St. Mary Erases Doubts, Ends Ithaca Run

November 28, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — The players and their coach insisted they were playing for their own glory, not to deprive Ithaca of further greatness.

Monroe St. Mary would've savored an MHSAA Division 6 football championship regardless of the opponent, regardless of the historical backdrop.

But when the clock expired on the Falcons' 22-12 victory over Ithaca on Friday at Ford Field, once they'd secured their first title since 1991, there was a little extra pride among the St. Mary players.

Yeah, it was pretty special to beat a team with a nation-leading 69-game winning streak and four consecutive Division 6 championships.

"At the beginning of the week, we didn't really think about that," St. Mary senior linebacker David Howey said. "The coach just kept preaching there's 48 minutes left in high school football. That's a pretty cool win, though, beating the nation's longest winning streak in high school football. It's pretty cool. When we told people that's who we were going to play, they'd doubt us, and that just fueled me even more."

There was also a bit of a revenge motive for St. Mary (13-1), which lost 45-35 in the Division 6 final when the Yellowjackets' string of MHSAA titles began in 2010.

"It makes it a little more sweet, but it's just awesome," said senior John Lako, who ran for two touchdowns and made seven tackles with a sack at linebacker. "I was actually at the game when we lost to them in 2010. Just to see they were that close, it feels like we finally wrote the end of the book."

Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook hasn't had to deliver a postgame speech to his players following a loss since a 47-16 setback to Montague in a 2009 Division 6 Semifinal. From the start of 2010, the Yellowjackets assembled a winning streak that ranks 13th all-time in national high school football history. The streak included 24 consecutive playoff victories. Ithaca was trying to tie the record of five straight MHSAA titles shared by Farmington Hills Harrison (1997-2001) and East Grand Rapids (2006-10).

Ithaca had to come from behind in its previous two games just to keep the streak alive and return to Ford Field. The Yellowjackets trailed Madison Heights Madison 27-19 heading into the fourth quarter of the Regional Final before winning 41-27.

They made a stop on fourth down from the 4-yard line with 13 seconds left to preserve a 20-16 Semifinal victory over Boyne City, which took an early 14-0 lead.

"We've had maybe more talented teams, I'm going to be honest, and that's no knock on this football team," Hessbrook said. "But I've never coached a football team that has more heart and more resiliency, and that's going back to the teams we've had in the last four or five years. I don't care what team you put out there, this team will fight you every step of the way. I couldn't be more proud. We came up short. We missed a few opportunities. We came up a few plays short. One play in the kicking game, one play here or there on offense, we win that game, and we win it going away."

Ithaca (13-1) had only three victories with a margin of fewer than 10 points during the winning streak. Missed extra points by opponents played a major role in two of those games, a 22-19 overtime victory over Montague in the 2011 Regional Final and a 21-20 victory over Montrose in a 2013 Semifinal.

Ironically, points after touchdown were critical in the outcome of Friday's championship game.

Monroe St. Mary's edge in conversions began following the first touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run by Lako that capped an opening drive that milked the first 8:15 off the clock. An off-sides penalty by Ithaca on the extra point attempt moved the ball close enough to the goal line to make a two-point attempt more feasible. Justin Carrabino ran untouched around the right side to give St. Mary's an 8-0 lead.

Ithaca tried to make up the difference following its first touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Jake Smith to Spence DeMull with 9:20 left in the second quarter, but the two-point pass fell incomplete to leave St. Mary's up 8-6.

Special teams loomed even larger with 7:11 left in the second quarter when Troy Hilkens forced a fumbled punt return. The ball popped up to Travis Vuich, who returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. Phillip Lehmann's extra point made it 15-6.

"It was a great feeling," Vuich said. "The guys did their job on the punt filling the lanes. The ball just popped right up."

Ithaca found the end zone for a second time on a 2-yard run by Smith with 33 seconds left in the first half. The extra-point attempt hit the upright, leaving the Yellowjackets down by a 15-12 margin despite matching St. Mary's two touchdowns.

"I hope that all those young people who were standing on our sideline understand what a small margin for error there is when you play for a state championship and understand how much work goes into it," Hessbrook said.

An Ithaca offense that averaged 43 points a game wouldn't score again, as St. Mary came up with huge defensive stops in the second half.

On fourth-and-one from the St. Mary 21, Ithaca was stopped in the backfield by Justin LaPlante and finished off by Darius Marks for a 1-yard loss with 2:29 left in the third quarter.

Ithaca marched to St. Mary's 19 on its next possession, but Bryce Windham (also the Falcons' quarterback) intercepted a pass after a reverse.

St. Mary's took over at its own 2-yard line with 10:19 remaining and was able to milk the clock down to 2:46 before punting. Ithaca got the ball at its own 20 for one final attempt to keep its winning and championship streaks alive. On second and 10, Lako sacked Smith for a 12-yard loss with 2:19 to go. On fourth-and-22, Marks intercepted a pass with 1:51 remaining and returned it to the 5.

Two plays later, Lako wrapped up the victory with a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left.

Ithaca threw four incompletions on its final possession, and St. Mary kneeled out the clock.

"We won today because of our defense," St. Mary coach Jack Giarmo said. "Offensively, we struggled a little bit, but defensively the kids just did a fantastic job battling."

Ithaca outgained St. Mary, 262-182, but had three costly turnovers. Smith ran 18 times for 90 yards and a touchdown while completing 14 of 29 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception. DeMull caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Vuich made two clutch catches for first downs when St. Mary took 7:33 off the clock following Windham's interception. Vuich caught three passes for 38 yards, accounting for more than half of Windham's 71 yards on 7 for 12 passing.

LaPlante had nine tackles, including two for losses, to lead St. Mary's defense. Reeser had a game-high 12 tackles for Ithaca.

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central players raise their first MHSAA football championship trophy since 1991 on Friday. (Middle) St. Mary defensive back Darius Marks (2) snags an interception in front of an Ithaca receiver. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


SMITH TO DEMULL FOR THE SCORE - Ithaca scores its first touchdown in the second quarter, with Jake Smith finding Spence DeMull in the end zone for the score.
FALCON FINDS GOOD FORTUNE - On its drive following the first Ithaca TD, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central punts and a loose ball on the return finds its way into the hands of Travis Vuich, who took it 19 yards for what proved to be the winning points.

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Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 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.)