Drive for Detroit: District Finals in Review

November 12, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

There will be at least four new MHSAA football champions when this season ends later this month in Greenville and then Detroit.

One opportunity was an opening of circumstance, as reigning Division 8 champ Harbor Beach moved into Division 7 for this season's playoffs. But reigning Division 3 winner Grand Rapids Christian lost this weekend in a District Final, joining Division 5 Portland and 8-player Deckerville among teams whose drives to defend have come to an end.

Three weeks remain in the 11-player season, with four 8-player Regional champions meeting this week to decide who will face off in the championship game Nov. 22 at Legacy Field. 

Read on for some of the most intriguing results of last week's action as the field was whittled to 68 teams still alive.

Division 1 

Hudsonville 19, Rockford 14

Hudsonville (8-3) was one of the state’s most successful programs last decade, but this is its first season with a winning record since 2008. The recent struggle coincided in part with six straight losses to Rockford (9-2) – including a 28-19 regular-season defeat this fall in Week 6. But this District title leaves the Eagles as best in Division 1 from the always-strong west side of the state. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted: 

Detroit Cass Tech 28, Warren Mott 19: The reigning champ Technicians (11-0) kept rolling in handing Mott (10-1) its first and only defeat.

Temperance Bedford 36, Saline 29: Bedford (11-0) also beat Saline (9-2) by 16 points in Week 5 in the game that eventually decided the Southeastern Conference Red title. 

Detroit Catholic Central 37, Walled Lake Western 27: The Shamrocks (9-2) earned their fifth straight District title, while ending a streak of two straight for Western (9-2).

Division 2

Muskegon 28, Lowell 21

Big Reds quarterback Deshaun Thrower had to gut out the last few minutes after suffering a slight injury, but to that point he’d thrown for two touchdowns and run for a third as Muskegon (10-1) avenged a Week 4 loss to the Red Arrows (10-1) to claim a second straight District title. The victory also evened the recent playoff series between the two at 3-3 over the last six seasons. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle

Also noted:

Detroit Martin Luther King 28, Detroit East English 20: Only a few more points separated these two than when King (9-1) also edged East English (7-4) by six in Week 2.

Detroit U-D Jesuit 14, Oak Park 8: The Cubs (7-4) continued their comeback season with a first District title since 2001, while Oak Park (6-5) also can celebrate making it this far for the second straight season.

Portage Central 40, Battle Creek Lakeview 7: This matchup of Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference champions didn’t end up close, with West winner Portage Central (11-0) getting out front big and Lakeview (10-1) never able to catch up.  

Division 3

Zeeland West 48, Grand Rapids Christian 35

So ended the title defense of reigning champion Grand Rapids Christian, which did finish 8-3 despite graduating a large group of standouts from last season’s team and not having superstar receiver Drake Harris all season because of an injury. Zeeland West (10-1) – the Division 4 champion only two seasons ago – now looks like a favorite to emerge from this side of the bracket. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Stevensville Lakeshore 31, St. Joseph 21: Usually-powerful Lakeshore (8-3) was something of an afterthought after finishing fourth in the SMAC West, but no longer after taking down league runner-up St. Joseph (9-2) despite losing by 12 to the Bears in Week 3. 

Melvindale 35, Milan 31: Melvindale (9-2) has bounced back from two straight losing seasons to post its best record since 2009, and its best win likely was this first loss for Milan (10-1).

Eaton Rapids 24, Tecumseh 20: Eaton Rapids’ first-ever playoff run has grown to three weeks, thanks to the Greyhounds (7-4) winning a bit of a shocker over Tecumseh (8-3).  

Division 4

Detroit Country Day 49, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 27 

Country Day (8-3) won close over Notre Dame Prep on the way to Ford Field in 2012, and came up big this time to run its 2013 winning streak to eight. The Yellowjackets have three high-major Division I college prospects on offense, and they continued to shine while ending another solid run for Notre Dame (8-3). Click to read more from the Oakland Press.

Also noted:

Marine City 35, Richmond 21: Richmond (9-2) won the Blue Water Area Conference while Marine City (10-1) finished second in the Macomb Area Conference Gold – but the postseason is the Mariners’ time, and they won a 10th game for the 13th time in 15 seasons. 

Battle Creek Pennfield 35, Dowagiac 21: Coming off an upset win the week before, Dowagiac (7-4) couldn’t knock off another league champion in Kalamazoo Valley Association power Pennfield (10-1).

Cadillac 35, Ogemaw Heights 27: Ogemaw Heights (7-4) made this much closer than the teams’ Week 5 meeting, but couldn’t catch the Big North Conference champion Vikings (11-0).

