Drive for Detroit: Playoff R3 Preview

November 10, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The best have risen to the occasion this MHSAA Football Playoffs. But this weekend's 11-player Regional Finals and 8-player Semifinals are guaranteed to be the final stop for a handful of teams that haven't experienced a loss this fall.

Of 20 teams still undefeated, 12 will face each other in six games over five divisions, with two matchups coming in Division 8.

Most of those matchups are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview powered by MI Student Aid. Read on for details on one game from each 11-player division and both 8-player matchups, and remember to visit for the full schedule, scores this weekend as they come in and next week's matchups as they're determined.

Also, tune in for eight games this weekend, four tonight and four Saturday, either on or Click for that schedule

All games below are Friday unless noted.

Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) at Saline (11-0)

This will be the third playoff collision in five seasons for these powers; Saline won the most recent, a 2014 Semifinal. The Hornets’ last three wins were over teams that finished a combined 25-7, and last week they hung on for a 37-31 victory over Canton despite giving up more than two touchdowns for the first time since Week 3. Cass Tech’s last three wins were over teams a combined 26-2, and its defense has been even more stifling allowing only a touchdown apiece to Dearborn and Dearborn Fordson the last two weeks and 8.8 points per game total this season.

Other Regional Finals: Romeo (8-3) at Clarkston (9-2), Southfield Arts & Technology (8-3) at Utica Eisenhower (11-0), Grandville (10-1) at Detroit Catholic Central (11-0) on Saturday.

Division 2

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (9-2) at Lowell (11-0)

Lowell doesn’t lose often; the Red Arrows haven’t had more than three defeats in a season since 1999. So Forest Hills Central had to be smarting for a while after letting a 17-point fourth-quarter lead disappear in its 41-37 loss to Lowell in Week 7. Lowell has cruised through back-to-back 42-17 wins the last two weeks over Greenville and Traverse City Central as it seeks to return to Ford Field for the second straight year, but no doubt expects a closer game with the Rangers seeking their first Regional title since 1995.

Other Regional Finals: Grosse Pointe South (8-3) at Birmingham Groves (10-1), Fenton (9-2) at Walled Lake Western (10-1) on Saturday, Temperance Bedford (9-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-2) on Saturday.

Division 3

Edwardsburg (11-0) at Chelsea (11-0)

The Eddies are 66-11 over the last seven seasons and 32-3 over the last three but are coming into a Regional Final undefeated for the first time during this run. It’s hard to not point at an incredible defensive average of giving up only 5.2 points per game with five shutouts. But it’s also hard to imagine Chelsea being held scoreless; that would be a first since a 2014 Regional Final loss. The Bulldogs also can equal last season’s school record for wins by earning this one.

Other Regional Finals: Byron Center (10-1) at Muskegon (10-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7-4) at DeWitt (10-1), Dearborn Divine Child (9-2) at Allen Park (11-0).

Division 4

Lake Odessa Lakewood (10-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (9-2) at Jenison

It was fair to predict last week that neither of these teams would still be playing today, but they’ve certainly earned the opportunity. Lakewood downed Lansing Sexton by eight to advance and Unity Christian got past undefeated Benton Harbor in overtime, and both now can win a Regional title for the first time. Both also have set program records for wins this fall, and Lakewood’s Pre-District victory was its first ever in the playoffs.

Other Regional Finals: Adrian (7-4) at River Rouge (10-1), Escanaba (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1) on Saturday, Corunna (9-2) at Detroit Country Day (11-0) on Saturday.

Division 5

Menominee (10-1) at Reed City (11-0), Saturday

The Coyotes have been poised for a run like this for a while, with four 10-1 finishes over the last five seasons but this only the second Regional Final appearance in program history. A sterling average of 8.3 points given up per game was hurt only a little by Remus Chippewa Hills’ 28 last week. But Reed City’s defense has arguably its toughest challenge in the Maroons. Menominee has cleared 10 wins for the fifth straight season and saved its usually eye-popping offensive numbers for the last month – it has scored at least 50 points three of the last five weeks and put up 61 on Grayling in the District Final.

Other Regional Finals: Ida (10-1) at Algonac (10-1), Frankenmuth (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0) on Saturday, Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2) at Berrien Springs (8-2) on Saturday.

Division 6

Detroit Central Collegiate (7-4) at Millington (10-1)

We’re used to seeing Detroit Public School League leaders Cass Tech and Martin Luther King this deep into the playoffs, and at times the former Crockett-now-East English as well. But Detroit Central has come back from a 1-4 start to reach a Regional Final for the first time since 2010. Millington, meanwhile, has 10 wins for the first time since 2011 and is looking for its first Regional title since 2010. The Cardinals will aim to continue a stifling defensive effort that has given up only 8.3 points per game.

Other Regional Finals: Maple City Glen Lake (9-2) at Calumet (10-1) on Saturday, Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Ravenna (9-2) on Saturday, Napoleon (9-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-2) on Saturday.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (11-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Saturday

This is familiar territory for both programs: St. Francis will play in its fourth Regional Final in six seasons, while P-W will play in its sixth straight this decade. We've talked about record-setting running back Jared Smith this week (click for more), but the Pirates will take advantage of a variety of offensive weapons to try to break through a Gladiators defense giving up only 5.6 points per game. 

Other Regional Finals: Concord (9-2) vs. Cassopolis (10-1) at Decatur, Detroit Loyola (9-2) at Hudson (10-1), Ubly (11-0) vs. New Lothrop (10-1) at Chesaning on Saturday.

Division 8

Frankfort (11-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Saturday

Frankfort gets another chance to take down perennial power MCC after falling to the Crusaders 22-12 in the Regional Final in 2015. But this is a stronger Panthers team that has scored nearly 100 more points but also knows how to win close, as it has done twice including last week against Lincoln Alcona. Frankfort will need all of its expertise against the reigning three-time Division 8 champion, which is also putting up even better numbers than a year ago and hasn't let an opponent within two touchdowns this fall. 

Other Regional Finals: Climax-Scotts (11-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0), Norway (9-2) at St. Ignace (10-1) on Saturday, Royal Oak Shrine (9-2) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-2) on Saturday.


Pickford (10-1) at Powers North Central (11-0)

Pickford, in its second season of 8-player, has reached the Semifinals for the first time since 1991. The Panthers last week avenged their only loss this season by edging Engadine in a Regional Final, and now will attempt to hand reigning champion North Central its first loss also in two seasons of 8-player. This Jets team is reminiscent of last year's champion and also the back-to-back Class D boys basketball champions, mostly because it is led by senior quarterback Jason Whitens. He's thrown for 2,170 yards and 40 touchdowns and run for 15 more scores.

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (11-0) at Deckerville (10-0), Saturday

Tri-unity's first playoff run is now only one more win from the championship game, and the Defenders have made it by following senior quarterback Brayden Sherrod (2,104 yards/37 touchdowns rushing, 1,610 yards/21 TDs passing.) Deckerville has owned the line of scrimmage and dominated as a result, running for nearly 3,000 yards and holding its opponents to 323 and only 44 points – 150 fewer points than at this point when it won the MHSAA title in 2012.

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: Menominee and DeWitt met in Week 8 (the Panthers won 48-14) and both will play in Regional Finals this weekend. (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.)