Falcons Soar From Brink to D5 Peak

November 30, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

DETROIT – There were more moments than he and his teammates might’ve expected this fall when Drake Wooten sensed his high school career could soon come to an end. 

That wasn’t supposed to be the scenario after Grand Rapids West Catholic advanced to the Division 5 title game in 2012 and returned a number of its top contributors this fall.

But after opening 1-4, there was no room for error. The Falcons' seniors met to prepare for three months living on the edge. 

Teams need to win five playoff games to earn an MHSAA title. But the Falcons needed nine straight victories to claim their first championship since 2010. After scraping by with a one-point win in Week 9 just to earn a chance at an at-large bid, West Catholic stormed through the postseason and finished the run with a 27-14 win over top-ranked Menominee on Saturday at Ford Field.

“We knew ever since (1-4) that it’s a playoff game. Every game could be our last,” Wooten said. “We’ve always trusted in our team. We’ve always trusted in our coaches. We just came out and made plays and stuck to the schemes.” 

Menominee (13-1) and reigning champion Portland – which beat West Catholic 12-9 in the 2012 Final – were the only teams to get within 15 points of the Falcons during this postseason. West Catholic finished 10-4, giving it at least 10 wins in five straight seasons and six of the last seven. All four losses were to eventual playoff teams, including three Semifinalists.

And the Falcons finished the job against a team that beat its first 13 opponents by an average of 36 points and was more than raring to go after being eliminated by West Catholic each of the last three seasons – including twice in Semifinals by four or fewer points. 

“It’s become a power struggle,” West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said. “We look forward to playing them. We don’t like playing them, but we circle it when we get the opportunity. This was an opportunity to play them on the big stage.”

And like familiar opponents must do, West Catholic changed some things up – catching the Maroons off guard with arguably the play of the game. 

With the score tied 7-7 late in the third quarter and the teams matching each other stop for stop, Rohn called a play no one but the officials expected – and only because he told them about it before the game so they were prepared when he sprung it.

“Lou Lou,” named after Rohn’s mother – who died 25 years ago when Rohn was a high school player at Muskegon Orchard View – involves tight end Bryce Witham making like he’s leaving the field with the rest of the offense while his teammates line up for a field goal attempt. But Witham stopped just short of the sideline, and at the snap took off uncovered for the end zone as junior kicker Travis Hoving lofted a 30-yard pass his way. 

Hoving had been the back-up quarterback on the freshman team two years ago, and Witham had no problem reeling in the toss to put West Catholic up 14-7 with 3:26 to go in the third quarter.

“The idea is to just blend in with the rest of the team standing on the sidelines. Luckily, no one noticed me,” Witham said. 

“We are going to be prepared for each other, so you need something like that,” Rohn added. “We’ve dropped (the ball) a few times in practice. We’ve overthrown it a few times. So everyone on the sidelines was holding their breaths.”

That go-ahead score didn’t decide the game, but it certainly set a direction for the final 15 minutes. 

West Catholic scored twice over the next six, and its defense continued to lock down one of the state’s most productive offenses of this season. 

A key to Menominee’s single wing attack is being able to get around the edge of the line and then upfield. Falcons senior linebacker Max Boorsma played on his past experience against Menominee to make sure that didn’t happen much Saturday, tying for the team lead with nine tackles as the Maroons ran for only 189 yards. 

Junior defensive back Jason McDonough also had eight tackles as the Falcons caused or capitalized on two interceptions, a fumble and three turnovers on downs.

On offense, junior quarterback Travis Russell ran for 133 yards and a touchdown and threw for 176 yards and two scores. Senior Andy Corey added another 84 yards rushing. The Falcons gained 463 yards total and had only one turnover. 

“Their offensive line was really big and strong, … and Corey is a tough kid with a great heart. He proved that last year in the Semifinal game we lost to them,” Menominee senior defensive tackle Mason Kewley said. “We played good enough to points, but other points we didn’t and they took advantage of those points.”

Senior James Brown did gain 102 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground for the Maroons, and junior Justin Brilinski was a standout on both sides of the ball with 71 yards and a touchdown rushing and 158 yards passing as the team’s quarterback/tailback hybrid, plus 10 tackles from his defensive end spot. 

Junior defensive tackle Brandon Chouinard also had 10 tackles.

“We have no excuse. Last week in the (Superior) Dome against Oakridge we were almost flawless and a half, but we knew we were in for a battle today,” Menominee coach Joe Noha said. “The bottom line was they executed well. We knew what they were going to run, and they ran exactly what we prepared our kids to (stop). But they just made plays when they had to.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids West Catholic players celebrate their first MHSAA championship since 2010. (Middle) Three Falcons wrap up a Menominee ball carrier Saturday. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.) 

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.)