Suttons Bay Succeeding at Football Numbers Game

By Tom Spencer
Special for

December 3, 2021

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.

Suttons Bay football“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 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.)

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.)