TRAVERSE CITY — More than three decades passed between the football state championship game appearances for the Traverse City Central Trojans. Just 10 months went by between the last two times the Suttons Bay Norsemen stepped on the gridiron for an eight-player football state title bout.
Both teams found themselves in the waning days of November just four quarters shy of hoisting a Michigan High School Athletic Association state championship trophy over their heads. But both the Trojans and Norsemen fell short of that glory.
The Norse go north
For Suttons Bay, it was the third time in a row they suffered the heartbreak of defeat in the state title match. Before the Norseman’s 31-20 loss to Adrian Lenawee Christian in the Division 1 eight-player finals Nov. 20 at the Superior Dome in Marquette, they suffered the same fate against the same team Jan. 15. COVID-19 protocols forced a delay in the 2020 football season and pushed the playoffs into the first month of January.
“The previous two hurt pretty bad, but this one hurts the most,” Suttons Bay senior Hugh Periard said in the postgame press conference. “We were so close to pulling this one out. This one’s definitely the worst.”
The Norsemen put up a better fight against the Cougars in November than they did in January. Lenawee Christian pitched a shutout against Suttons Bay last season, winning 47-0. Suttons Bay lost in the Superior Dome in 2019 as well, 26-14 to Colon.
“These guys played their hearts out, and we still have each other. That’s what matters — more than anything,” Suttons Bay head coach Garrick Opie said. “They held up extremely well and fought through. They could have given up. ... (They showed) a huge amount of resolve. I’m so proud of these guys.”
Suttons Bay lived up to its reputation for making big plays.
Periard broke through the Lenawee defense for a 90-yard touchdown run. August Schaub tipped a pass from Lenawee Ashur Bryja, hauled it in at the 1-yard line and busted down the sideline for a 99-yard score to put the Norsemen up 12-7 with just under five minutes left in the first half. Quarterback Dylan Barnowski found Periard deep down the field for an over-the-shoulder 55-yard touchdown strike. The successful two-point conversion made it 24-20, but Bryja’s 33-yard TD run with 1:27 left in the game was the dagger.
The loss ends the high school football careers of nine Norsemen — Periard, Schaub, Opie, Lleyton Krumlauf, Ben Murphy, Matthew Kohler, Cam Alberts, Brayden Schichtel and Eric Konsdorf. But Suttons Bay returns a solid core led by Barnowski and Shawn Bramer, both juniors.
Bramer spoke of the Norsemen’s brotherhood after the loss.
“These guys mean so much to me,” Bramer said. “We’ve been able to stick together all the way through and stay close to each other. It’s something I’ll never forget, especially with these guys.”
Trojans mosey to Motown
Traverse City Central didn’t have all that much to be thankful for the day after Thanksgiving.
Warren De La Salle dominated the Division 2 state championship game at Ford Field in Detroit, leading 41-0 at one point en route to a 41-14 victory as the Pilots (13-0) won their third state championship since 2017.
TC Central’s historic season ended at 12-2, bookended by its only losses.
The Pilots focused on Notre Dame future linebacker Josh Burnham, who signed his national letter of intent to play for the Golden Domers on Dec. 15. De La Salle held him to 28 rushing yards and without a completion at quarterback. Burnham threw for 1,515 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior, along with 963 rushing yards and 14 more TDs.
Burnham earned accolades upon accolades after the season, most notably being named to the Michigan Associated Press’ All-State First Team for Division 1-2 football and winning three state Player of the Year awards on Tuesday — the Gatorade Michigan Football Player of the Year, the 2021 Michigan Anvil Award from State Champs! Sports Network and the MLive Player of the Year — in the same week
“We made mistakes, and I’d like to think we’re pretty good team, too,” Burnham said after the game. “We knew after that DeWitt we were going to make a run. We all buckled down. Our goal was the state championship. We made it here. We just couldn’t finish it.”
The Pilots had an answer for almost everything the Trojans threw at them, while Central didn’t do much to stop a De La Salle air game that collected 142 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
Pilots’ quarterback Brady Drogosh completed 14 of 17 passes by halftime, finishing 14-for-19 with 142 yards, for a 34-0 lead at the break.
“They have some talented receivers, and we didn’t do a good job defending that,” Trojans’ head coach Eric Schugars said. “That was something coming into the game we thought was a matchup that maybe favored them, and we just couldn’t get that done on the defensive side of the ball.”
Central hadn’t appeared in a football final since winning the program’s third title in 1988.
“These guys mean a lot to me, our staff, our program and our Traverse City community,” Schugars said. “These guys have just bought in and committed to the process. They play a lot of football, if you think about it. We played in January last year. ... They’ve done everything possible.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of our staff and what we’ve become. Obviously, we didn’t play our best game. I really believe we had our best game in us still, and we didn’t play it tonight. That’s credit the De La Salle.”