QBs Shine as West Catholic Earns 3-Peat

November 28, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Grand Rapids West Catholic might have won its third straight Division 5 championship Saturday night with either sophomore Gaetano Vallone or junior David Fox playing every snap at quarterback.

But it was impossible to argue the duo’s effectiveness as they worked together to keep the Falcons ahead of a River Rouge comeback attempt led by another quarterback putting up near-record numbers.

Fox, the starter when the season began, and Vallone – who took over when Fox was lost with a shoulder injury in Week 3 – combined for 288 yards rushing and 106 passing as West Catholic held on for a third straight Finals win, 40-34, despite the heroics of Panthers senior signal-caller Antoine Burgess.

“We’re both athletic, we’re both physical and I guess Coach (Dan) Rohn says we’re playmakers, so we’re playmakers,” Vallone said. “It definitely helped because we’re both gamers, and that’s what it takes. With two of us back there … it really can spread things out and get them confused.”

The Finals appearance was West Catholic's fifth straight, but Vallone was among players who had significant impacts for the first time this fall.

Fox ran for 152 yards and three touchdowns from his “scat” quarterback position, while Vallone ran for 115 yards and threw for 84 and a score despite being limited by an ankle injury sustained during last weekend’s Semifinal win over Lansing Catholic.

Fox’s third touchdown run just 16 seconds into the second half gave West Catholic (12-2) a seemingly comfortable 21-6 lead.

But that would’ve counted River Rouge out far too early. 

Burgess brought the Panthers back within seven with a 63-yard touchdown pass to senior Aaron Vinson with 3:56 left in the third quarter, then responded to Vallone’s 9-yard scoring pass with a 1-yard touchdown run 1:06 into the fourth. 

The teams traded scores four more times, the last a 2-yard run by Burgess with four seconds to play. An onside kick was covered by the Falcons, denying Burgess one last chance at another deep toss to tie the score.

“I just told (my teammates) not to give up yet and play hard. It wasn’t over,” Burgess said. “Like I saw yesterday, King came back and won the (Division 2) game. I told them we could do that too. I continue to fight no matter what.” 

A few more key plays figured into the final score, notably a tackle for a safety by West Catholic senior Conner Nemmers with 7:15 to play, followed by a 31-yard field goal by sophomore Liam Putz that made the Falcons’ lead 12 with 4:13 left in regulation. And while it didn’t lead to a score directly, Fox’s 22-yard pass to senior Billy Kral on a fake punt helped the Falcons drain a few more seconds off the clock – and ended up setting up the safety when Fox drilled a 53-yard punt to the River Rouge 3-yard line five plays later.

For the game, Burgess threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 70 yards and two scores – missing the MHSAA Finals record for total yardage by only two and approaching the record of 383 passing yards set by Detroit Martin Luther King’s Armani Posey in the Division 2 Final on Friday. 

But Burgess and his teammates made it a memorable night for a community that had six straight sub-.500 seasons before coach Corey Parker took over in 2009. The Panthers set a record for wins this fall in making the Finals for the first time and finishing 12-2.

“I think we’ve arrived, to a certain extent, in reference to the way my kids handled things,” said Parker, who has led his teams to a combined 40-7 record over the last four seasons. “To watch them manage this process, it tells me a lot about my guys and what we’ve developed as far as a foundation. 

“Most press writers thought they were going to bail us out 50-something to zip. But my guys looked at that opportunity and said hey, let’s see how good they really are.”

Burgess completed 13 of 19 passes, with Vinson grabbing four for 162 yards, sophomore Giovanni Turner catching four for 95 and a score and senior Ashawnti Howard pulling in three for 84 yards and a touchdown. Junior Aaron Hall caught West Catholic’s lone touchdown pass, and junior Sam Neville had the team’s final points on a 3-yard run with 1:27 to play. 

Fox, also a safety, led the Falcons with eight tackles, and senior lineman Carl Myers had seven. Sophomore safety Reggie Pearson had 10 for River Rouge, and senior defensive end Jamal Bonner also had seven.

West Catholic defeated three top-10 teams and a fourth that earned an honorable mention in the final statewide media poll to get back to Detroit, before downing River Rouge, another honorable mention. Not bad for a team that started 1-2, lost a starting quarterback and had another on a sore ankle the last two weeks. 

“We had a small senior class, and I think a lot of people doubted this group since they came in as one of our smallest classes in history. But for them to be here four years is pretty remarkable,” Rohn said. “All along we knew we had a tough early schedule. … We just said, let’s just stick to our guns. We’ve been 1-3 and 1-4 in recent years and we’ve still been able to make it back down here. So the kids buy into the scheme, continue to work hard and believe in the coaches. Because a lot of people would quit at 1-2. Not this group, not this community.”  

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) West Catholic’s David Fox (4) and Gaetano Vallone (6) celebrate a touchdown during Saturday’s Final. (Middle) River Rouge quarterback Antoine Burgess breaks away from a tackle.

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.)