Division 5

Muskegon Oakridge 22, Reed City 20 

Oakridge (10-1) is back in the Regional Final for the first time since 2010 after holding off a late charge and stopping a two-point conversion attempt that would’ve tied the score. It was another in a heartbreaking string, however, for Reed City (10-1), which came into the District Final undefeated for the third straight season, but fell short of claiming its first District title by less than a field goal for the second consecutive year. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Also noted:

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 44, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 40: The Huron League runner-up Falcons (10-1) won their first District title in six seasons while keeping Gabriel Richard (8-3) from winning its third in four years.

Millington 33, Frankenmuth 29: The Tri-Valley Conference East rivals met in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, with the Cardinals (9-2) catching the league champion Eagles (9-2) at the end to split the season series and move on.

Livonia Clarenceville 31, Detroit University Prep 22: Clarenceville (10-0) is a District champion and undefeated this late for the first time since 2001, when it reached the Silverdome; University Prep ended its longest run ever at 8-3.  

Division 6 

Montrose 20, Saginaw Nouvel 6

Montrose vs. Madison Heights Madison has been one of the most anticipated potential Regional Finals in this playoffs, and Montrose took care of its end by jumping to a 20-0 lead and hanging strong on defense in this District Final. The win gave the Rams (11-0) their third District title in four seasons, while dropping a strong Nouvel team to 9-2. Click to read more from the Flint Journal.

Also noted: 

Madison Heights Madison 27, Flint Beecher 20: Madison (11-0) nearly missed out on the big Regional matchup thanks to a solid Beecher team that ended 8-3 and won eight games for the fourth time in seven seasons.

Schoolcraft 28, Watervliet 26: Like last week, the KVA continued to look strong with co-champion Schoolcraft (10-1) eliminating Southwestern Athletic Conference South champion Watervliet (10-1).

Clinton 39, Grass Lake 14: Clinton (11-0) is 20-1 over the last two seasons and has yet to allow an opponent within single digits this fall, including Cascades Conference co-champion Grass Lake (9-2). 

Division 7 

Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Carson City-Crystal 14

The best season in Carson City-Crystal history ended thanks to a late comeback by P-W (10-1), which won its third straight District title. The Eagles, who won 10 games for the first time and entered this one undefeated, did drive into Pirates territory late but fell short as time expired. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 34, Iron River West Iron County 0: The reigning champion Hematites (11-0) never let this matchup of undefeated teams turn into much of a game; West Iron finished 10-1.

Southfield Christian 28, Madison Heights Bishop Foley 24: Southfield Christian (10-1) extended the best season of its eight-year history with its closest victory this fall; Bishop Foley, at 7-4, did end with its best record since 2006.

Lake City 56, Lincoln Alcona 14: Lake City’s lone loss to Beal City continues to become a distant memory as the Trojans (10-1) pile up wins like this one over previously-undefeated Lincoln Alcona (10-1).

Division 8

Mendon 13, Climax-Scotts 0 

It’s an unfortunate circumstance of geography that these two always meet before the final rounds of the playoffs – Mendon (11-0) eliminated Climax-Scotts (9-2) for the third straight season, and the latter’s only other loss was to a team that generally makes the playoffs in Division 5 (Flint Powers). Make that now 526-19 in favor of Mendon over its combined opponents this season. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

New Lothrop 41, Waterford Our Lady 28: The Hornets (11-0) have piled up four straight seasons of double figure wins and have yet to allow an opponent to come within single digits, including Catholic League Intersectional champion Our Lady (8-3). 

Crystal Falls Forest Park 16, L’Anse 9: The dream of returning to Ford Field nearly ended as a nightmare for Forest Park (11-0) as it just edged the Purple Hornets (8-3).

St. Ignace 20, Johannesburg-Lewiston 14: The Saints (9-2) battled through to earn a rematch from last season’s Semifinal against Beal City; Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-3) did finish its third season in four with at least eight wins.

8-Player (Regional Finals)

Lawrence 58, Battle Creek St. Philip 28

Only two weeks ago St. Philip beat Lawrence 54-50, but Lawrence (8-2) obviously learned quickly from that day’s mistakes – just as it has all season in its first as an 8-player program. St. Philip finished only its second season of 8-player, but with its best record, 10-1, since 1985. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

Peck 31, Carsonville-Port Sanilac 7: Peck (11-0) scored its second-fewest points of the season but also turned in one of its best defensive performances of the fall in holding the Tigers (7-4) to their second-fewest points as well.

Kinde-North Huron 64, Owendale-Gagetown 22: North Huron (8-3) advanced to its first football Semifinal in any division while ending Owendale-Gagetown’s best season since 1979 at 9-2.

Rapid River 50, Engadine 21: Engadine (6-5) got hot at the end of the regular season, but Rapid River (11-0) has one of the most impressive resumes of any team left in any division. 

PHOTO: A trio of Montrose defenders brings down a Saginaw Nouvel ballcarrier during last weekend's District Final win. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)