Football Playoffs: Finals in Review (with videos)
November 28, 2011
Game over. But what a way to finish.
How should we end a four-month MHSAA football season? With 26 hours worth of Finals over the course of two days, viewable from the comfy confines of Detroit's Ford Field.
Following are my final takes from our Finals weekend. Click on the headers below to see our coverage from each game, and check out the videos for a taste of some of the weekend's hoopla.
The first video was done by Potterville grad and MHSAA Scholar-Athlete award winner Sam Davis, and has at least a couple of us ready to put our helmets back on and hit the field. The other is a slice from one of the most raucous student sections from the weekend.
1st and 10
5 and 4 to No. 1: Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice and Flint Powers Catholic weren’t the first teams to reach Finals with a 5-4 record entering the postseason. But both doing so and winning speaks loudly not just of their respective talents, but also on the gains each made by playing tough opponents. Both came out of tough leagues – Brother Rice was one of three finalists from the Detroit Catholic League Central, and Powers played much larger schools in the Big Nine. Both also played and lost to eventual MHSAA champions during the regular season – Brother Rice against Division 3 winner Orchard Lake St. Mary, and Powers against Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel.
Like a rock – or Stone: Detroit Cass Tech linebacker/fullback Royce Jenkins-Stone might’ve been the most impressive all-around player from the weekend. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Michigan prospect ran for 65 yards and had seven tackles – numbers that don’t stick out. But he scored on a 32-yard run, a three-yard pass and a 36-yard interception return.
Just the beginning: Technicians freshman quarterback Jayru Campbell will be in the statewide lens for the next three seasons after throwing for 240 yards and five touchdowns in the Final. He’s 6-3 and 170 pounds, and easily blended in among his star-studded teammates in just his first year of high school. He’ll also have junior Jordan Lewis (four catches, 89 yards, TD) to throw to for another year.
Good company: Brother Rice’s Devin Church was the other individual performer who seemed to wow the media crowd most with his Finals performance. He capped a 900-yard playoffs with 244 and three touchdowns – and drew comparisons from Lowell coach Noel Dean to past star backs like Kevin Grady and T.J. Duckett. Church will sign with Northern Illinois this winter.
Making tracks: Talk about a running attack, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s came within eight yards of putting three backs over 100 each in its Final. The Eaglets ran for 479 yards total – falling just 53 short of the MHSAA Finals record book minimum. Spencer McInnis ran for 214 yards and three scores, while Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis both ran for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Rough and rumble: Zeeland West’s physicality in the Division 4 game was simply stifling. Keep in mind the Dux were without all-state linebacker Josh Blanton because of an injury. Then note that the team had just eight players weighing 200 pounds or more – and only three between 250-275. Zeeland West ran for 288 yards, but more impressively held Marine City to 79.
Charging forward: The weekend’s biggest stunner had to be Flint Powers over Lansing Catholic, for a number of reasons. Powers entered the postseason 5-4 (see above), Lansing Catholic was 9-0. The Cougars had beaten the Chargers 37-17 in Week 2. Lansing Catholic was ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press, while Powers was unranked.
Just the beginning, part II: Ithaca sophomore quarterback Travis Smith is another who will be watched closely after a big-time Ford Field debut. He threw for 299 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in the Yellowjackets’ Division 6 win. Ithaca will graduate a lot in the spring. But the 6-1, 180-pound Smith provides the base needed for a quick rebuild.
Backing it up: Saginaw Nouvel’s Bennett Lewis was another player as good as advertised to those who hadn’t seen him play this season. He ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in a half in Division 7, using both speed and muscle to make his way. At 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, the Division 7-8 AP Player of the Year is getting some Division I looks and is at least a high Division II prospect.
Consistently contending: Here’s an idea why Mendon’s is such an impressive machine – eight of John Schwartz’s assistant coaches also played for him. The ninth, Bob Critz, has been at Schwartz’s side since the latter took over the program in 1989. During the post-championship press conference, Schwartz revealed that he’d had cancer surgery in June and his assistants ran the program through all of the summer prep.
55,360 – Number of fans who attended the 2011 Finals. The total was slightly higher Friday than Saturday.
5 – Number of touchdown passes by Cass Tech’s Campbell and number of rushing scores by Nouvel’s Lewis. Both tied MHSAA Finals records.
56 – Number of points scored by both Saginaw Nouvel (Division 7) and Flint Powers (Division 5) to set the Finals record for most in a championship game. Nouvel scored all of its points in the first half. Both games ended with scores of 56-26 -- and oddly, no other MHSAA game ended with that score this season.
413 – Total yards by Powers junior quarterback Garrett Pougnet, just 13 shy of the MHSAA Finals record set by Holland Christian quarterback A.J. Westendorp in the 2008 Division 4 Final.
97 – Distance in yards of Zeeland West senior Brad Mesbergen’s Finals record kickoff return in the Division 4 Final.
MHSAA.tv: See full postgame press conferences (and field interviews after the Divisions 3 and 4 Finals).
Fox Sports Detroit: Dan Dickerson and John Wangler wrap the two days of finals.
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.
Last 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)