Pickford Prepping for Next Chance to Shine

October 10, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The Pickford football team has relished the opportunity to learn the last two seasons.

The Panthers’ 2016 run ended in the 8-Player Semifinals with a loss to eventual repeat champion Powers North Central. Last season, Pickford didn’t lose a game until the 8-Player Division 2 Semifinals – when it fell to eventual champion Crystal Falls Forest Park by a mere two points.

“There was a point in (last year’s) game where if we could’ve gotten the ball back, we had a chance to win that game,” Pickford coach Josh Rader said. “We know sometime during the season, it’s going to be on the line, and we’re doing our best to prepare for that moment. We put ourselves in different situations in practice. We practice those specific moments … that (are) going to propel you to the next level.”

All signs point to the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for September being well on its way.

After finishing 11-1 a year ago, Pickford is off to a 7-0 start this fall. A 38-20 Week 3 win over Forest Park was the only game where Pickford didn’t score at least 52 points. And the defense has given up 69 points total.

Pickford’s program is the reason the MHSAA introduced 8-player football playoffs in 2011. The school, located on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula about 25 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie, has roughly 130 students. The varsity has 14 players – with only two seniors and just one sophomore.

Three juniors were on varsity for all of last season, and two more played several games with the top team. “The last few years we’ve had a good group of guys; they work together, they trust each other and they’re just playing good football because of that,” Rader said. “They build on each other.”

Five players have run for at least three touchdowns this season, with junior running back Stephen LaMothe finding the end zone a team-high 10 times to go with 539 yards on the ground – at 10.2 per carry. Junior Matthew Bush has run for a team-high 613 yards – at 9.6 yards per attempt.

But making this Pickford team even more dangerous is junior quarterback Jimmy Storey, a threat both on the ground and through the air. He also averages 10 yards per carry, with 414 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He’s completed 63 percent of his pass attempts for 1,043 yards and 23 scores – without an interception. Junior Nicholas Edington is his leading receiver with 18 catches for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns.

And then there’s the defense. Pickford has seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries – an average of two takeaways per game. Junior Isaiah May has a team-high 61 tackles, and junior Sam Burton has eight sacks. Bush is the team’s second-leading tackler.  

How do the Panthers’ pull this off with just 14 players? They stress daily improvements in practice and bringing physicality against opponents. A few defensive stops followed by quick scores, and Pickford is rolling.

Rader joined the staff in 2003 as defensive coordinator and took over as head coach a year later. The Panthers made the 11-player playoffs in eight of 12 seasons with him on staff or leading it, and are 34-7 in 8-player since making the switch in 2015.

But they’re hoping for more this fall. Pickford is prepping for that next step after building up the schedule with seven 2017 playoff teams. After so much success, the Panthers are getting everyone’s best shot, all the saved-up trick plays – and Rader likes that as well. All of it helps his team prepare for next month.

And the community is excited to support another run. Pickford’s best-known sports legend is a boys track & field program that won 27 straight Upper Peninsula Finals from 1952-78. The football program has made four MHSAA Semifinals total over the years and is eyeing a possible championship game trip to Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome.

“We tried to step that (schedule) up to prepare for those playoff moments and those tough type of games,” Rader said. “(It’s) ‘Let's play this as a playoff game’ – so when we are in the playoffs, hopefully we’ll be battle tested.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19

August: Northville girls golf – Read 

PHOTOS: (Top) Pickford quarterback Jimmy Storey breaks free during his team’s Week 6 win over Stephenson. (Middle) Panthers senior Mitchell Miller leads the team onto the field this season. (Photos courtesy of the Pickford football program.)

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.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast 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. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.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.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. 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.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “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.”

Bramer agreed.

“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 SpencerTom 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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)