MCC Makes Most of 3-Peat Opportunity

November 27, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Christian Martinez ran for 45 yards Friday morning according to the Division 8 championship game box score, but crisscrossed his backfield for at least a few hundred more just trying to stay on his feet. 

Muskegon Catholic Central’s senior quarterback didn’t find many opportunities to move forward during the day’s first MHSAA Final at Ford Field – but took advantage when a title-deciding opening finally came.

In a game surprisingly dominated by defense, Martinez scored the only points with 10:21 to play in a 7-0 victory over undefeated Waterford Our Lady that gave MCC its third straight championship.

The teams entered the Final averaging a combined 78 points this season. But four turnovers by the Lakers and a number of stops by both defenses kept the scoreboard blank for the first three quarters.

“I was wondering when we were finally going to bust loose and score,” Martinez said. “They were just well-coached. They read their keys well. They had a really good inside linebacker; he broke on the ball. And then they had some really big defensive linemen who stopped a lot of plays up front before they even started.”

Martinez was complimentary of the Lakers’ defense for good reason. Both defenses shined – Our Lady held MCC to 215 yards and allowed only five third-down conversions in 12 tries. The Crusaders held the Lakers to 241 yards, but intercepted four passes and allowed Our Lady only four first downs on 12 third-down attempts.

Our Lady hadn’t been shut out since 2011. MCC had been held to single digits only one other time over the last three seasons – by Division 4 semifinalist Detroit Country Day in Week 8 of this fall.

All of the offense MCC could muster came together as the third quarter turned into the fourth. Our Lady looked to have another stop in hand with the Crusaders facing 3rd-and-4, but Martinez followed his blockers for a 14-yard gain down to the Lakers' 32-yard line. Senior Walker Christoffersen followed with a 24-yard run to the 8. Martinez then watched towering offensive tackle Jacob Holt block two defenders to set the edge, and followed for an 8-yard scoring run.

MCC (11-2) entered this season on a 26-game winning streak and abruptly lost in Week 1 to Muskegon Oakridge. After two seasons of complete dominance, three games this fall were decided by 14 points or fewer – which may have paid off when it mattered most.

“I was extremely happy that we were able to gut it out,” MCC coach Steve Czerwon said. “We’ve been in quite a few close games this year, maybe some more than past years. A lot of grit, a lot of integrity out of these guys.”

And a great strategy on his staff's part. The Crusaders played with four defensive backs deep to try to contain an Our Lady offense keyed by senior quarterback Clay Senerius, who had thrown for 2,913 yards and 34 touchdowns entering the day.

Christoffersen had two interceptions, including one in the end zone as Our Lady drove for a tying score with 3:21 to play. Senerius still finished 17 of 27 passing for 193 yards, but the Lakers had difficulty stringing enough positive plays together to get other drives rolling.

Our Lady did try a field goal midway through the first quarter but missed left from 35 yards out. The Lakers gained first downs on two fourth-down conversions, but their one failed fourth-down attempt came later in the first quarter when an incomplete pass ended a drive at MCC’s 16-yard line.

“The play at the end (of the game) is the one everyone is going to remember, but we had our shots there in the first half,” Our Lady coach Josh Sawicki said. “We’ve been aggressive all year. We’ve gone for it on fourth down all year. We don’t change our strategy and who we are and what we do just because of the big stage.

“Most of the time we come up with those big plays on fourth down. That’s when we bear down. It just didn’t go our way today.”

Our Lady, back in a Final for the first time since 2002, allowed only one opponent this season to come within 25 points. The Lakers (13-1) finished with their most wins and points (542) in school history.

Clay’s brother Devin, also a senior, caught six passes for 72 yards, and senior linebacker Ryan Kostich and junior defensive back Isaac Oliver led the team with seven tackles apiece.

Holt had 6.5 tackles and senior linebacker Nathan Jones and junior linebacker Andrew Schulte both had six for MCC. Christoffersen ran for 113 yards to go with his interceptions.

“We’ve had really good coaching. We had good players run routes on us, really good teaching throughout the week, and it resulted in a really good play I made in the state championship,” Christoffersen said. “I knew that was a really big play, and I was really happy I could make a play for my team.” 

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Catholic Central’s Walker Christoffersen snags one of his two interceptions in the Division 8 Final. (Middle) MCC quarterback Christian Martinez works to break away from an Our Lady defender.

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.)