River Rouge Ends 2019 with Stunning Finish
November 30, 2019
By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – River Rouge wasn’t intimidated by Muskegon’s national acclaim or 859 football victories, the most by any Michigan high school.
If anything, the chance to knock off the unbeaten and top-ranked Big Reds brought out the absolute best in the Panthers.
After spotting Muskegon a 7-0 lead, Rouge scored the final 30 points to claim a 30-7 victory in the Division 3 championship game Saturday night at Ford Field.
“We are known for basketball, but now we have a football title,” said 10th-year Rouge coach Corey Parker, who lauded his team for playing fearlessly on both sides of the ball. “Now we have a football title, and 20 years from now these guys are going to be talking about it.”
All the talk coming into the game centered on Muskegon senior quarterback Cameron Martinez, the two-time MLive Player of the Year who had rushed for more than 2,000 yards. But the talk afterward was about a different QB – River Rouge’s Mareyohn Hrabowski.
Hrabowski, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, answered an early score by Martinez with three rushing touchdowns of his own, finishing with 15 carries for 175 yards – an average of nearly 12 yards per carry. He also completed 6-of-12 passes for 45 yards.
“I just had to follow my blocks,” said Hrabowski. “I had faith in myself and my team, and we came out on top.”
It was the first Finals appearance and championship for Rouge, which has qualified for the playoffs all 10 years under Parker. Rouge lost its opener this fall to Friday’s Division 4 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central before reeling off 13 straight wins. The Panthers were ranked No. 5 in Division 3 entering the playoffs
The other storyline Saturday was the Rouge defense, which held a Muskegon team averaging 49 points per game to a season-low seven.
The Panthers did it with an ultra-aggressive strategy, sometimes with all 11 defensive players within three yards of the line of scrimmage just daring Martinez to throw the ball.
Instead, Muskegon kept trying to find a way to break Martinez through the initial wall and into the clear, but it never happened.
Martinez, a 5-11, 190-pound senior who has committed to Ohio State, finished with 108 rushing yards, but it took him 34 carries to get there – at 3.2 yards per carry. He also did not complete a single pass, going 0-for-5 through the air.
“We just didn’t play our game, really,” said Martinez, who faced relentless pressure every time he dropped back to throw. “We have played great for 13 weeks, and we picked a bad time to play bad.”
Hrabowski scored on runs of one and 40 yards in the second quarter, as the Panthers took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Rouge (13-1) kept its foot on the accelerator during the second half, with Rmontaye Caldwell returning the third-quarter kickoff 36 yards to the Muskegon 35-yard line. On the next play, Hrabowski went 35 yards on a keeper and the lead was 21-7.
The score remained the same until the fourth quarter, when Rouge rounded out the scoring on a 31-yard field goal by Avery Burch and a 33-yard run by Deandre Bulley.
Bulley, a 6-2, 245-pound senior who is being heavily recruited by schools at the Division I level, came into the game needing just 80 yards to reach 2,000 for the season. He came up five yards short, with 15 carries for 75 yards, but Hrabowski more than made up the difference.
Rouge used extremely wide splits on the offensive line to open up running lanes for Hrabowski, who stunned the stingy Big Reds’ defense with his vision and deceptive speed in the open field. On two of his scoring runs he faked a jet sweep handoff and ran straight ahead behind guard Deshawn Smith and tackle Chance Moore through the left side of the line and eventually into the end zone.
The final stats bear out Rouge’s dominance.
The Panthers held a 330-180 edge in total yards, including a 45-0 edge passing. Rouge outrushed Muskegon 285-180.
Darieon Jones, a 5-8, 190-pound senior defensive back, was everywhere for Rouge, registering a game-high 14 tackles, including 10 solos. Linebacker Deshawn Walker had eight tackles, and Tyron Jones and Chastin Cross each made six stops.
River Rouge has been known around the state as a basketball school, winning 12 Class B state titles under legendary coach Lofton Greene during the 1960s and 1970s. But now the Panthers, who are part of the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference, are making a name for themselves on the gridiron.
Rouge made a statement by dominating Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49-14 in the Regional Final, then overcame a 7-0 fourth-quarter deficit in last week’s Semifinal to knock off Chelsea 14-7.
The Panthers rode that momentum into the Final.
Muskegon, led by senior linebacker Tarran Walker and senior safety Tyreese Oakes with nine tackles apiece, added another layer of frustration to its Ford Field troubles.
The Big Reds have played in a championship game at Ford Field seven of the last eight years. But the lone victory, and the lone Finals title for 10th-year head coach Shane Fairfield, came with a 28-10 victory over Farmington Hills Harrison in 2017 for the Division 3 championship.
“That’s the way it happens,” said Fairfield, who last week became the second-winningest coach in Muskegon High School history. “We won 13 games and made 13 other teams feel this way. This is the risk you take. You could lose early or not even make the playoffs and never experience this.”
Muskegon, which had won 40 of its past 41 games entering Saturday night, is the winningest program in state history with 859 victories, a total which also ranks seventh nationally.
PHOTOS: (Top) River Rouge quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski rolls out and finds a receiver as Muskegon’s Billy Johnson Jr. (42) and Dwight McKinney close in. (Middle) River Rouge defenders including Rmontaye Caldwell (17) surround Big Reds quarterback Cameron Martinez.
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.)