1st & Goal: 2021 Playoff Week 2 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 4, 2021

It’s too early to say how much numbers are telling the story of this MHSAA Football Playoffs. But as we preview this weekend’s second rounds, we have a few interesting ones to share.

MI Student AidJust more than 20 percent of the 144 teams still playing – 29 total – have not tasted defeat this fall. Another 35 teams – or 24 percent – have suffered just a single loss.

What’s more, only 12 of this weekend’s 72 games – a mere 17 percent – feature matchups of those teams. And all 12 are among games noted below as we take a glance at 11-Player District Finals and 8-Player Regional Finals.

Click here for the full schedule for each division. More than 50 of the 72 playoff football games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with the 11-player Division 3 matchup of River Rouge at Detroit Martin Luther King appearing on the Bally Sports Detroit PLUS channel tonight – click for more on how to watch. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central (8-2) at West Bloomfield (9-1)

Both experienced an early fade from the statewide buzz after Week 1 losses – West Bloomfield to Rochester Adams and DCC to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley – but they’re right back where most expected after rising to Nos. 7 and 9, respectively, in Division 1 by the end of the regular season. Adams remains undefeated, and West Bloomfield went on to earn wins over Clarkston and Oxford, while DCC finished second in a Detroit Catholic League Central that has all four teams still alive in the playoffs. The Shamrocks have given up 9.4 points per game since that opening loss, and seven of West Bloomfield’s wins are by double digits.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-3) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (8-2), Brownstown Woodhaven (9-1) at Dearborn Fordson (8-2), Grandville (7-3) at Rockford (10-0).

11-Player Division 2

Bay City Western (8-2) at Traverse City Central (9-1)

The Warriors are scoring nearly 46 points per game, with their 459 total approaching how many they put on the scoreboard over the last three seasons combined. They fell just shy of claiming a share of a league championship, but a District title would be a program first since 2005. It would be even more well-deserved considering the opponent. Traverse City Central has been all but unstoppable since falling to DeWitt in Week 1, giving up 8.4 points per game over its nine wins with victories over playoff teams from all over the state – Marquette (60-28), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (56-13) and Saginaw Heritage (49-7) – to go with another championship run through the Big North Conference.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2) at Caledonia (9-1), Roseville (6-4) at Port Huron Northern (8-2), East Lansing (7-3) at South Lyon (10-0).  

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (7-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1)

With a combined five MHSAA Finals appearances between them over the last five seasons, Rouge vs. King is a matchup that’s been highly-anticipated since the bracket came out two weeks ago. The Panthers won last season’s meeting 33-30 to clinch a Regional championship on the way to the finishing Division 3 runners-up at Ford Field. Rouge should be ready for the tests of another close game after concluding the regular season with a one-point victory over Southfield Arts & Technology and then coming back to defeat Harper Woods in overtime last week. King similarly has lessons from two one-score wins over Detroit Cass Tech to recall if this one stays tight, and opened the playoffs by handing Warren Fitzgerald just its second loss, 55-12.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allen Park (8-2) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1), Mount Pleasant (10-0) at DeWitt (9-1). SATURDAY Cedar Springs (8-2) at Muskegon (9-1).

11-Player Division 4

Grand Rapids Christian (7-3) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-0)

Seemingly with a little less fanfare, Hudsonville Unity Christian has been just as impressive as any of the Grand Rapids-area powers this fall, outscoring opponents by an average score of 56-11 despite a regular-season schedule that included six playoff teams. Grand Rapids Christian was one of them, and the Crusaders won their Week 2 matchup 58-21. But the Eagles are 7-1 since while navigating a similarly treacherous group of opponents, and they’ve given up only 18 points per game during that run.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Country Day (6-3) at Livonia Clarenceville (9-1), Freeland (9-1) at Lake Fenton (9-1). SATURDAY Croswell-Lexington (9-1) at St. Clair (8-2).

11-Player Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-0)

West Catholic’s only loss came against Unity Christian (see above), and the Falcons are looking to make what would be the biggest splash so far in a playoffs already filling up with them. GRCC’s average margin of victory is 34 points – by an average score of 45-11 – with Division 3 hopeful Cedar Springs knocking that down a bit with its one-point loss in Week 8. But save for that 40-14 Unity loss, West Catholic has defeated its opponents on average 42-14. The Falcons’ wins over Muskegon Catholic Central in Week 2 and Comstock Park last week are the only losses those teams have suffered.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Oakridge (8-2) at Howard City Tri County (9-1), Clare (7-3) at Kingsley (9-1), Kalamazoo United (7-3) at Berrien Springs (10-0).

