P-W Triumphs in Clash of Unbeatens
November 30, 2019
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – This week was the right time for Carter Thelen to pull out the film from sixth grade, to remember the start of this year’s seniors playing football together a third of their lifetimes ago.
“It was kinda emotional, because this was our last game playing with each other,” Thelen said Saturday after that final game was complete. “Just thinking back to when we kept blowing everybody out in sixth grade and seventh grade and eighth grade. Coach was saying how it was the last game for us seniors … (it was) emotionally sad, but physically it pushed me to go out and be better in practice and stay locked in and push everybody else.”
Every ounce of that focus and every ounce of that push was necessary Saturday as the Pirates faced Jackson Lumen Christi and its 35-game winning streak in the Division 7 Final at Ford Field.
The teams entered with five MHSAA Finals championship over the last three seasons between them, and P-W emerged with the sixth over four, coming out just ahead in a physical matchup 14-0 to claim its third Division 7 title in four years to go with those won in 2016 and 2017. Lumen Christi had won the last three Division 6 championships before moving into Division 7 for this playoffs as one of seven undefeated teams in that 32-team field to start the postseason.
Their matchup indeed was 48 minutes of tug of war. P-W gained 119 yards, and Lumen Christi had 109 as both averaged 2.3 per play. The Pirates (14-0) were held under 35 points for just the second time this season, to go with a 14-0 Week 1 victory over Friday’s Division 8 champion Reading. Lumen Christi hadn’t been shut out since a 2010 playoff loss.
“They’re the three-time defending Division 6 state champs, and they are obviously one of the storied programs in the state of Michigan,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “And when you’re going up against them, you have to execute. So to do it against a quality opponent like that is obviously just a tremendous credit to our kids.”
P-W scored its first touchdown when senior Aaron Bearss pulled in a pass from senior Ethan Thelen with three seconds left in the first half after a Bearss interception gave the Pirates an opportunity at the Titans’ 40-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in the half.
After nearly 22 more minutes of back-and-forth, the Pirates locked up the title on Carter Thelen’s 16-yard scoring run with 2:16 to play, as he burst through the middle of the line and shucked two Lumen Christi defenders at the 1 before gliding into the end zone.
The Titans (12-1) reached P-W territory on three of their 10 possessions, but only inside the 35 once – and that drive ended with a missed field-goal attempt 10 seconds into the second quarter. The three straight Lumen championships saw at least one runner gain at least 200 yards (and in 2017 two did so). Senior Walker Plate entered Saturday averaging almost exactly 200 yards per game rushing this season, but was held to just 49 on 22 carries as the team rushed for only 80 total. Lumen also completed just 6-of-16 passes for 29 yards.
“They were really physical up front, and they played eight men in the box – but we’ve seen that all year long,” Titans coach Herb Brogan said. “We’ve been able to take advantage of what that gives you, and we couldn’t do that today.”
P-W senior lineman John Martin and Lumen senior defensive end Matt Saunders led their respective defenses with 11 tackles apiece. Lumen Christi had 12 tackles for loss, including five by junior Brody Dalton. Senior linebacker Grant Stump added eight more tackles for the Pirates.
Sophomore Tanner Wirth led P-W 63 yards rushing on 23 carries, pushing past 1,600 yards on the year as he stepped in for his senior brother Hunter, who missed the entire season after tearing a knee ligament during the summer. Ethan Thelen completed 5-of-11 passes for 52 yards and a score, two years after tearing a knee ligament as well in his final game sophomore year.
Carter Thelen said this year’s P-W team was defined by how it pushed the pile in short-yardage situations and others when a full team effort was necessary. How the Pirates emerged from those two potentially success-stopping injuries on the way to a second-straight perfect regular season, defeating two unbeaten teams on the way to Ford Field – reigning champion New Lothrop and Iron Mountain – and then winning one of the most power-packed Finals this decade only seemed to back up Thelen’s analogy.
“It’s every time we get in the moment,” Thelen said. “Everybody goes behind and tries to push the pile.
“We’re stronger than them and we’ve got more heart, and that pile just keeps going our way.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Grant Stump (22) and Aaron Bearss celebrate during Saturday’s Division 7 Final. (Middle) Bearss locks in on what will be a second-quarter touchdown catch.
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.)