Moment: The Final Thrill

December 16, 2020

By John Johnson
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

Over the course of nearly 34 years on this job, you often get asked what single championship game you would rank at the top of your list. You could ask that question to 100 people and get 100 answers – and guess what? They’d all be right. Such is the beauty of high school sports.

Which is why, after all these years, my game for the ages is one that has stood the test of time in my mind for over 30 years. It had everything you would want in a high school game – fantastic competition – great plays – and when it was over, some of the best sportsmanship I’ve ever seen – NO – make that THE best sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. To be on the field, you’d have a hard time telling who won and who lost by the way the players from both teams hugged and shook hands and sincerely congratulated each other. Which is how it should be after every – single – game.

And what topped it all off after that was the winning team making a trip to a pep assembly at the other team’s gym the following week to thank them for a great game, and present a banner signed by every member of the team.

That game was the 1989 Class B Football Playoff Final. The last year that four divisions were conducted in that postseason tournament. The last game played in that format.

Farmington Hills Harrison and DeWitt. The powerful, dominant Hawks and even legendary at that time coach John Herrington – and the All-America quarterback in Mill “The Thrill” Coleman; against the pride of the Ingham County League, the Panthers of DeWitt, from what was an old farming bedroom community north of Lansing transforming into a new money suburb of the Capitol City.

The Hawks, the reigning Class B champs after winning the third of their state-record 13 titles against St. Joseph the previous November, were heavy favorites. DeWitt was making its fourth Playoff appearance and moving up in class after reaching the Semifinals in 1988, only to lose to powerhouse Detroit St. Martin dePorres.

The underdogs used an efficient running attack to take a 21-14 halftime lead on Harrison. John Telford, who rushed for 153 yards in the game, had two of the scores. Harrison tied the game early in the final period on the first of two scoring runs by Coleman, this one from 19 yards out.

DeWitt then put together a grinding drive, culminated by quarterback Chris Berkimer sneaking it from one yard out. Harrison blocked the extra point and DeWitt led 27-21 with 2:20 on the clock.

That left way too much time for Coleman. He engineered a 67-yard, five-play drive to tie the game. It didn’t even take a minute off the clock.

“When they scored I looked at the clock and knew we had enough time and all three of our time outs,” Coleman told the Detroit Free Press after the game. “I kept thinking back to that drive John Elway had against the Browns a couple of years ago in the playoffs when he had to go 98 yards.”

Three straight passes to Mike Saputo, Steve Hill and Greg Piscopink got Harrison down to the DeWitt 16; and Coleman then rolled out on a Student Body Right for another seven yards.

At the DeWitt 9, Coleman dropped back for what appeared to be another pass, but the Panthers' pressure forced The Thrill to run. Coleman eluded five tacklers along the way, finally diving into the end zone to score. 

“We knew he (Coleman) was good, and we just tried to contain him,” DeWitt coach Gail Thornton told the Lansing State Journal after the game.  “But every once in a while he would get loose for a big one.”

Steve Hill kicked the extra point and Harrison was back in the lead, 28-27. Hill would then intercept Berkimer on DeWitt’s first play after the ensuing kickoff to seal the deal.

PHOTO: Farmington Hills Harrison's Mill Coleman rolls left at the start of what would be the game-winning run for his team in the 1989 Class B Football Final. (Photo by Gary Shook). 

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.)