By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON – It's not often when a pair of defensive plays are key in a 70-48 decision.
But that's the way it went for Powers North Central, which beat Portland St. Patrick by that score in the 8-Player Division 2 championship game at the Legacy Center.
The North Central Jets (11-0), who won their third MHSAA Finals championship, sacked St. Patrick quarterback Connor Cross seven times. But he completed 25 of 38 passes for 374 yards and six touchdowns.
"My hat's off to Portland St. Patrick," North Central coach Leo Gorzinski said. "They tested our kids like no one has this season."
The Jets were led by Luke Gorzinski, who rushed for 299 yards and four touchdowns and threw for 156 yards and three more scores.
"I was on the team last year, when we lost in the Final," he said. "It was a heartbreaking loss, but this is the top of the world."
Wyatt Raab rushed for a pair of touchdowns and caught two passes for scores. He also sacked Cross in the end zone for a safety that gave the Jets a 10-0 lead after the first quarter.
But the Shamrocks (10-1) then got going, scoring 22 points in the second quarter, only to see the Jets add 24 to take a 34-22 halftime lead.
While the game would go on to set multiple 8-Player Finals scoring records, including for most points scored by both teams combined, the aforementioned pair of defensive plays helped North Central pull away during the third quarter.
The Jets thwarted the Shamrocks on the first drive of the second half, when Luke Klieman intercepted a pass at the Jets’ 40. After the teams exchanged touchdowns, North Central forced St. Patrick to turn the ball over on downs. Raab then scored two plays later from 28 yards out to effectively put the game out of reach.
The Jets’ defense, which allowed St. Patrick 404 yards in total offense, allowed only 31 on the ground, most of them after the game was out of reach, and stopped the Shamrocks on four attempted two-point conversions.
Both teams were without starters due to the coronavirus or contact tracing.
"We were missing some key players," Luke Gorzinski said. "But their replacements stepped up. We had freshmen and sophomores out there, and they were awesome."
North Central racked up 579 yards in scoring 70 or more points for the fifth time this season.
The Shamrocks, to their credit, kept after the Jets to the end.
"That's the way we've played all year, through the shutdown and everything" St. Patrick coach Patrick Russman said. "They want to play and have fun, and that's what they wanted people to see. That's their character."
Shane Cook had 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns for the Shamrocks.
But a North Central team that had several starters and their defensive coordinator at home had enough to take the championship trophy home to the Upper Peninsula, thrilling the 100 or so fans who made the long drive.
"It was fun to play in the (Superior) Dome last week," Raab said, referring to the Jets' Semifinal win over Cedarville, "but it felt weird with no fans. To have our families here to watch meant a lot."
PHOTOS: (Top) North Central’s Wyatt Raab celebrates a defensive stop during Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Portland St. Patrick’s Jacobe Hayes-Dunning works to get out of the grasp of a pair of Jets defenders. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)