1st & Goal: 2021 Week 1 in Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 30, 2021

Michigan high school football has been ripe for a fresh start after a COVID-rattled 2020 (and into 2021) season. 

Win or lose this past weekend, nearly 600 varsity football teams across the state should continue to have plenty to look forward to this fall – and of course, some have a few more reasons for early excitement.

Four of last season's champions fell, which meant big headlines for Rochester Adams, Edwardsburg, Jackson Lumen Christi and Niles Brandywine. Three showcase events further fed anticipation as top teams gave us first looks at what we can expect over the next three months. 

Below is our look back at Week 1 and some of the results that could matter most as we start another 14-week championship chase. 

Bay & Thumb

HEADLINER Grand Blanc 40 East Lansing 34 The premier matchup of the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic pitted two of the highest-regarded teams in the state, and didn’t disappoint. The Bobcats emerged with Elijah Jackson-Anderson and kicker Dylan Hertzberg providing plenty of offense – Hertzberg had four field goals – while in defeat Brevin Jackson (396) and receiver Mason Woods (212) set Trojans single-game school records for passing and receiving yardage, respectively. Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Watch list Millington 42, Cass City 19 The Cardinals are carrying the longest current streak of winning seasons (32) in the state, but doubling up a Cass City team that came within two points of making last season’s Division 7 championship game has to be one of Millington’s best opening wins during that streak.

Remember this one Hemlock 33, Breckenridge 8 Hemlock’s Huskies are looking to take another step after three-straight eight-win seasons and only one loss a year ago, and downing Breckenridge’s Huskies in this fashion is a notable.  

More shoutouts Freeland 24, Clare 14 The Falcons enjoyed another great start after making the Semifinals last season, against a Clare team that lost only in the playoffs. Saginaw Nouvel 21, Sandusky 6 The Panthers also enjoyed a solid start against a Sandusky team coming off a one-loss season.

Greater Detroit

HEADLINER Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 45, Detroit Catholic Central 20 This Xenith Prep Kick Off Classic matchup featured two are sure to be counted among Division 1 title contenders in two months, and Chippewa Valley’s start is especially impressive coming off a 3-4 finish a year ago. Cephus Harris scored four touchdowns as one of many standouts for the Big Reds, while DCC QB Declan Byle made some big-play throws that surely will have defenses on notice. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Watch list Rochester Adams 35, West Bloomfield 17 The memory of last season’s 3-4 finish for Adams should be drifting away after the Highlanders downed the reigning Division 1 champion, avenging a 37-0 defeat and breaking a four-game losing streak against the Lakers.

Remember this one Clarkston 29, Davison 26 Both lost just once last season – Davison in the Division 1 championship game and Clarkston in a District Semifinal – and it would hardly be shocking to see them meet up again in November. This time, Davison led at halftime and Clarkston came back and then held off a late rally.

More shoutouts Dearborn Fordson 38, Canton 23 The Tractors also earned an impressive win over a team that lost just once last season – and Antonio Gates Jr. was just fun to watch with two touchdown catches and two interceptions. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 35, Macomb Dakota 21 Two traditional powers, another big-time opener – and this one saw Rice take a 21-0 lead, Dakota tie it in the fourth quarter and Rice then pull away.


HEADLINER DeWitt 47, Traverse City Central 27 With a star quarterback and two college-bound receivers back from last season’s Division 3 championship team, DeWitt’s offense wasn’t going to sneak up on anyone. But the Panthers’ playmakers were among the most impressive of Battle at the Big House performers as quarterback Tyler Holtz connected with three receivers for six touchdown passes total, including four to Bryce Kurncz. Central had given up only 18.7 points per game last season in reaching the Division 2 Semifinals. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Watch list Williamston 43, Croswell-Lexington 20 The Hornets reached the Division 4 Semifinals last season, and they rolled out of the gate again with this road win over a Croswell-Lexington team that lost to only one opponent (twice) in 2020.

