Drive for Detroit: Playoff R2 Preview

November 3, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It's predictable perhaps – and yet still intriguing – how the MHSAA Football Playoffs just a week into the five-week run.

Of 38 teams selected for at-large bids to the 256-team 11-player field, only seven remain. 

Of 36 undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, including six in 8-player, 34 are still alive.

At least for now. Two matchups of undefeated opponents are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview – powered by MI Student Aid. See those below, and remember to tune in to for all of this weekend's matchups, scores and next week's matchups as they're determined. All games below are Friday unless noted.

Division 1

Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (10-0)

It’s been four years since these M-15 powers faced off. Clarkston has enjoyed the success since that last matchup, winning Division 1 back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and now stands in the way of Davison extending its first 10-win season since 2006. Junior Tariq Reid has run for 2,003 yards and 36 touchdowns this fall, and no doubt will be called upon heavily as the Cardinals go for their first District title since 2008.

Others that caught my eye: Rockford (7-3) at Grandville (9-1), Detroit Cass Tech (10-0) at Dearborn (9-1), Macomb Dakota (7-3) at Utica Eisenhower (10-0).

Division 2

Traverse City Central (9-1) at Lowell (10-0)

This could be a history-making evening for Traverse City Central, which is looking to advance to the Regional round for the first time since old Traverse City High did so in 1991. The Trojans vanquished for good rival Traverse City West by a point last week but now face another team that has survived close games as well; reigning Division 2 champion Lowell pulled off a couple of impressive comebacks this fall on the way to a fourth straight season with at least 10 wins.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (9-1), Grosse Pointe North (8-2) at Grosse Pointe South (7-3), Oak Park (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) on Saturday.

Division 3

East Grand Rapids (8-2) at Muskegon (9-1)

The west side of the state has earned its football reputation from high-powered matchups like this one could be; these are two of the storied programs in state history, although both also are hungry to add to their legacies. East Grand Rapids is seeking its first MHSAA championship since 2010 and Muskegon is playing to contend for its first since 2008. The Big Reds won their recent meetings in 2014 and 2015, and have yet to be challenged much aside from a Week 2 loss to Lincolnshire, Ill. East Grand Rapids has won seven straight since opening 1-2 with losses to Grand Rapids Catholic Central and later Lowell.

Others that caught my eye: Romulus (9-1) at Allen Park (10-0), Grand Rapids Christian (9-1) at Byron Center (9-1), Coldwater (8-2) at Chelsea (10-0).

Division 4

Marysville (10-0) at Detroit Country Day (10-0), Saturday

Country Day is surging as it seeks its first MHSAA title since 1999; the Yellowjackets have played arguably their three toughest opponents of the season the last three weeks, and handed Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood a decisive 35-7 defeat to open the playoffs. But a defense giving up only eight points per game will face its toughest challenge from a Marysville offense led by 1,000-yard rushers Danta Chrcek (1,595) and Phillip Griffor (1,073). The Vikings are playing for their first 11-win season since 1992.

Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville Unity Christian (8-2) at Benton Harbor (10-0), Lansing Sexton (7-3) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (9-1), Detroit Mumford (8-2) at River Rouge (9-1).

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-2) at Portland (10-0)

It’s hard to not see this as one of the key games in the entire Division 5 bracket. Reigning champion West Catholic opened with a big road win 42-20 last week over Lansing Catholic and now gets the Cougars’ main league rival in Portland, which beat Lansing Catholic by only a point way back in Week 4. The deciding matchup tonight could be the Raiders’ powerful run game and its ability to hold onto the ball (and keep the Falcons' offense off the field) against a West Catholic defense that has given up more than seven points only once since Week 3. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on

Others that caught my eye: Remus Chippewa Hills (9-1) at Reed City (10-0), Frankenmuth (9-1) at Freeland (10-0), Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) at Ithaca (10-0) on Saturday.

Division 6

Jackson Lumen Christi (8-2) at Schoolcraft (10-0), Saturday

This could show Schoolcraft’s stature as a contender for its first MHSAA championship since 2001. The Eagles have rumbled to nearly 47 points per game and beat rival Constantine twice in the last three weeks, but can show their stuff on a grander level against one of the state’s best-known powerhouse programs. Lumen Christi hasn’t lost since Week 3 and after opening 1-2 with defeats to West Catholic and Battle Creek Harper Creek. A win this week could be a key confidence boost for the Titans too as they pursue a first Finals trip since 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (8-2) at Roscommon (9-1), Calumet (9-1) at Negaunee (10-0), Napoleon (8-2) at Grass Lake (9-1).

Division 7

Saugatuck (10-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0), Saturday

A matchup of offensive stars Jared Smith and Blake Dunn make this one of the state’s most intriguing matchups in any division, regardless of the fact it’s also a rematch of last season’s District Final. Smith is up to 2,108 yards rushing this season on just 166 carries – for a 12.7 yards per carry average – and will go down as one of the top running backs in state history after setting an MHSAA record for single-season yardage as a junior with more than 3,000 as the Pirates finished Division 7 runners-up. Dunn has run for only 1,916 yards this season – 16.1 per carry – and thrown for 729 more.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Loyola (8-2) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (10-0), Flint Hamady (8-2) at New Lothrop (9-1), Unionville-Sebewaing (9-1) at Ubly (10-0).

Division 8

Mendon (8-2) at Climax-Scotts (10-0)

Climax-Scotts finally broke a four-year playoff losing streak to Mendon last season with an 8-6 first-round win, and should be confident heading into a possible repeat, this time for a District title. The Panthers haven’t been challenged much, aside from a 20-point win over Pittsford in Week 6. Mendon has had to do a little more work under first-year coach and alum Robert Kretschman, but is riding a six-game winning streak and three-win improvement from a year ago. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on

Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (7-3) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-2), Newberry (8-2) at St. Ignace (9-1), Lincoln Alcona (9-1) at Frankfort (10-0).


Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at Powers North Central (10-0)

Forest Park in Week 2 gave North Central its closest game in two seasons of 8-player football, which means this rematch could go a couple different ways. The Jets, who won that night 60-42 and have scored 56 or more points in every game, may need quarterback Jason Whitens to add significantly to his 36 touchdown passes on only 91 completions this fall if the offenses come out firing again. Or Forest Park and senior running back Dan Nocerini (2,181 yards/39 TDs rushing) could work to keep Whitens off the field and the score a little lower this second time around.

Other Regional Finals: Pickford (9-1) at Engadine (10-0), New Haven Merritt (10-0) at Deckerville (9-0), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-0) at Portland St. Patrick (10-0) on Saturday. 

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews 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: Lowell downed Greenville in a Division 2 playoff opener last week. (Click to see more from

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.)