Drive for Detroit: 11-Player Semis Review

November 20, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Five of Saturday’s 11-player Semifinals were decided by seven points or fewer.

Four reigning champions earned opportunities to repeat as champions.

Three teams advanced to the Finals for the first time.

Two of the five winningest coaches in MHSAA history – and the top two among active coaches – will make the trip again.

One more weekend remains to decide the last of this season’s football champions.

The countdown is on for our annual voyage to Detroit’s Ford Field. West Bloomfield, Saginaw Swan Valley and Edwardsburg earned first-time MHSAA Finals berths Saturday, while a handful of surprises also helped shape an intriguing championship field.

Below is a glance at all 16 Semifinals, plus links to coverage both print and broadcast. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard, and “Drive for Detroit” is sponsored by MI Student Aid.

Division 1

Clarkston 27, Detroit Catholic Central 7

The Wolves (11-2) held the reigning Division 1 runner-up Shamrocks (8-5) scoreless until late in the third quarter to earn their return to Ford Field looking for a third title in five seasons after winning Division 1 back-to-back in 2013-14. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

West Bloomfield 9, Detroit Cass Tech 7

West Bloomfield (11-2) held off the reigning champion Technicians (9-3) to advance to the MHSAA Finals for the first time, with Nick O’Shea kicking a 31 and two 26-yard field goals. Click for more from the Detroit News.

Division 2

Livonia Franklin 20, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 0

Franklin (11-2) earned its first Finals berth since the first year of MHSAA playoffs in 1975, shutting down a Forest Hills Central offense that averaged 38 points per game during a 12-0 start. Click for more from Observer & Eccentric.

Warren DeLaSalle 14, Detroit Martin Luther King 13

In a matchup of Detroit area powers, Catholic League Central champion Warren DeLaSalle (11-2) edged Public School League champion and back-to-back Division 2 title winner King (11-2); the Pilots will be going for their second title in four seasons after winning Division 2 in 2014. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

Muskegon 42, Battle Creek Harper Creek 0

This Muskegon playoff drive is becoming legendary; the Big Reds (13-0) haven’t given up a point in their last two games and this time handed Harper Creek (12-1) its first and only loss of the season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Farmington Hills Harrison 21, Riverview 0

Likewise, Harrison’s run is becoming something of a storybook end for a program guided by the newly-anointed all-time winningest coach in state history that will also will play only one more season as the school will close in 2019. The Hawks (10-3) earned their second shutout of the playoffs as well, this time as Riverview (11-2) was averaging 35 points per game. Click for more from Observer & Eccentric.

Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 24, Escanaba 0

The reigning champion Cougars (13-0) ran into one of few opponents that has slowed down its offense; GRCC scored fewer than 32 points for the first time since Week 2. But Escanaba (10-3) didn’t manage a point for the first time since last year’s Regional Final, when GRCC downed the Eskymos 34-0. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Edwardsburg 32, River Rouge 21

Edwardsburg (12-1) scored the final 14 points of the game to earn its first trip to the MHSAA Finals and tie a program record for most wins in a season with last year’s semifinalist team. River Rouge (10-3) was playing in a Semifinal for the third straight season and hadn’t lost to an instate opponent since opening night. Click for more from the Niles Daily Star.

Division 5

Saginaw Swan Valley 29, Reed City 14

Both teams were playing to make the MHSAA Finals for the first time, and Swan Valley (12-1) earned the trip while also tying a program record for wins in a season. Four rushing touchdowns including two by Chase Mendoza doomed the Coyotes (11-2), who won a program-record 11 games for the second straight season. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 25, Frankenmuth 21

Four-time reigning champion West Catholic (11-2) came back from a 21-0 deficit to clinch a sixth straight MHSAA Finals appearance, holding off the Eagles (12-1) as they attempted to reach the Finals for the first time. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 6

Ithaca 27, Traverse City St. Francis 0

Most of the time, Ithaca’s offense is cast in the starring role. But the Yellowjackets (13-0) have two shutouts this playoffs and are giving up only 7.8 points per game – and St. Francis (11-2) hadn’t been held scoreless since 2013. Click for more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Jackson Lumen Christi 44, Warren Michigan Collegiate 12

Reigning champion Lumen Christi (11-1) earned a shot at its first repeat title since winning two straight in 2003-04. The Titans put up 38 points in the first half and held Michigan Collegiate (12-1) to its fewest since opening night 2016. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia 51, Lake City 8

The reigning champion Pirates are headed back to the Finals after holding Lake City scoreless until the final minutes. Over four playoff games, P-W (12-1) has outscored its opponents 158-29. Lake City did set a program record for wins in finishing 12-1, making the Semifinals for the first time and all after going 2-7 a year ago. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Saugatuck 14, Madison Heights Madison 7

The Indians (10-3) earned their first Finals berth since 2010 with a third straight playoff win by seven points or fewer – an incredible showing of perseverance considering also that this run has come after they missed out on a league title because of a Week 9 loss. Madison (12-1) entered the postseason with the highest playoff point average in the division by a large margin, but couldn’t get an offense going that averaged 33 points heading into the weekend. Click for more from the Holland Sentinel.

Division 8

Saginaw Nouvel 17, Iron River West Iron County 14

Nouvel (13-0) outlasted a physical West Iron front on both sides of the ball and made a third-quarter field goal stand for 22 minutes to reach the Finals for the first time since winning Division 7 in 2011. While West Iron (11-2) did hold the Panthers to their season low points, the Wykons also scored their fewest since Week 5. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 50, Mendon 21

This shouldn’t be called an upset, but Mendon (12-1) had to be considered the Division 8 favorite by at least a few after eliminating reigning four-time champ Muskegon Catholic Central in the District Final. Instead, reigning runner-up Whiteford (13-0) scored 50 points for the 10th time in 11 games, those points accounting for 39 percent of all the points the staunch Hornets gave up this season. Click for more from the Monroe Evening News.

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid. 

PHOTO: Muskegon quarterback La'darius Jefferson breaks into the second level of Harper Creek's defense Saturday as a pair of tacklers work to wrap him up. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)