11-Player Division 6

Millington (10-0) at Lansing Catholic (9-1), Saturday

The Cardinals lost a close District Final a year ago and are seeking their first title at this level of the playoffs since winning back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. They boast a defense that hasn’t given up a point in two weeks and allows only 8.6 per game on average. Millington should get a test from a Cougars offense scoring 35 points per game, including the just seven scored during a Week 9 loss to Division 7 contender Pewamo-Westphalia. Lansing Catholic bounced back last week to defeat Durand 37-6, and the Cougars have some high-pressure experience having reached the Semifinals last season and won Division 5 in 2019. Alex Watters as a sophomore was among stars on the championship team and is approaching 1,000 yards receiving as well as leading the team in rushing touchdowns.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Montague (7-3) at Reed City (9-1), Calumet (8-2) at Negaunee (8-2). SATURDAY Michigan Center (9-1) at Constantine (10-0).

11-Player Division 7

New Lothrop (7-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)

Just to get it out of the way, New Lothrop has its most losses in a season since 2009 – and that fact means very little in this matchup. The Hornets came back off last season’s Division 7 championship with a loaded nonleague schedule to go with an improved conference, and those three defeats came against teams – Jackson Lumen Christi, Montrose and Frankenmuth – which are a combined 26-4 after New Lothrop handed the Rams a loss in their rematch last week. Pewamo-Westphalia’s run has looked similar with four league champions filling its nonleague slate including last week’s playoff opener opponent Ithaca. Fun fact to remember: When P-W defeated New Lothrop in the 2017 and 2019 playoffs, it went on to win the Division 7 title, and New Lothrop did the same after defeating P-W in 2018.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-1), Detroit Loyola (5-4) at Detroit Central (10-0). SATURDAY Charlevoix (8-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (9-1).

11-Player Division 8

Addison (9-1) at Hudson (10-0)

Addison entered the postseason No. 3 in Division 8 playoff points, with Hudson holding down the top spot – and all four teams in the District ranking among the top 14. Hudson has shut out four of its last five opponents and is giving up just 6.2 points per game, with wins over larger foes Ida, Clinton and Ithaca highlighting a resume that includes the Tigers’ first perfect regular season since 2011. Addison has its winningest season since 2006, with an offense averaging nearly 42 points per game leading a charge that’s included victories over larger Michigan Center and reigning champion Centreville in last week’s District Semifinal.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sand Creek (7-3) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-1), Fowler (7-3) at Breckenridge (8-2), Iron Mountain (7-3) at Beal City (9-1).

8-Player Division 1

Indian River Inland Lakes (10-0) at Suttons Bay (10-0)

Suttons Bay’s only two losses over the last three seasons have come in Division 1 championship games, but this may be as titanic a matchup as the Norsemen have faced short of the Finals during that run. These two were supposed to meet in a Semifinal last season that was unable to be played, and that just adds another wrinkle to the anticipation. Inland Lakes averages 58 points per game, and Suttons Bay gives up 8.8. Somewhere in the middle, the winner will not only earn a Regional title but is assured to host next week’s Semifinal as well.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Rudyard (8-2) at Newberry (8-2), Mendon (8-2) at Martin (10-0), Britton Deerfield (9-1) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (10-0).

8-Player Division 2

Kinde North Huron (10-0) at Au Gres-Sims (10-0)

Just when it looks like Inland Lakes’ offense can’t be matched this season (see above), here come the Wolverines averaging 61 points per game with a season-low of 48 against a Hillman team still alive on the other side of the bracket. It’s been a great comeback story after Au Gres-Sims won just a game a year ago and three in 2019, and it can add another highlight by avenging last season’s 66-12 playoff loss to North Huron. That’s of course easier written than done, as the Warriors haven’t slowed since reaching last season’s Semifinals and even avenged one of their two 2020 defeats.  

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Colon (9-1) at Morrice (10-0), Crystal Falls Forest Park (8-2) at Powers North Central (10-0), Hillman (7-3) at Marion (9-1).

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO Muskegon Heights Academy, here against Muskegon Catholic Central, will face Carson City-Crystal on Friday for a Division 8 District championship. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)