Remember this one Charlotte 49, Olivet 40 Olivet has been the more football successful of these neighbors for going on two decades, and they only started playing each other last season for the first time at least in recent history. But Charlotte won’t be forgetting this one any time soon after winning two games a year ago and falling to the Eagles 28-14 in that 2020 meeting.

More shoutouts Grand Ledge 36, Coldwater 14 The Comets also may have set the stage for a big season with a strong road win against a Coldwater program that regularly is among contenders in its league. Lansing Eastern 36, Flint Hamady 0 The Quakers didn’t play at all last season, and their two wins in 2019 were also their only two over a five-season stretch. But Eastern came out big against a Hamady team that hasn’t finished less than .500 since 2014.

Northern Lower Peninsula

HEADLINER Cadillac 18, Reed City 14 The reigning Division 4 runner-up Vikings should make a run at being the top team from the northern Lower Peninsula, and this victory should be a pretty strong catalyst with Traverse City West and Central looming in league play. Cadillac held the Coyotes scoreless over the second half, and the defeat was only the fifth for Reed City during the regular season over the last seven years. Click for more from the Cadillac News.

Watch list East Jordan 36, Johannesburg-Lewiston 12 The Red Devils are seeking their first winning season since 2016 and have come close over the last two. Defeating the Cardinals is an incredible way to start again as Johannesburg-Lewiston reached the Division 8 Semifinals last season.

Remember this one Traverse City West 35, Midland 28 The Titans won’t be forgetting an impressive comeback including a go-ahead 82-yard punt return touchdown at U-M.

More shoutouts Maple City Glen Lake 35, Houghton Lake 6 Both had winning records and close playoff defeats to end last season, and the Lakers’ offense looks to be humming again. Lake City 30, Beaverton 21 The Trojans had a tough go in 2020, finishing just 2-5 after three winning seasons in a row, but they could be on the move again after edging a Beaverton team coming off a fifth-straight winning campaign.

Southeast & Border

HEADLINER Jackson Lumen Christi 27, New Lothrop 14 The southeastern section of the Lower Peninsula was loaded with notable finishes, but Lumen Christi toppling the reigning Division 7 champion made the biggest statewide wave. The Titans broke away for the game’s final two scores and stopped a Hornets offense that scored at least 36 points per game in going 11-0 last fall. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Watch list Ottawa Lake Whiteford 52, Blissfield 21 Whiteford always is in the title mix in the Tri-County Conference, and downing the reigning Lenawee County Athletic Association champ is a great way to prep for another run.

Remember this one Hudson 59, Ithaca 14 Last year’s matchup between the programs owning the longest winning streaks in MHSAA history wasn’t played due to the late season start. But Hudson stormed back to even the recent series after losing to Ithaca in 2019 – a major win as the Tigers go for their first winning season since 2017.

More shoutouts Napoleon 27, Brooklyn Columbia Central 14 The Pirates already have equaled last season’s win total, and in the process broke a five-game opening-night losing streak against the Golden Eagles. Saline 34, Hudsonville 30 The Hornets stopped Hudsonville just short of the goal line on the final play at Michigan Stadium.  

Southwest Corridor

HEADLINER Niles Brandywine 38, Centreville 32 The Bobcats have been a playoff team for most of the last decade and went 9-1 in 2019. This opening win certainly could spur more big things this fall. Centreville gave up 29 points total in going 11-0 and winning the Division 8 championship last season. Click for more from the Niles Daily Star.

Watch list Edwardsburg 38, Montague 0 Few have slowed down the Eddies’ offense over the last eight years – they scored more than 400 points in all of them – and this seems a strong indicator that things will continue along that track. The defense also deserves plenty of credit for shutting out the reigning Division 6 champ.  

Remember this one Stevensville Lakeshore 26, Portage Central 22 The season is just getting started, but a Lakeshore go-ahead touchdown with 10 minutes to play could mean a lot in the final Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference standings.

