By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – If Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central could draw up the perfect game for its preferred style of play, it might look a lot like Friday’s Division 6 Final.
Yes, the Falcons defeated Maple City Glen Lake to win their first championship since 2014, so that makes it memorable no matter what. And sure, SMCC would’ve loved to score more – the offense averaged 34 points per game heading into the night.
But look past all of that and consider: The Falcons had 63 plays to Glen Lake’s 32, and ran the ball 58 times. They had 22 first downs to Glen Lake’s six. They had the ball nearly twice as long – 31:17 to 16:43 – and didn’t have one penalty called against them. And the defense posted its first shutout of the season.
Offensive efficiency and defensive prowess have been hallmarks of a program that was playing in its eighth MHSAA Final – and the victory was proof again that the workmanlike approach remains a viable a championship approach during an era dominated by wide-open and fast-paced attacks.
“It’s not really the score that we anticipated, but it’s OK – we’re a grinding team, we have faith in our defense and our offense to eat up time on the clock,” SMCC senior quarterback Wyatt Bergmoser said. “We just rep our plays, and if it does come down to the defense we let them do their thing and it’s not a big deal – we have trust in the other players on the field.
“We were on different teams (before high school) but we knew we’d come together and play together in the future, and that’s something we dreamed of and hoped for forever. As a kid, I went to the 2014 state championship game. I just remember sitting in the stands and thinking to myself, I want to be here one day. I want to be here with my friends, with my other players and grind it out and get a state championship for myself. And that’s what we did, and I love all my players and teammates for that.”
The Falcons finished 12-1, their only defeat this season 28-21 to Division 4 Milan in Week 3.
That close loss, which eventually decided the Huron League title, provided a lesson that would serve St. Mary as it worked to finish off its mission for the ultimate playoff prize.
SMCC led in the fourth quarter by a point, and punted on 4th-and-4 with just under seven minutes to play. Milan went ahead on the next possession, and the Falcons ran out of time.
On Friday, SMCC punted only twice and converted on four of five fourth-down tries, including two during a 14-play, 55-yard fourth-quarter possession that didn’t result in a score but did drain 7:48 off the clock. That possession also left Glen Lake to try to tie beginning at its own 7-yard line with 2:27 to play.
“Earlier in the year we were hitting some big runs, but three, four, five yards are great plays for our offense,” SMCC coach Adam Kipf said. “We don’t need to hit a home run. We don’t need to get 10 yards every time we touch it. But if we’re getting three yards a pop … 2½ yards, we’re in great position. We like to do that, and we’ll chew up 35, 36, 37 seconds on the play clock too, and that’s by design. We want to keep it out of their hands.”
The game’s lone score came on a Bergmoser six-yard touchdown run just under five minutes into the second quarter, which capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive lasting 5:22.
The Falcons ran for 249 yards total, led by senior Alex Morgan’s 123 on 22 carries. They held Glen Lake (12-2) to 127 yards total, 75 of it coming through the air on passes by senior quarterback Reece Hazelton. The Lakers got no deeper into SMCC territory than the 36-yard line.
“They were probably the biggest team we faced all year, since we’re pretty big ourselves,” Glen Lake junior receiver/defensive back Finn Hogan said. “It was a little different change of pace for us. It took a drive or two for us to get used to, and they capitalized.”
The seven points tied the fewest Glen Lake gave up in a game this season – seven times the Lakers gave up seven, and they allowed a solid 16.2 on average over the entire fall. Hogan and senior linebacker Jonathan Wright led Friday’s effort with 12 tackles apiece, and as a team Glen Lake had six tackles for loss.
Bergmoser also was his team’s high tackler with seven.
Glen Lake had last appeared in a Final in 2016, also finishing Division 6 runner-up that year. The Falcons, meanwhile, finished a rare 4-5 that fall, but came back with seven wins in 2017 and nine last season to set up this year’s run.
“Going into high school my freshman year, I knew we had a special group in our class. I think everyone knew we were special,” Morgan said. “My sophomore year we had 11 starters on the team that made the playoff run. Our junior year we had a ton of juniors starting on that team. So we had one goal in mind this senior year, and it was to be right where we are right now.”
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Mary’s Alex Morgan (26) is slowed by Glen Lake’s C.J. Helfrich (2) and Finn Hogan. (Middle) A Glen Lake defender works to bring down the Falcons’ Samuel Cousino.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)