MARQUETTE — It was a different stadium, but the same end result Saturday as Adrian Lenawee Christian defeated Suttons Bay for the second consecutive season, this time 31-20, to repeat as 8-player Division 1 champion.
But Saturday’s game at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome proved a much tougher test for the Cougars, who needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to finally take down the Norsemen.
Lenawee Christian had won last season’s championship game 47-0 at Legacy Center in Brighton.
“What a tremendous game; my hat’s off to Suttons Bay,” Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Bill Wilharms said. “To make it here three straight years in a row, man what an amazing program coach (Garrick) Opie has.
“To all of the fans, it was so cool in this environment. It was so loud. This is what small-town football is all about. I can’t say enough about the venue and just having the opportunity to be here. I appreciate that a great deal.”
The game couldn’t have started better for the Cougars, as on the second play, Ashur Bryja intercepted a Suttons Bay pass and returned it 22 yards for the opening score. Suttons Bay had multiple scoring chances in the first quarter with drives reaching the Lenawee Christian red zone, but the Norsemen turned the ball over on downs.
The second quarter came with better fortunes for Suttons Bay, with Hugh Periard taking a handoff 90 yards for a score. Shawn Bramer’s two-point conversion run was sniffed out by the Cougars’ defense, and Suttons Bay trailed 7-6 with 6:44 left in the half. Lenawee Christian had a nice drive going inside the Norsemen 10-yard line before a pass was tipped and intercepted at the goal line by August Schaub, and returned it 99 yards for a score. Another Suttons Bay two-point attempt was no good, but the two touchdowns built a 12-7 lead with 4:58 to go in the half.
But Adrian Lenawee Christian didn’t fold because of the momentum changes, and responded with a six play, 65-yard drive capped off with a Bryja 11-yard touchdown run to take the lead back. The Cougars led 14-12 at halftime, and responding to Suttons Bay’s punches went back to being tested throughout the season, Wilharms said.
“I think this year, we’ve been tested a couple times,” Wilharms said. “Colon did it to us at their place, we had to weather some storms there as well, so I think we were tested. BD (Britton Deerfield) on the first play of the game in Week 9 comes out and scores on us. These kids have weathered the challenge on it and they understand, they play together as a team.”
Suttons Bay had another turnover on downs in Lenawee Christian territory in the third quarter, which turned into three points for the Cougars as Brady McKelvey nailed a 28-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-12 with 2:02 remaining in the period.
Defense continued to carry the second half well into the fourth quarter, when the first touchdown of the half was scored with only 6:21 left in the game. Clay Ayers, who battled injury, ran the ball in for the Cougars to extend the lead to 24-12. Ayers was limited to only seven carries, but he showed well when it mattered most.
Suttons Bay fired back just 1:06 later with a deep pass from quarterback Dylan Barnowski to Periard for a 55-yard touchdown to cut the Cougars’ lead to 24-20 after Bramer’s ensuing two-point run. In his third consecutive Final, Periard had 209 yards from scrimmage. In also his final high school game, this loss was the most heartbreaking.
“Obviously, the previous two hurt pretty bad, but I think this one was the most because it’s my last time ever playing football and we were so close to pulling this one off,” Periard said. “So this year’s definitely the worst, in my opinion.”
Any doubt of the game’s finish was put away with a 33-yard run from Bryja to slam the door. Bryja, also Lenawee Christian’s quarterback, threw for 229 yards and ran for 161 and two touchdowns, in addition to his interception return.
At the end of the day, the Norsemen didn’t falter, but it was tough to overcome the Cougars.
“Sometimes you have the cards falling your way, and sometimes you don’t,” Suttons Bay coach Garrick Opie said. “Today was one of those days where timing mixed with lack of execution or otherwise. Or the fact that Lenawee Christian is just a very good team, was just very tough.”
The 2022 Adrian Lenawee Christian senior class finished 24-0 in leading the program’s first two seasons of 8-player football.
“They’re going to leave as the all-time winningest group in school history. They will have the single-season win record. They will have a ton of stuff,” Wilharms said. “As a collective group, oh my goodness, what a wonderful, wonderful group.”
PHOTOS (Top) Lenawee Christian’s Ashur Bryja (15) breaks into the open on the way to a second-quarter touchdown. (Middle) Suttons Bay’s Hugh Periard (1) makes a cut as the Cougars’ Clay Ayers (2) attempts to wrap him up. (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click for more.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)