Drive Completed: 2014 Finals in Review

December 1, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A total of 56,303 fans attended this weekend’s 11-player Football Finals at Ford Field, the most to watch the event live since 2010 and more than 9,000 more fans than only two years ago.

They witnessed five games decided by 10 points or fewer. Four games where the eventual winner was not the first to score. Three repeat champions, but also a first-time winner and the ends of two of the longest winning streaks in MHSAA history.

Second Half covered all nine championship games including the 8-player Final on Nov. 21, 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 2014 Finals.

Finals in Review

D1: Clarkston 33, Saline 25

The Wolves took over as holders of the longest MHSAA winning streak at 27 straight after claiming a second consecutive Division 1 championship. Junior running back Nolan Eriksen followed up the starring 2013 Finals performance of his brother Ian with 28 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Saline finished 12-2 in making its first MHSAA championship game. Click to read more.

D2: Warren DeLaSalle 44, Muskegon Mona Shores 8

DeLaSalle came back from a 3-3 start to this season to win its first MHSAA championship. The Pilots shut down a Mona Shores offense averaging 39.5 points per game and got plenty of offensive boost from sophomore running back Allen Stritzinger, who ran for 175 yards and a touchdown. Mona Shores made its first championship game appearance after making the playoffs in 2013 for the first time. Click to read more.

D3: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 7, Muskegon 0

This final game of the weekend was decided by one touchdown – scored by a player courageously carrying on only two days after his mother’s death. Brandon Adams scored the deciding points on a first-quarter run; his mother Katie died Thursday after fighting lung cancer. The Eaglets returned to the playoffs after missing in 2013; Muskegon finished MHSAA runner-up for the third straight season after falling to Birmingham Brother Rice in the Division 2 Finals in 2013 and 2012. Click to read more.

D4: Grand Rapids South Christian 28, Lansing Sexton 27

Sailors quarterback Jon Wassink capped his career and the team’s third straight trip to Ford Field with a second title over those three seasons. He threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 122 yards and another score, and South Christian’s defense hung on late as Sexton made a pair of last attempts at the lead in its first MHSAA championship game appearance. Click to read more.

D5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 24, Lansing Catholic 20

West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell led a 17-play, 64-yard drive over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to bring the Falcons back to win their second straight MHSAA title and finish the season perfect for the first time since 1976. West Catholic opened with 17 straight points before Lansing Catholic took the lead with 7:38 to play. Click to read more.

D6: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 22, Ithaca 12

The Falcons put an end to Ithaca’s national-best 69-game winning streak, adding some heavier impact to the team’s first MHSAA title since 1991. The Yellowjackets actually had defeated St. Mary in 2010 for their first of four straight championships, and fell just four wins shy of breaking the MHSAA record for consecutive football victories, held by Hudson. Click to read more.

D7: Detroit Loyola 29, Ishpeming 8

In the third straight Division 7 Final meeting between these two, Loyola won its first title and finished 14-0 thanks to 29 unanswered points and 297 yards rushing. Ishpeming had won 33 straight games, tied for the eighth-longest streak in MHSAA football history. Click to read more.

D8: Muskegon Catholic Central 31, Munising 6

The Crusaders became the first repeat champions in Division 8, running away after Munising scored the game’s first points. MCC had never trailed this season, but got three second-half touchdowns from senior Tommy Scott and held Munising to only 39 yards on the ground. Click to read more.

8-Player: Lawrence 56, Cedarville 12

Lawrence completed a turnaround from 1-17 over its final two seasons of 11-player in 2011 and 2012 to 8-player champion keyed by senior quarterback Derek Gribler and a speedy defense that locked down Cedarville, which also made its first 8-player Final appearance. Lawrence became the first program to win both 11 and 8-player championships. 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:

  • Warren DeLaSalle kicker Jake Townsley tied his career long field goal of 41 yards and set an MHSAA Finals record with three total, also making from 23 and 29 yards out. He also made the listing for connecting on all five of his extra-point attempts.

