Grinding Ground Game Has White Pigeon Eyeing Memorable Run
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
September 8, 2021
With just a cursory glance at the 2020 results for the White Pigeon varsity football team, the Chiefs’ 4-3 record might not seem all that impressive.
Their opponents this year, however, know not to discount a program that has the potential to both reshape the Southwest 10 Conference standings by the end of the fall, but also to shake things up once the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 8 playoffs get rolling.
Losing two of those contests to eventual D8 champion Centreville — a 14-8 defeat in Week 2 and a 16-0 loss in the District championship game — White Pigeon’s only other misstep was a 26-24 loss to Mendon in what was the Hornets’ final season before moving to the 8-player ranks. White Pigeon’s District opener win over Saugatuck was the school’s first postseason victory since 2009.
The Chiefs are rolling so far this year with sizable wins over Saugatuck (48-6) and Galesburg-Augusta (38-7) to set up a conference opener this Friday against Decatur (1-1). Comstock is White Pigeon’s Week 4 opponent before the anticipated matchup with Centreville on Sept. 24.
"It definitely was a misleading (record) last year,” fourth-year head coach Shawn Strawser said. “(Centreville) was just a little better than us and ended up being state champs. Knowing that we were right there and that’s how close we could have been to having a nice run and being one of the better teams in the state … we watched those teams play and there wasn’t anybody that scared us. We would have loved to have chances against some of those schools last year.
"I think our guys seeing a team from our conference won a state title, it gives them some confidence that they can do that too if they work hard.”
Perhaps that wish will come true this year as Strawser’s Wing-T offense is pounding opposing defenses thus far despite the graduation of 12 seniors, only 17 players on the varsity roster and several underclassmen in starting roles. If so, it will be because of heart and not size.
At a preseason scrimmage, Strawser instituted a new rule as a result.
"The boys come walking down the sideline and they don’t have their pads on,” he said. “I said, ‘Dang it; what are you guys doing? Don’t you ever walk out here with your pads off. We ain’t intimidating nobody with our pads off, so go get them back on. Some people might see us with our pads off and they think we’re a JV team. But I’ll tell you what, we don’t play like a JV team.”
Seniors Jack Davidson and Dylan Carper so far have amassed staggering rushing production for the Chiefs, who have thrown the ball just three times. Davidson, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound fullback, ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns against Saugatuck and he added 137 yards and three more TDs vs. the Rams in Week 2. Carper, a 5-9, 165-pound back, piled up 130 yards and two scores in Week 1 and added 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. The two also line up at linebacker — a position of strength for the White Pigeon defense
"Carper is a football player,” Strawser said. “You can play him anywhere. He’s the hardest hitter on the team. He could have had 300 yards the first night had I been giving him the ball more. Jack Davidson is not the type of fullback we had the first couple years. He sees holes really well and is a really strong runner.”
Of course, success begins up front with junior tight ends Jordan Stamper and Chris Jackson, left tackle Chaz Underwood (freshman), left guard Esteban Castro (junior), center Wyatt Carunchia (junior), right guard Luke Gropp (senior) and right tackle Seth Miller (sophomore).
"Our line has probably been the best it has been in a few years, so that’s a big reason why we get so many yards per carry and so many touchdowns,” Carper said. “Them doing their job consistently helps us a lot. It makes it really easy for us to just run through the big hole they made.
"It’s really fun watching Jack go for all these yards. And then the next thing you know, I get to carry and go for a big touchdown. We just get to go back and forth with each other. It’s fun to play and fun to watch. I’m faster than Jack, so I hit the hole quicker. But he’s more powerful and patient than I am. He waits for the hole to develop while I go right through it.”
Davidson has a unique perspective on how the front seven should operate having spent last season at left guard to shore up the offensive line.
"Yeah, I got yelled at a few times,” Davidson joked. “It made me understand how tough it is. I get now why they ask a lot of questions and that I have to be more patient in the backfield.”
"We knew it was going to be a one-year deal,” Strawser added of Davidson’s line days. “We were a little thin on the line last year and he stepped up and did a nice job. But we knew he’d be moving back this year.”
With the meat of the schedule ahead, the Chiefs believe they have what it takes to get to the next level.
"I just think we work really good as a team. And with us all working together, I think we can cause them some trouble,” Carper said. “Every year I think we’re in the mix for (a conference championship), but this year there is a good team at Centreville and at Comstock, so it should be a close race.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) White Pigeon’s Jack Davidson pulls away from a potential tackler last week against Galesburg-Augusta. (Middle) White Pigeon’s defensive front seven – including Davidson (30), Luke Gropp (54), Chris Jackson (8) and Jordan Stamper (84) – loads the box against Saugatuck during Week 1. (Below) Dylan Carper (21) gets to the edge against Saugatuck. (Photos courtesy of the White Pigeon football program.)
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 email@example.com 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.)