Drive for Detroit: Semifinals in Review

November 21, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

After nearly four months, this drive for Detroit is nearly complete. 

Sixteen teams remain for this weekend's eight MHSAA 11-Player Finals at Ford Field in Detroit. Below is a glance at how all 16 earned their end-of-season trips, with a number of them frequent visitors to the season's final days.

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central 17, Romeo 0

The Shamrocks eliminated the reigning Division 1 champion in a matchup of last season’s Regional Final, a 40-29 Romeo win. Detroit Catholic Central (13-0) is on course for its best defensive season since 2011 and a win away from its first undefeated season since 2009. For Romeo (9-4), the loss ends a two-season run that saw the Bulldogs play in their second and third Semifinals ever (and first since 1992) while earning their first MHSAA team title and finishing a combined 22-5. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Detroit Cass Tech 32, Utica Eisenhower 28

Cass Tech standout receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rodney Hall with only 24 seconds to play to push the Technicians (13-0) ahead of Eisenhower and soon after back into the Division 1 Final for the second straight season and fourth time this decade. The reigning runner-up in this division won its second straight nail-biter after downing Saline by one in the Regional Final, handing Eisenhower (12-1) its first loss after doing the same to the Hornets the week before. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 2

Walled Lake Western 37, Lowell 34

The Red Arrows (12-1), last season’s Division 2 runners-up, found themselves in a comeback quest for the second week in a row but couldn’t come all the way back in this rematch of a 2015 Semifinal. Walled Lake Western (12-1) led 31-14 at halftime and held Lowell off for the final 7:46 to advance to its first championship game since 1999. The Warriors had lost to Lowell 49-34 in the meeting a year ago. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Detroit Martin Luther King 14, Birmingham Groves 7

King earned a chance to repeat as Division 2 champion with a defensive stand after heading into halftime up 14-0. The Crusaders (11-2) hadn’t scored fewer than 18 points since Week 1 of 2015, but were able to ride out the final two quarters relying on a defense that has given up only 35 points over four playoff games. Groves finished its first Semifinal run 11-2, setting a program record for wins for the second straight season after finishing 10-1 in 2015. Click for more from the Detroit News.

Division 3

Muskegon 19, Edwardsburg 8

This defensive standoff saw both teams easily score their fewest points this season – but Muskegon advance to its fourth championship game in five years while keeping Edwardsburg from advancing to the MHSAA Finals for the first time. The Big Reds (12-1) increased their school record points total to 653 and locked down an Eddies team that hadn’t scored fewer than 30. Edwardsburg finished 12-1, setting a program record for victories in one season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49, Dearborn Divine Child 7

St. Mary’s will play for its third straight Division 3 championship and in its seventh MHSAA Final over the last eight seasons. Divine Child (10-3) was one of the surprises of the playoffs and finished with its most wins since 1985, but couldn’t come back after the Eaglets scored three times during the first quarter and three more times during the second. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 31, Hudsonville Unity Christian 3

The Cougars (12-1) will play for a championship for the first time since 2010 after ending Unity Christian’s longest playoff run with another impressive defensive performance. GRCC has given up 10 points total over four playoff games and with Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5 gives the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue two finalists this weekend. Unity Christian finished 10-3, two wins better than any season since the program began in 2003. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Detroit Country Day 20, River Rouge 14

After two straight Semifinal misses, Country Day will play in its second championship game in five seasons after eliminating last year’s Division 5 runner-up. River Rouge (11-2) held the Yellowjackets to their fewest points since opening night, but also scored its fewest since a 2014 Regional Final loss. Country Day (13-0) didn’t score during the second half, but Rouge didn't find the end zone again after scoring on its first possession of the third quarter. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 5

Menominee 23, Frankenmuth 20

Sam Larsen’s 1-yard touchdown blast up the middle with 9:27 to play stood as the winning points in a back-and-forth contest at the Superior Dome. Playing in its seventh Semifinal over the last 11 seasons, Menominee (12-1) earned its fourth championship game of this run and first since 2013. Frankenmuth (11-2) gave the Maroons their second-closest game of this season – the other was a loss to DeWitt in Week 8 – and tied its school record for wins with the most since the program’s last Semifinal run in 1997. Click for more from the Marinette (Wis.) Eagle Herald.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 17, Algonac 0

Reigning Division 5 champion West Catholic (11-2) completed an impressive even if not altogether unexpected run through three road games and a neutral-site semi to return to Ford Field. Defense has been the story for the Falcons this season, and they added a shutout after holding their first three playoff opponents to a combined 20 points. Algonac, in its first Semifinal appearance, held West Catholic to the latter’s second fewest points this season. But the Muskrats (11-2) failed to get on the board for the first time since Week 3 of 2014. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 6

Maple City Glen Lake 34, Leroy Pine River 20

Glen Lake’s earned it first trip to the Finals in football since 1996 on the success of a run game that was able to navigate the snowy conditions at Thirlby Field in Traverse City. Pine River (9-4), playing in its first Semifinal, had given up only 33 points total over the first three playoff games. Glen Lake (11-2), with the win, tied for its most in a season also since that 1996 run. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Jackson Lumen Christi 27, Millington 7

Lumen Christi (11-2) is headed back to Ford Field for its first championship game since 2009 thanks in part to a second-straight single-digit performance by its defense. After holding Napoleon to only six points in the Regional Final, the Titans kept Millington to its fewest this fall (Millington also had scored only seven against Frankenmuth in Week 5). The Semifinal was the first for the Cardinals (11-1) since back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia 34, Ubly 16

The Pirates (13-0) will return to the Division 7 Final after finishing runner-up a year ago. And they booked the trip by downing an undefeated team for the third straight week, handing Ubly (12-1) a first loss after doing the same to Traverse City St. Francis in the Regional Final and Saugatuck in the District championship game. After missing 100 yards rushing last week for the first time in three seasons, Pirates running back Jared Smith came back with 119 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Detroit Loyola 54, Cassopolis 22

Loyola will play in its fourth championship game in five seasons seeking to add to its 2014 title after continuing a playoff run that has seen the Bulldogs beat four league title winners and all by at least 23 points. Cassopolis (11-2), champion of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red, was playing in its first Semifinal and set a program record this fall for victories. But the usually defense-strong Rangers couldn’t stop a Loyola attack that scored its second-most points this season. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central 35, St. Ignace 0

The Crusaders (13-0) will play for a fourth straight Division 8 championship after improving on a Week 2 win over the Saints. MCC had beaten St. Ignace 21-6 in that first meeting, and led this one 21-0 by the end of its first possession of the second half. The shutout was the Crusaders’ third straight, and they’ve given up only seven points total over four playoff games. MCC also defeated the Saints (11-2) in a Semifinal last season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.  

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 40, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 21

Whiteford (13-0) has been building for years toward what will be its first championship game , and broke through after also playing but falling in a Semifinal a year ago. Jesse Kiefer ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns as the team piled up 526 yards of total offense, and the defense held mostly tight despite 152 yards rushing and two scores by MLS’s Casey Williams on only eight carries. The Cardinals finished 10-3 after reaching their second Semifinal in three seasons. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

PHOTO: Walled Lake Western's Cody White breaks through the line against Lowell in their Division 2 Semifinal on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of State Champs! Sports Network.)

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.)