The Crusaders locked down one of the highest scoring offenses in MHSAA history while senior Alex Lewandowski turned in one of the top Finals rushing performances of all-time with 218 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. It was MCC’s first championship since 2008. Click to read more.

8-Player: Peck 67, Rapid River 32 – Peck was 1-8 in 11-player football only two seasons ago before making the switch and ascending to the top of 8-player as the latest power to emerge from the Thumb area. Usually a running team, the Pirates took advantage of size on the perimeter to rule the air against Rapid River, which finished runner-up for the second time in three seasons. Click to read more.

Records Report

A number of team and individual entries have been added to the MHSAA Football Finals record book, found by clicking here. A breakdown:

  • Clarkston’s Ian Eriksen ran for 242 yards (on 32 carries) to place eighth for most rush yards in a Final. Muskegon Catholic Central’s Alex Lewandowski ran 16 times for 218 yards, good for 16th on that list.

  • The Finals featured a number of premiere quarterbacks, but two stuck out most. Birmingham Brother Rice’s Alex Malzone tied for the sixth-most completions, 20, on just 24 attempts. His 263 passing yards ranked 12th for a Final and his four touchdown passes tied for third most. Ithaca’s Travis Smith finished with the seventh-most yards of total offense (370) – adding to a number of entries from his 2011 Finals performance – while joining the lower part of the list for most passing yards with 244. He also threw four touchdown passes.

  • DeWitt quarterback Jake Johnson joined some of his Panthers predecessors in the record listings with 289 passing yards (10th all-time) and 320 yards of total offense (11th). Grand Rapids West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell placed 13th on the total offense list with 309 yards, including 133 rushing. South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink joined a long list of those who have completed at least 18 passes, doing so for 240 yards and three TDs. And Muskegon quarterback Deshaun Thrower found teammate Justin Foster with an 86-yard TD pass, good for the fifth-longest pass play.

  • Menominee’s Devon Harris and Birmingham Brother Rice’s Corey Lacanaria tied for fifth with 10 receptions a piece, Harris for 149 yards and Lacanaria for 125. Grand Rapids South Christian’s Eric VanVoorst tied for seventh on the catches list with nine for 149 yards, and Marine City’s Pete Patsalis became one of eight who have caught a Finals-best three touchdown passes.

  • Marine City’s Olivia Viney tied the Finals record with seven extra-point kicks (see more on her below). Four other kickers made the record book list by connecting on all five of their attempts – Brother Rice’s Jason Alessi, South Christian’s Kyle Haan, Ithaca’s Alex Vanderploeg and Muskegon Catholic Central’s Griffin Seymour.

  • Marine City’s Jarrett Mathison ran for the fourth-longest kickoff return, 91 yards for a touchdown. Clinton’s Mathew Sexton ran for the second-longest punt return, 86 yards for a score.

  • Marine City’s 49 points were good to tie for sixth-most by a team in Finals history.

  • Zeeland West’s offense tied for the fourth-most first downs with 26 and became the 19th team to not punt in a championship game. West’s 66 rush attempts were the second-most in a Final. Brother Rice tied for seventh with 24 first downs and Clarkston tied for ninth with 23.

  • Detroit Catholic Central tied Farmington Hills Harrison for the most championship game appearances, with 16; the Shamrocks have won 10 titles. Brother Rice tied for third with 13 Finals berths and moved to sixth with nine championships – plus became one of six to win at least three straight. Muskegon moved up to tied for 12 with seven Finals appearances, Muskegon Catholic tied for sixth with 12 and South Christian is tied for 14th with six Finals appearances. DeWitt and Ishpeming both joined the lower end of that list, each notching their fifth. Ithaca is now tied for third on the list of consecutive titles with four straight, only one off tying that record. MCC also tied for sixth on the championship list by winning its ninth.

  • A number of entries also were added to 8-Player Finals record book, which although in its infancy boasts some of the most impressive totals for either football format. Peck quarterback Tristen Haener was added for his 379 yards and seven touchdowns passing, plus his 382 total yards and five extra-point kicks. Teammate Kyle Abrego was added for his 236 yards and four touchdowns receiving, with all four of those coming in the third quarter. Rapid River quarterback Jake Pearson was added for scoring 26 points in the game as both teams combined for 99. A number of team totals reflecting some of the same categories also were added.

Stories behind the scores

Ready for a rematch: There were two from the 2012 Finals, and both ended the same way in 2013. Brother Rice repeated against Muskegon in Division 2 with many of the same players as stood out a year ago, and Ishpeming repeated against Detroit Loyola in Division 7 with a number of new faces make big contributions.

7 for 7: Marine City’s Olivia Viney was believed to be the first female athlete to play in an MHSAA football championship game, and she put up a performance that will live on in the MHSAA record book. Viney connected on all seven of her extra-point kicks, tying the MHSAA Finals record. Viney earned a Division 3 all-state honorable mention this spring on Marine City’s girls soccer team.

Good bye, Coach: Longtime Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa retired after the game with the most wins in MHSAA history and sixth-most nationally. He coached at Royal Oak Shrine from 1960-68 before taking over the Warriors in 1969.

Ithaca reigns on: The national winning streak and four straight titles are detailed a little bit above, and next season the Yellowjackets can tie East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison with a fifth straight MHSAA title. Quarterback Travis Smith was the only Ithaca player to dress for all four championships, and his brother Jacob is set to take over behind center next fall.

We are the champions: Clarkston has been in the conversation on Division 1 contenders for at least the last 14 seasons, and the Wolves brought home their first title after advancing from the Semifinals for the first time in four tries. They have won at least 10 games six times beginning in 1999 and are 24-2 over the last two seasons.  

Remembering David: Although Detroit Catholic Central’s third straight loss in the Division 1 Final was heart-wrenching for the Shamrocks, their student body pulled off an awesome tribute. David Widzinski was a running back on the team last season and died in his sleep a year ago. DCC’s students, wearing blue and white shirts, created his No. 33 in the Ford Field stands, memorializing him as his jersey hung from the front railing of the section.

PHOTOS: (Top) Nine champions celebrated MHSAA titles over the last two weekends. (Middle top) Clarkston players march off the Ford Field turf celebrating their first MHSAA football championship. (Middle) Ithaca, from right, works against the Clinton defense in the Division 6 Final. (Below) Detroit Catholic Central students, in blue and white shirts, form a No. 33 to commemorate their deceased classmate (Click to see more like the middle photos on the MHSAA Instagram page.)

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.)