Eagles Stone-wall Bellaire in 8 Final

November 16, 2012

By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second Half

GREENVILLE – Deckerville sophomore Ryan Stone had serious doubts about playing on the varsity team this year.

Stone thought he was better suited for the junior varsity. But following Friday night's MHSAA 8-player football championship game, everyone in the city of Deckerville is glad he opted for the jump to the next level.

The scrawny 5-foot-8, 140-pound Stone made perhaps the biggest play of the game as the Eagles survived a late rally from Bellaire to pull out a 14-12 victory at Greenville High School's Legacy Field.

Stone stopped Bellaire's two-point conversion run try short of the goal line with 49 seconds remaining to prevent a tie score and possible overtime.

“I was lined up and saw him coming around the corner,” Stone said. “I was hustling to him, hoping I could get him before he crossed the line. I just got to him.”

And doing so gave Deckerville its first MHSAA championship in its first Final appearance, to cap its first season in 8-player football. Bellaire made the switch to 8-player three seasons ago, and also made its first MHSAA Final appearance. The first 8-Player Final was last season.

On Friday’s game-saving play, Stone popped out his right shoulder and laid on the turf for several minutes while athletic trainers tended to him.

He eventually stood up and walked gingerly to the sidelines.

“I thought that was amazing,” said Deckerville senior fullback Chris Wolfe, who rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown.

“To put his body at risk to stop a two-point conversion for us not to go into overtime – I thought that was amazing to help our team like that.”

Deckerville coach Bill Brown wasn't surprised to see Stone put himself in harm's way for the benefit of his team.

“He has made big plays for us all year, and it takes a lot of heart and guts to make that happen,” he said. “This whole team is just like him, and what a heck of a play. He's one of those kids who thought he might not want to come up as a sophomore, but he came up, and what a great addition to our team.”

Stone also came up with a key interception in the third quarter, and scampered 23 yards for a touchdown on the Eagles' ensuing possession that put them ahead 14-6.

“It's my sophomore year, and to already win a state championship is pretty amazing,” Stone said. “I wanted to stay on the junior varsity this year because I didn't think I could make it on the varsity very well, but I think I did pretty good.”

Stone's effort was almost for naught, as Bellaire recovered an onside kick and threatened in the final seconds.

A 31-yard pass from quarterback Zach Smith to Wes Villafane put Bellaire at the Deckerville 4-yard line.

But Deckerville's defense smothered the run on the game's final play to preserve the win.

“We didn't spike it down there because I live by the philosophy of, let's catch them so the defense can't get set,” Bellaire coach Ron Bindi said. “We hit a big play earlier with that running play, and it just didn't work out.

“The kids have played like this all year. With only 13 of them, they are always outnumbered, but there is no quit in them. We just didn't get it done at the end this time.”

Trailing 14-6 late, Smith tossed a long bomb to Villafane, who hauled in the 52-yard score and trimmed the deficit to14-12.

Bellaire (9-4) failed multiple times to capitalize on scoring opportunities.

The Eagles were inside Deckerville's 30-yard line five times, but only scored once on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Smith in the final minute of the second quarter.

“We came out ready to play, but our offense did things that we haven't done all year,” Bindi said. “We made mistake, after mistake, after mistake, and you can't win football games like that.”

Deckerville closed with a 12-1 record en route to the title. Its lone loss came in Week 2 against Cedarville.

“Ever since Week 1, it has been a great ride,” Wolfe said. “We learned a lot of things. We learned responsibility, dedication and how to become a team.”

Said Brown: “It means a lot to the program, our community and all the alumni who have played before us and busted their tails. We just happened to have a great year with a great group.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Deckerville running back Christopher Wolfe prepares for an oncoming tackler during Friday's 8-Player Final. (Middle) Bellaire's Zach Smith (12) dives for his team's first touchdown. (Click to see more from the Regional Final at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)