By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — The Zeeland West offensive machine was in good hands the last three seasons with Casey Brinks directing the attack.
West scored its first of five touchdowns with 35 seconds left in the first quarter and didn't let up from there, pounding its way to a 40-14 victory over Flint Powers Catholic for a fourth championship in 10 years.
"That one (in 2013) was really fun, but this one to me is a lot better, just being a senior and it's my last year," Brinks said. "To end my football career playing on a state championship team in Ford Field is amazing."
Brinks was the starting quarterback as a sophomore when West won its last title, throwing for one touchdown and running for another in a 34-27 victory over DeWitt in the Division 3 championship game. He also led West to the Semifinal round a year ago.
Brinks was one of three Dux who played in the 2013 championship game, the others being running back Dakota Geurink and lineman Zach VanValkenburg. Geurink ran 14 times for 71 yards and a touchdown Friday. VanValkenburg had two sacks among three tackles for losses.
With his team facing fourth-and five near the end of the first quarter, fullback Darius Perisee scored on an 8-yard run for the opening touchdown and then added a 2-point conversion run. He was the top gainer for West's powerful T offense, finishing this season with 1,982 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing.
Brinks doesn't pass often but he was highly effective when he did. He finished 4 for 4 for 103 yards, with three straight completions on the team’s third possession. Tyler Thompson capped that drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, then added a 2-point run to make it 16-0 with 4:03 left in the second quarter.
Powers (11-3) drove to the West 18 late in the first half, only to be denied on the final play before halftime when Brinks picked off a pass in the end zone. He also had an interception in the third quarter, playing defense for only the second time this season.
"I played defense last week for the first time," said Brinks, who ran five times for 45 yards and a touchdown. "Otherwise, I didn't play defense. It was nice to play. Mostly in the playoffs, we've been playing running teams. We've played two passing teams the past two weeks."
West came into the game running the ball 94 percent of the time and averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Even though Powers knew what was coming, the Chargers were unable to stop the Dux’ power-running attack.
Powers did get a huge stop when Reese Morgan caught Brinks for no gain on fourth-and-three from the Chargers' 5-yard line on the first series of the game, but West went on to score on its next five drives before running out the final 3:55 on its final possession.
"It's just a very deceiving offense they run," Morgan said. "It's hard to know who has the ball."
The Chargers nearly turned the momentum from that first defensive stop into a scoring drive of their own, marching down to West's 14-yard line on their first possession. On fourth-and-one, however, quarterback Noah Sargent came up inches short of a first down with 4:53 left in the first quarter.
"That was tough, but you can't say we lost the game on one play," said Sargent, who ran 17 times for 89 yards and a touchdown while going 12 for 19 for 158 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions through the air. "You've got to play the whole game."
Powers got on the board on the first possession of the second half, scoring on a 15-yard run by Sargent, but a 2-point run by Morgan was stopped by Riley Brinks. With West cashing in on all five of its 2-point conversion tries, the Chargers couldn't afford to miss theirs.
West (14-0) responded with a 13-play, 80-yard march that ended on a 4-yard run by Geurink with 3:14 to go in the third quarter. Following Casey Brinks' second interception, West built its lead to 32-6 on a 2-yard run by Thompson with 10:36 to go in the game.
Luke Brcic caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Sargent and threw a 2-point conversion to Morgan with 7:28 remaining, getting Powers within 32-14, but Aaron Sleeman recovered the onside kick for the Dux.
Four plays later, West capped the scoring on a 39-yard run by Casey Brinks and Perisee's third 2-point run with 5:13 remaining.
Geurink picked off a pass with 3:55 remaining, and West was able to run out the rest of the clock and celebrate another championship.
"We've won four," West coach John Shillito said. "They're all different, but this one might have been the most complete on both sides of the ball. It's maybe not the deepest team, because we were playing a lot of guys two ways. I looked out there and we looked a little tired at times, because it's warm in here. It's maybe not the deepest (team), but the guys on the field were probably the best we've had."
West was able to score 40 points against a Powers team that had a school-record six shutouts, allowing only 21 points over its first four playoff games.
"I really just figured we had to score every time we had the ball, because no one has really stopped them all year," Powers coach Bob Buckel said. "Playing them, you start doing things you're uncomfortable doing, because you don't want to turn the ball over to them."
Thompson ran 16 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns to lead a West ground attack that had 318 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries.
Matt Wiskur caught five passes for 70 yards, while Morgan ran 13 times for 61 yards for Powers. Both of them had brothers on the Chargers' 2011 Division 5 championship team.
PHOTOS: (Top) Darius Perisee breaks free for yardage in leading the Zeeland West rushing attack Friday. (Middle) The Dux hoist a championship trophy for the second time in three seasons.
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 email@example.com 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.)