  • DeLaSalle also became the 20th team to play in a Final and not punt in the game.

  • Also in Division 2, Muskegon Mona Shores’ Darece Roberson caught what tied for the fifth-most receptions in a Final, 10.

  • Muskegon Catholic Central’s Tommy Scott set the record for longest Finals kickoff return, bringing one back 99 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Division 8 game against Munising. He also became the latest in a long list to score at least four touchdowns in a championship game, running for three more.

  • Detroit Loyola’s Marvin Campbell also joined that list of players with at least four TDs in a Final, running for four in his team’s Division 7 victory over Ishpeming. His 215 rushing yards on 21 attempts made the championship game rushing list.

  • Four quarterbacks joined the total offense list: Saline’s Josh Jackson with 319 yards – 82 rushing and 237 passing – against Clarkston in Division 1, Grand Rapids South Christian’s Jon Wassink with 312 yards – 122 rushing and 179 passing – in Division 4, and Lansing Catholic’s Tony Poljan (60 rush, 269 pass = 329) and Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Travis Russell (134, 203 = 327) in Division 5. Poljan’s 269 passing yards also made that list, and his 24 completions were fourth most for a Final.

  • Muskegon Catholic Central became the sixth program in MHSAA history to play in 13 football championship games, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s became one of nine to play in 12. Muskegon played in its eighth Final, South Christian in its seventh, Ishpeming and Monroe St. Mary in their sixth each, and West Catholic and Ithaca in their fifth each. Muskegon Catholic Central also became one of six with 10 MHSAA titles, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s won its sixth.

  • Lawrence quarterback Derek Gribler made the 8-player total offense list with 359 yards – 256 passing and 103 rushing. Lawrence as a team became the first to be listed for rushing offense – 341 yards – and set the 8-player Final record with 597 total yards and 23 first downs. Lawrence also made the most points in a quarter list with 28 in the first against Cedarville.

Stories behind the scores

End of an era: Ithaca’s winning streak began on opening night 2010 and just this month included a fourth-quarter comeback victory over Madison Heights Madison in the Regional Final and a near-goalline stand late against Boyne City in the Semifinal. The Yellowjackets’ magic ran out against Monroe St. Mary, but the streak will be remembered for years to come. Although Ithaca fell short of breaking the MHSAA football consecutive wins record, it did set a record for most in a row during the playoff era; Hudson’s 72-game winning streak ended in 1975 and included only one playoff win as that was the first season with an MHSAA tournament in the sport.

Repeat by 3: Clarkston in Division 1, Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5 and Muskegon Catholic Central in Division 8 all repeated after winning 2013 championships. Although MCC became the first repeat champ in Division 8, winning back-to-back has become relatively common during the 16-season division era. There have been 25 repeat champions winning back-to-back in the same division since 2000, the first season a team could accomplish the feat.  

QB Power: As explained above, four quarterbacks were added to the MHSAA Finals records listing for most total yards in a championship game. Two of those signal-callers – Saline’s Jackson and Lansing Catholic’s Poljan – are juniors expected to lead teams next season with good chances of returning to Ford Field.

Loyola Wins Round 3: With a group of players who also were standouts in the first two matchups, Loyola claimed its first MHSAA football title by defeating Ishpeming in their third straight face-off in Division 7. Bulldogs senior linebackers Paul Engram and Darryl Clemons had been their team’s leading tacklers in the 2012 loss and two of the top three last season, and senior running back Marvin Campbell was the team’s leading rusher in the 2013 defeat and second-leading rusher the year before. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Nine champions celebrated MHSAA titles over the last two weekends. (Middle) A jubilant Monroe St. Mary and disappointed Ithaca pose for team pictures after the Division 6 Final. (Below) Clarkston and Saline prepare to accept their trophies after the Division 1 Final. (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.)