Repeat-Minded North Central Rolling with Playoffs Approaching

By John Vrancic
Special for

October 22, 2021

POWERS — Eighteen and counting.

That’s the number at which North Central’s football winning streak stands after taking a forfeit victory from Gogebic last weekend.

The reigning 8-player Division 2 champion, however, has bigger fish to fry.

“The winning streak is something you don’t focus on,” said junior quarterback Luke Gorzinski, who pulled his hamstring in a 71-6 rout of Ontonagon on Oct. 8 but has returned. “First we have Forest Park, then we have the playoffs. It feels great to be back on the field. It feels like I’m part of the team again.”

The Jets naturally hope to retain their title, but know they must first turn their attention to tonight’s regular-season finale at Crystal Falls Forest Park.

North Central (8-0) finished 10-0 last season after defeating Portland St. Patrick 70-48 in Division 2 Final on Jan. 16.

“We try to look at it as if we hadn’t won a state championship yet,” said senior lineman Lane Nehring. “We don’t want to get too comfortable. We still have Forest Park. We’re not close in distance, but we have a rivalry going. Both of us have good teams.”

What has been the key to North Central’s success on the field?

Powers North Central football“I think it’s our D line play,” said Nehring. “We work together and communicate. Ontonagon’s hook-and-ladder play caught us off guard. They scored on that play, which was bit of a wake-up call for us. Everybody looks at you to be a contender. We definitely have pressure on us to win another one.”

Off the field, coach Leo Gorzinski believes offseason work also has been key to the Jets’ success.

“The kids are invested,” he said. “They bought into the system and know what’s expected of them here at North Central. The interest in our program is there. The kids stay up, which makes it a little easier to keep them focused.

“We have a few people dinged up. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of depth. We have a couple people down who are key players.”

North Central is averaging 63 points per game, and its defense has allowed just 13 points this season. The Jets held Stephenson to minus-seven yards of total offense in a season-opening 46-0 win.

“You feel on top of the world right away,” said Luke Gorzinski. “You also have to be ready to play right away. It’s a good way to open the season, but any team can beat any other team on any given day or night. Stephenson has a good team. You can’t take any team for granted.”

No team is exempt from adversity, and the Jets will verify that.

They lost senior Alex Naser for the season Oct. 8 due to a hairline fracture below his right kneecap.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better year,” he said. “I’m going to stay on the sidelines and help as much as I can. I’ll be giving the guys a few pointers. It’s a little disappointing to not be able to play, but it’s all part of football.”

The Jets are taking this as a reminder of the importance of depth.

“Other guys have been involved in our offense,” said Coach Gorzinski. “They know what they need to do. We may not be as explosive as we were before, but we should still have an efficient offense.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Luke Gorzinski (11) eludes a Portland St. Patrick defender during last season’s Division 2 championship win at Legacy Center in Brighton. (Middle) Wyatt Raab (28), another star of last season’s Final, is again a standout for the Jets.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)