Edwards, Lakers Run Away With 1st Title

January 23, 2021

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

DETROIT – It was never really a matter of if, but rather when Donovan Edwards was going to bust a big run.

On Saturday, the West Bloomfield senior answered the call, scoring on runs of 71 and 78 yards en route to a three-touchdown afternoon while leading his Lakers to a 41-0 victory over 2019 champion Davison in the Division 1 Football Final at Ford Field.

Edwards, who has signed to play collegiately at the University of Michigan, finished the afternoon with 257 yards on just 14 carries. Despite not playing in the fourth quarter, he totaled the eighth-highest rushing total in MHSAA Finals history. And it was enough for West Bloomfield head coach Ron Bellamy to make a major declaration.

“This here is the best football player in the state of Michigan,” Bellamy said of Edwards. “Five star. Big college. Whatever it may be. Teams come to stop one football player, and he had 200-some yards (today).

“I’m from Louisiana, and I had a chance to play against Ed Reed in high school. I had a chance to play against Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning, I played against NFL Hall of Famers in high school, on the same field, and he looks like them. It ain’t the cliche, ‘Best player on the field.’ He looks like a dude that’s gonna play for a long time in the NFL and be an all-American at the University of Michigan. Obviously some things have to happen in his favor, but you saw it. He just looks different from everybody else on the field.” 

Edwards’ talents were on display right away. After the two teams traded early fumbles, Edwards broke free on the first play from scrimmage for a 78-yard touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead. 

West Bloomfield would expand its lead to 17-0 by halftime thanks to a 39-yard field goal by senior Jake Ward and a 13-yard touchdown run by senior Mekhi Elam.

The Lakers defense was on display all afternoon, limiting the Cardinals offense to just 136 total yards. It forced a pair of fumbles and converted them into 14 points. Senior defensive end Niles King stripped the ball from the hands of Jay’len Flowers and returned it 40 yards to give his team a 24-0 lead less than a minute into the second half.

“We know that when you come to Ford Field you’ve got to play defense,” Bellamy said. “Davison has a heck of a defense, but our defense was better today. Those guys were lights out. 

“We had an early fumble in the game and they were playing Davison smash-mouth football. They hit us in the mouth. I told the kids, defensively, ‘They’re going to hit us in the mouth early; it’s how you respond to adversity.’ Once they fumbled the ball and we got it back, our defense was balling out.”

Senior linebacker Travis Reece led the Lakers with seven tackles, two for a loss, and added a sack. Senior linebacker Jordan Hoskins had six tackles.

West Bloomfield kicker Jake Ward connected on a pair of field goals, from 39 and 45 yards out, while converting all five of his point-after attempts. All seven of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.

Davison, which defeated Brighton 35-25 to win the 2019 championship, was playing without its regular-season starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan, who enrolled early at Northwestern University. The Cardinals also suffered a loss in-game, when senior defensive end Harrison Unger went down with a leg injury. He left the game with eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.

“Harry is our best player,” Davison head coach Jake Weingartz said. “Defensive end, he plays tight end, slot receiver. He does a lot for us on both sides of the ball. It was unfortunate because he’s a huge part of our gameplan. It was rough.”

Without him, Davison had trouble stopping Edwards and Co. Senior Clarke Hamilton led the Cardinals (11-1) with six tackles. 

“If anyone has watched us play, it was very uncharacteristic of us,” Weingartz said. “I just think we struggled with their speed. Their front six is real good. We missed a lot of opportunities. You just can’t miss them here, and you definitely can’t miss them against a team like West Bloomfield.

 “I’m very proud of our kids for battling all the adversity this year, with the stop and start and losing our quarterback to early graduation. Obviously this is not how we wanted it to end.” 

For West Bloomfield (10-1), Saturday’s championship was the first in school history. The Lakers lost to Clarkston, 3-2, in the 2017 Division 1 title game.

“It’s surreal. It’s so, so surreal,” Bellamy said. “We’ve waited so long for this moment. These last few years, since we lost (to Clarkston), everything in my power, in my coaching staff’s power, we wanted to develop a champion. We’ve been so close, but yet so far. 

“It’s a special feeling. We’ve made many sacrifices this year. The kids’ mental health was challenged with the shutdowns. But we’re here, we made it here. We felt we had a good football team, and we had a chance to win a state championship.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) West Bloomfield’s Donovan Edwards (6) strides toward the end zone Saturday, as Davison’s TeAvion Warren pursues. (Middle) The Lakers’ Travis Reece (2) and BJ Rankin (21) work to bring down the Cardinals’ Payton Pizzala. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)