Opportunistic GRCC Breaks D4 Stalemate
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
November 25, 2016
DETROIT – One big pass, a solid kicking game and a handful of fine defensive plays were all Grand Rapids Catholic Central needed to lock up the school’s first MHSAA football title since 2010.
Trailing much of the game, GRCC scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and then relied on its defense to complete a 10-7 victory over Detroit Country Day in the Division 4 Final on Friday at Ford Field.
The championship was the Cougars’ third. Country Day finished runner-up for the fourth time in 11 seasons.
And this loss must be one of the more painful.
Country Day’s defense was outstanding. But the one time the Yellowjackets were caught out of position, it cost them.
The Cougars (13-1) faced a 3rd-and-7 from the Country Day 44 when junior quarterback Jack Bowen got the protection he needed and completed a pass to Michael Brown, who ran a delayed crossing pattern. Brown caught the ball at the 30 and split the Country Day defenders to complete the 44-yard touchdown pass to give GRCC the 10-7 lead with 11:11 remaining.
“We couldn’t draw it up any better,” Brown said. “I had to shut my feet down and get the corner to bite. (Bowen) threw a perfect pass. I just caught it.
“We knew coming in both teams had good defenses. Our defensive line didn’t stop. We had to hang in there.”
No one could have guess just how good these defenses would play.
GRCC gained one first down – on the touchdown reception. That set an MHSAA Finals record for fewest first downs; the previous record was set during the first playoffs, in 1975, when Flint Holy Rosary was held to four first downs by Crystal Falls Forest Park in Class D.
The teams also set a Finals record for fewest combined total yards, combining for 173. Farmington Hills Harrison and Muskegon Catholic Central set the previous record of 196 in the 1981 Class B title game.
It was fitting that Country Day’s final offensive play resulted in a sack by Derek Saukas, one of 10 recorded by the Cougars for a total of 82 yards lost by the Yellowjackets.
It was that type of game. GRCC totaled 15 yards on its first three possessions of the second half, which all resulted in Josh Steffes punts.
Jaylen Mayfield’s fumble recovery at the Country Day 47 with one second left in the third quarter gave the Cougars the field position they were hoping for and set up the go-ahead drive.
GRCC coach Todd Kolster said his defense has played like that all season, and the play Bowen and Brown made also had a familiar ring to it.
“These guys are bigtime football players,” Kolster said. “They’re great students. They’re great people.
“Defensively this is what we’ve done all year. Our offense has been opportunistic. Our defense is as good as anyone’s. It’s something we believe in.”
With the defenses so dominant, it was apropos that Country Day’s touchdown was scored on a turnover.
Country Day (13-1) trailed 3-0, and GRCC faced a 3rd-and-8 from the Country Day 17 when linebacker Adam Fakih applied pressure on Bowen, hitting the quarterback as he tried to throw. The pass fluttered into the hands of Roy McCree IV, who raced down the right sideline for an 82-yard interception return touchdown and Country Day lead, 7-3, with 4:54 left in the half.
The Yellowjackets went to senior Steve Mann at quarterback on the next series and threatened to increase their lead. Mann took over for the starter, sophomore Jalen Graham, and moved his team from its 36 to the GRCC 25 – but a sack and a penalty pushed Country Day back, and a fourth down conversion attempt failed, ending the half.
GRCC scored with 1:18 left in the first quarter on Josh Steffes’ 31-yard field goal. That score was set up by Antonio Strong’s 58-yard punt return.
Country Day had 40 yards in the half; the Cougars did not gain a yard.
The loss was especially tough on Country Day coach Dan MacLean. He switched quarterbacks in an effort to add a spark.
Each quarterback was sacked five times. Graham was 3 of 5 passing for 18 yards, and Mann was 9 of 15 for 87 yards.
“We needed to,” MacLean said. “We had to get something going.
“Our defense has been a fantastic group. The (10) sacks, I have to see the film, but it wasn’t good.
“It’s very difficult to take right now.”
The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) A collection of Grand Rapids Catholic Central defenders tackle Country Day’s Chris Bergin (5). (Middle) GRCC’s Antonio Strong follows a block during Friday’s Final.
For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
March 17, 2023
Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.
Last 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)