Suttons Bay is, well, playing the numbers game.
Not by choice. It’s been by necessity — since a painful football decision was made in September 2016. Many of Michigan’s smaller schools have made a similar decision.
Most of the numbers, the Norsemen can use just one hand to count. Some take two hands. Others you can’t use your hands. We’re not talking illegal use of the hands either.
The first number is 11, the healthy and available Norsemen for their third game of 2016, their last season of 11-man football.
Hand counting starts now with 1. The 2016 quarterback and only football player to join the soccer team, Jack Pasche, actually kicked off to start of the Norsemen’s homecoming game win that season against Glen Lake. Suttons Bay, known as NorthBay through a co-op with Northport and Leelanau St. Mary’s, beat Glen Lake 4-0 as the soccer match took center stage for homecoming due to the tough decision to forfeit the remaining seven games on the 2016 football schedule.
Move on to the number 8. The Norseman started competing in 8-player football in 2017 and went the playoffs, losing to eventual champion Central Lake. Fast forward to 4. Garrick Opie took over the head coaching duties and just completed his fourth season.
Now to 5. Suttons Bay, which also co-ops with Leelanau St. Mary’s for football, has lost only five games total over Opie’s four seasons. Back to one … just one loss in regular season. The other four came during the MHSAA Playoffs.
Before getting to 3 – perhaps the most notable number – count to 14. That’s the number of players on the 2021 Suttons Bay football roster – and six of them were seniors.
“We’re going to have to fill some shoes on defense especially,” said assistant coach Stan Pasch. ‘We’ve got some good offensive lineman coming back. We’ve got to fill some shoes on our offensive ends too.”
Hand counting becomes more challenging now, starting with 47.
Pasch has coached football for 47 years. He has a long history with Suttons Bay and Leelanau St. Mary, including providing guidance in basketball, volleyball and track. He’s also been on the sidelines for Beal City and Traverse City St. Francis.
He’s had long stints as an assistant for legendary coaches Larry Sellers of St. Francis and Joe Trudeau of Suttons Bay. He was with St. Francis when they won the Class C championship in 1992.
Among those coached by Pasch on that ‘92 Gladiators team was Mark Bramer, a four-year letterman with St. Francis and the father of Shawn Bramer. The younger Bramer scored the game-tying touchdown in Suttons Bay’s 42-36 overtime win against Rudyard in the Division 1 Semifinal three weeks ago.
The junior running back Bramer, who attends St. Mary, was one of three Norsemen named first-team all-state. The other two were wide receiver Brayden Opie and defensive lineman Cam Alberts.
Mark Bramer has been thrilled to have his son play under his former coach and enjoy the playoff runs the past three seasons.
“Coach Pasch still has the passion and the spark and everything,” Mark Bramer said. “He hasn’t really changed, and it’s a good thing.
“I know the excitement as an athlete and now watch it as a parent – it is a great community thing,” he continued. “As a player back then, you never really knew that side of it, and now on the flip side you get to see the excitement of the community.”
Pasch came back to the Suttons Bay coaching staff in 2000 and has been there since. He credits Opie’s leadership for the Norsemen reaching championship games each of the last three seasons.
“Garrick does a great job of leading the team,” Pasch said. “He has really worked hard to solidly the passing game with the kids and getting the kids to believe in themselves.
“He has done a lot of good things and really opened up the offense,” Pasch continued. “When you need a big play – which the kids have done quite a bit – the kids pull it off because they had fun with it in practice.”
Opie, who previously coached all his players in Pop Warner football, has compiled a 43-5 record at Suttons Bay. He too is thrilled to have Pasch and his experience on the sidelines with him.
“I can’t do it without Stan,” he said. “Not only is he my right-hand man … he brings so much experience from his St. Francis days and his 260-plus games with Suttons Bay.
“His experience and way he deals with young men … Stan is invaluable.”
Now back to the number 3. The head coach’s sons Bryce, Braden and Grayson, have all played for Suttons Bay during playoff runs. Grayson will be back next year as the Norsemen strive to make another.
Football fans know the history of John Elway losing his first three Super Bowls, and the Buffalo Bills losing their four straight from 1991-94. But the Norsemen players aren’t really aware of it.
“They’d be lucky if they remember Brett Favre,” joked the Mark Bramer. “I have to tell them about Barry Sanders!”
Opie can laugh about it too as he knows the Norseman can rebuild again. Mike Lodish, a personal friend of Opie and former all-state player with Birmingham Brother Rice, held the record for most Super Bowl appearances with six until Tom Brady broke it. Lodish played his first four with the Bills and then won two with Elway. He played five years with the Bills under coach Marv Levy, and six with the Broncos.
“You can call me Marv Levy,” Opie said with a laugh. “You can call me whatever you want as far as that’s concerned.
“Every year it is our intentions to get to the state finals and win one,” he continued. “Is it a prediction? No. I never do that.”
Opie and Pasch will work in the offseason that number 1. They’ll use a familiar formula.
“I never make any assumptions about any season no matter what players we have,” Opie said. “We’ve had a lot of talent, but we’ve also been able to place kids in the spots (where) they will best succeed.
“We never want to put them in a spot where they will fail,” he went on. “Our goal is to find where each young man can succeed, and we’ve been very fortunate we’ve been right many of the times the last four years.”
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 [email protected] 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) Suttons Bay coach Garrick Opie hugs his son Brayden at midfield after Brayden caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Semifinal. (Middle) Shawn Bramer outruns his stunned teammates on his way to the game-tying score during the final seconds of regulation against Rudyard. (Photos by Mike Spencer.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)