More shoutouts Battle Creek Central 12, Portage Northern 6 This is a huge start for the Bearcats. Northern had won the last seven matchups between the two, including last season’s by 40, and went undefeated in league play in 2020 although the SMAC didn’t award a champion because of the abbreviated regular season. Cassopolis 20, Schoolcraft 19 After four straight double-digit win seasons, the Rangers fell back to 2-5 last fall. But defeating a Schoolcraft team coming off a Division 7 Semifinals trip may have begun a fast rebound.

Upper Peninsula

HEADLINER Iron Mountain 14, Negaunee 12 These Western Peninsula Athletic Conference rivals had to take a year off from their annual game because of the shortened 2020 season, but they continued what’s become a series of close finishes – this the third straight decided by three points or fewer. Iron Mountain has won all three, which in this case again means a significant start to the Copper division season. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Watch list Gladstone 26, Calumet 20 (OT) The Braves won their season opener for the fifth year in a row, and the timing of this big victory couldn’t be better – four straight league games are up next.

Remember this one Ishpeming 22, Manistique 6 The Hematites didn’t play a game last season, but they returned with a victory by the identical score of their 2019 opener against Manistique.

More shoutouts Bark River-Harris 28, Gwinn 6 Bark River-Harris closed last season winning five of its last six and making a Division 8 District Final, and they may be back in stride. Ishpeming Westwood 52, Houghton 8 The Patriots extended their winning streak against Houghton to four, setting up this week’s league showdown with the Mountaineers.

West Michigan

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Catholic Central 43, Lapeer 21 The reigning Division 5 champion opened the season for the whole state with a noon Thursday kickoff at the Battle at the Big House, and looked like they’d just left Ford Field in January. QB Joey Silveri threw for two scores and ran for two more, and Nolan Ziegler caught three touchdown passes. Click for more from FOX 17.

Watch List Zeeland West 44, East Grand Rapids 27 The Dux have won eight straight season openers and now have an open week before beginning play in what might be the toughest league in the state this season, the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green.

Remember this one Caledonia 41, Holt 14 The Rams are expected to be one of the Lansing area’s best this fall – which means this could turn out to be an even more impressive start for Caledonia.

More shoutouts Muskegon Mona Shores 56, Lowell 14 The Sailors opened their pursuit of a third-straight Division 2 championship with a new quarterback but same offensive output. Ravenna 21, Beal City 20 The Bulldogs held on as the Aggies scored 13 fourth-quarter points.


HEADLINER Marion 42, Merrill 12 The Eagles quietly have strung together five winning seasons in a row and made an impression in their first game since last season’s Division 2 Semifinal loss to eventual champion Powers North Central. Merrill was one of the best 8-player Division 1 teams in its first season playing the format in 2020. Click for more from the Cadillac News.

Watch list Pickford 36, Gaylord St. Mary 6 One game is merely that, but if history holds this would seem to indicate Pickford is a team to watch again in Division 1.

Remember this one Genesee 56, Mayville 52 The Wolves ended last season with a 48-20 playoff-opening loss to Mayville.

More shoutouts Blanchard Montabella 54, Bellevue 18 The Mustangs made a late move to 8-player this offseason and are three students too large to qualify for the playoffs – but their 8P debut will be remembered regardless if they continue to rebound from last year’s 1-5 finish in 11-player. Rogers City 14, Brethren 8 The Hurons won five games total over their last two seasons of 11-player, but debuted in 8-player with a win over a solid Brethren program coming off a third-straight finish at .500 or better.

PHOTOS: (Top) Niles Brandywine’s Ivory McCullough works to break the grasp of Centreville’s Xander Frederick during Thursday’s win. (Middle) Plainwell won its 120th meeting with Otsego, 21-6. (Below) Alpena's Joseph Blewett (21) and Mason Mumford (15) aren't able to get to Marquette's Justin Jurmu in time as Jurmu pulls in a pass from quarterback Austin Ridl to score their team’s first touchdown Thursday. (Top photo by Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune, middle by Gary Shook, and below by Cara Kamps.)

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.)