By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – The Pewamo-Westphalia football program finished a second straight season hoisting a championship trophy at Ford Field on Saturday, thanks to the “next man up” … and the next man … and the next man after that.
They got back to Ford Field in large part on the running and passing skills of senior quarterback Jimmy Lehman. And then Lehman potentially broke his left hand in the second quarter and didn’t play the final two.
In both instances, and a few more this fall, someone stepped right in. This time, the Pirates weathered the loss of Lehman and stood strong as Saugatuck’s offense caught stride to close with a 21-0 win that proved once more P-W’s teams of the last two seasons were even better than the sum of some truly elite parts.
“We had a lot of people that just really felt like they had to step up,” Lehman said. “We lost our first game (28-21 to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central) and that was some of the adversity we had to go through all year – how were we going to respond from that? We just made sure we took every day and made it the best we could, and just improve from there.”
That loss to the Falcons was P-W’s only defeat of the last two seasons, and they improved to 40-3 over the last three years after also finishing Division 7 runner-up in 2015.
The “next man up” success sort of began in last season’s championship game, when Smith served as a tremendous decoy running for 48 of his 8,182 career yards while Lehman and others starred in a 28-14 win over Detroit Loyola.
Lehman took the reins fulltime this fall and threw for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns, running for 728 yards and 16 scores – and while starting as a forceful 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive end as well.
His late first quarter touchdown run from 12 yards out said it all as Lehman broke two tackles and dragged three more defenders into the end zone. He stayed in the game at first after injuring the hand on P-W’s final possession of the first half, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Peyton Heckman to finish his day.
The Pirates threw only one pass during a scoreless second half. Junior Noah Spitzley stepped in and helped that effort on the defensive side, tying for third on the team with six tackles.
“It says a lot about the other guys on the team, the other guys in the program that are just continually working and waiting for an opportunity,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “Cameron Wirth started for us all year at fullback and linebacker, and we lost him on the opening kickoff of the Semifinal. Justin Pohl, who hadn’t played a whole lot, stepped in and did a great job at fullback for us today. So we always have the ‘next man up’ mentality, and these guys are constantly ready. And I think it says a lot about them.”
Saugatuck’s run this fall said plenty as well. The Indians this spring graduated Blake Dunn, the eighth-leading rusher in MHSAA career history. But they made it to Ford Field for the first time since finishing Division 8 runner-up in 2010, ironically after seeing perfect seasons end against P-W in District Finals the last two years in losses of 10 and six points.
“It’s been our dream forever to get here, and the first thing yesterday when we first walked in here, it was amazing – it just opened up,” Saugatuck senior linebacker Reece Schreckengust said. “It’s a great stadium, a great atmosphere. Losing hurts, but to get all the way here, it was a great season. I’m proud of every one of my teammates, my coaches, and myself and everyone else in our community for getting here. … To go out at Ford Field is probably the second best, besides winning it.”
After struggling during the first half, Saugatuck (10-4) took its shots at making it close during the second.
The Indians drove to P-W’s 18-yard line on their second possession of the third quarter, but sophomore linebacker Jacob Pung ended that rally with an interception at the 11.
Saugatuck then drove to the Pirates’ 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter, before having first and second-down runs stopped for a one-yard loss and no gain, respectively, seeing a third-down pass fall incomplete and getting sacked on fourth down for a 16-yard loss by Spitzley and senior Damon Schneider.
Total, P-W (13-1) held Saugatuck to 147 yards of offense. The shutout was the Pirates’ second of the playoffs and sixth this season, not including a 2-0 forfeit win in Week 7.
“They’re just a big, physical, fast team,” Saugatuck senior quarterback Jackson Shriver said. “That’s what makes a great defense. They follow their system and play hard. They have a great team, and it was hard to play against them.”
Saugatuck’s defense deserved praise as well. The Pirates’ 21 points were their fewest since that opening-night loss.
“We had our moments when we could’ve come back, and unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Indians coach Bill Dunn said. “To hold a team like that to 21 is a good credit. A couple of those came off miscues either offensively, or a turnover. Our defense was exceptional considering the opponent. They were just a little bit better today.”
Senior Bryce Thelen added 92 yards rushing on 14 carries and scored P-W’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter. Schneider paced the defense with eight tackles including two sacks.
Schreckengust, who will graduate as Saugatuck’s career tackles record holder, had nine more, as did senior Connor Carper.
“They always play hard, and so respectful,” Thelen said of what’s become an annual meeting between the programs. “It’s always a hard-nosed game, always close, always super physical. They’re just fun games to play in that come down to a couple plays throughout the game that tilt the game one way or the other.”
The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) P-W quarterback Jimmy Lehman charges upfield during the Division 7 championship game. (Middle) Bryce Thelen eludes the grasp of a Saugatuck defender.
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.)