March to Marquette: 8-Player Preview

November 17, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA 8-Player Finals return to where they got their start Saturday, with two champions to be awarded for the first time.

Saturday’s games will be played at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome, which hosted the first MHSAA 8-Player Final in 2011. The 8-Player Playoffs also moved from one to two divisions this year, and Central Lake, Crystal Falls Forest Park and Portland St. Patrick all are seeking their first 8-player championships – while Central Lake will play 2012 champ Deckerville looking to win its first MHSAA title ever in the sport. 

Both games will be broadcast live on the FOX Sports Detroit Facebook page and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel on Nov. 21 – Division 1 at 8 p.m. and Division 2 at 11 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on

Below is a look at all four finalists. Statistics are through Semifinals unless noted. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

Division 1

 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Rob Heeke, seventh season (41-30)
League finish: First in Midwest Central Michigan Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-20 over No. 7 Stephenson in the Semifinal, 58-26 (Regional Final) and 44-14 over No. 10 Suttons Bay, 36-14 (Pre-Regional) and 64-38 over No. 15 Mesick, 42-28 over Division 2 No. 2 Onekama.
Players to watch: QB/DB Gavin Mortensen, 5-11/160, sr. (1,062 yards/12 TDs rushing, 680 yards/18 TDs passing); TE/DB Jayce Hoogerhyde, 6-2/145, sr. (223 yards/8 TDs receiving, 49 tackles); RB/DB Skyler Spangler, 6-0/160, jr. (1,652 yards/26 TDs rushing, 272 yards/7 TDs receiving); RB/LB Grant Papineau, 6-3/210, jr. (1,886 yards/25 TDs rushing, 95 tackles).
Outlook: Central Lake has shined in its first season of 8-player football, improving from 2-7 in its final season of 11-player a year ago. Onekama came closest to catching the Trojans, losing by 14 in the game Week 8 that decided the league championship. It’s no secret how Central Lake succeeds; led by three 1,000-yard rushers, the Trojans have run for nearly 4,900 yards at 8.3 per carry. Defensively Papineau is a stopper, but Mortensen and Hoogerhyde are impressive pass defenders with 13 and 15 pass break-ups, respectively. Mortensen also has six interceptions.

 11-1, No. 3
Coach: Bill Brown, 25th season (201-71)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League Stars
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2012, runner-up 2016.
Best wins: 52-18 over No. 5 Bellevue in the Semifinal, 38-0 over No. 4 Morrice in the Regional Final, 66-28 (Pre-Regional) and 42-8 over No. 12 Mayville, 20-14 over No. 6 Kingston, 52-0 over No. 16 Lawrence.
Players to watch: QB/DB Isaac Keinath, 5-10/155, soph. (660 yards/15 TDs passing); TB/DB Kenton Bowerman, 5-6/150, sr. (971 yards/14 TDs rushing, 8 interceptions); TE/LB/P Wyatt Janowiak, 6-4/255, sr. (288 yards/6 TDs receiving); TB/DB Cruz Ibarra, 5-10/150, jr. (1,430 yards/20 TDs rushing).
Outlook: A new cast of stars has emerged after most of last year’s graduated, and Bowerman stepped up even more last week scoring four touchdowns with leading rusher Ibarra reportedly out with an injury. Deckerville’s only loss this season was by a point to Morrice in Week 6, and was avenged with a 38-point shutout win in the Regional Final. Rival Kingston was the only other opponent to get closer than 20 points to catching the Eagles – despite a regular-season schedule that featured seven playoff teams. Senior Zachary Ostrowski has six catches as the team’s third-leading receiver – and five interceptions as its second-leading pass defender.

Division 2

9-2, No. 6
Coach: Dave Graff, fourth season (35-10)
League finish: Second in Western Eight Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2007), 10 runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 36-34 over No. 1 Pickford in the Semifinal, 62-20 over No. 9 Engadine in the Regional Final, 20-6 (Pre-Regional) and 66-58 over No. 7 Powers North Central, 52-38 over Division 1 No. 13 Ontonagon.
Players to watch: RB/LB Connor Bortolini, 5-8/150, sr. (1,749 yards/20 TDs rushing); QB Tommy Peltoma, 6-1/180, soph. (666 yards/10 TDs passing); RB/DE Peter Ropiak, 6-0/185, sr. (863 yards/12 TDs rushing); RB/DB Calvin Post, 5-8/170, soph. (765 yards/9 TDs rushing, 4 interceptions).
Outlook: Forest Park is one of the most successful programs in MHSAA history, especially among smaller schools – it played in the Division 8 Final six straight seasons from 2004-09. The Trojans moved to 8-player last season and might have been the second or third-best team in Michigan, but shared a league and playoff path with eventual repeat champion Powers North Central and lost to the Jets in the Regional Final. Forest Park opened this season 1-2, but hasn’t been defeated since falling to Division 1 semifinalist Stephenson in Week 3. Bortolini took over this fall as the main ball carrier after the Trojans graduated a 2,400-yard rusher, and he’s carried on the program’s tradition of productive backs.

 11-1, No. 3
Coach: Patrick Russman, 11th season (69-42)
League finish: First in Central Michigan 8-Man Conference
Championship history: 11-Player Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1997 and 1991.
Best wins: 33-14 over No. 5 Kinde-North Huron in the Semifinal, 50-0 over No. 8 Flint International Academy in the Regional Final, 44-6 over No. 13 North Adams-Jerome in the Pre-Regional, 24-8 over No. 10 Marion, 38-22 over Division 1 No. 14 Webberville.
Players to watch: QB/DB Tanner Lawson, 6-3/165, jr. (1,093 yards/20 TDs passing); RB/LB Isaiah Smith, 5-10/190, sr. (359 yards/7 TDs rushing); RB/DL Ned Smith, 5-10/160, soph (779 yards/8 TDs rushing); WR/DB Will Simon, 6-2/170, sr. (395 yards/8TDs receiving). (Statistics through nine games plus one forfeit win.).
Outlook: St. Patrick also was one of the state’s top 11-player small-school programs through the 1990s and has been on the verge of playing for an 8-player championship since switching formats in 2012 – and making the Semifinals that first season. The only blemish on this season’s record was a Week 4 loss to eventual Division 1 semifinalist Bellevue, and no other opponent has gotten closer than 16 points. Junior linebacker Paul Cook is among those pacing a defense that has given up only 12.7 points per game.

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)