1st & Goal: 2021 Week 7 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 8, 2021

Rivalries play out every week of the nine-game football regular season – but a few we watch for every fall top the Week 7 schedule.

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Neighbors Port Huron and Port Huron Northern will face off with a league title on the line, as will Marquette and Menominee, and the Muskegon High/Mona Shores matchup will decide first place in their conference as well. Saline/Temperance Bedford and St. Joseph/Stevensville Lakeshore will have similar impacts.

MHSAA.tv will carry more than 175 games live this weekend, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting Friday's Rockford/Caledonia game on its primary cable channel and State Champs! Sports Network streaming Saturday's Warren Michigan Collegiate/Harper Woods Chandler Park matchup. See the full schedule from the MHSAA Score Center.

Also, circle Oct. 24 on your calendars and tune your TVs to Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel for the MHSAA’s annual football playoff selection show, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. The fields and full brackets for 11 and 8-player will be announced.

(Games below are Friday unless noted.)

Bay & Thumb

Port Huron (5-1) at Port Huron Northern (6-0)

This rivalry this season will be a championship decider with the winner tonight claiming the Macomb Area Conference Blue title outright. Port Huron is the reigning champion and won last year’s meeting 20-7, and actually has claimed the last two matchups as these teams split regular season and playoff games in 2019. It’s very possible this will be just the first chapter again this fall; Northern is ranked No. 5 in Division 2 and the Big Reds are No. 14. They’re succeeding with different strengths; Port Huron has scored 28 or more points in five straight games since an opening-night loss to Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, while the Huskies are scoring less but giving up only eight points per game.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Reese (5-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (5-1), Goodrich (5-1) at Lake Fenton (5-1), Midland Dow (4-2) at Lapeer (5-1), Swartz Creek (3-3) at Flushing (3-3).

Greater Detroit

Romeo (5-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (5-1)

After a few tough seasons playing in one of the state’s strongest leagues, Stevenson got rolling last fall and hasn’t stopped. The Titans shared the 2020 MAC Red title but can finish an outright championship tonight – while a Romeo win would mean a shared title between the two as the Bulldogs fell by three points to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley two weeks ago. Stevenson has scored at least 30 points every game, including a Week 1 loss to still-unbeaten Rockford, while Romeo excels defensively and has given up 13 or fewer points in all of their five wins (but 37 in the loss to the Big Reds). Stevenson won last season’s meeting with Romeo 14-7.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Livonia Churchill (6-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-1), Allen Park (5-1) at Harper Woods (5-1), Detroit Osborn (4-2) at Detroit Pershing (4-2). SATURDAY Harper Woods Chandler Park (4-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-2).


Gladwin (6-0) at Clare (4-2)

The Flying G’s also took a big jump in 2020 and have guaranteed their most successful finish since 2014. They can add tonight a share of their first Jack Pine Conference championship since 2002, their first season in the league. Gladwin is scoring nearly 63 points per game and has five shutouts in six games – the only points given up were 18 three weeks ago in a 40-point win. But the JPC road always goes through reigning champ Clare, and the Pioneers have defeated the Flying G’s all 19 seasons they’ve been in the league together, including 41-30 a year ago. Clare’s defeats this season are to Freeland and Marquette teams that are a combined 10-2.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (6-0) at Breckenridge (4-2), Lansing Catholic (6-0) at Charlotte (4-2), New Lothrop (4-2) at Durand (5-1), Olivet (4-2) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (4-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City (5-1) at Mancelona (5-0)

Mancelona’s best start since back-to-back 10-1 finishes in 2011 and 2012 fast forwards this week into what could be an unforgettable regular-season conclusion with Boyne City this week also undefeated in Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders play and Week 8 opponent Charlevoix only a game back. The Ironmen are coming off an open date and have had a little more time to prepare for a Ramblers team that lost only to Traverse City St. Francis two weeks ago but bounced back big last week against Kalkaska. Boyne City has played one more league game than Mancelona and can clinch a share of the league title if victorious tonight; the Ramblers already own a 27-8 Week 2 win over Charlevoix as well. Boyne City won last season’s meeting 48-6.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petoskey (3-3) at Cadillac (4-2), Harbor Springs (1-5) at Frankfort (5-1), Traverse City Central (5-1) at Alpena (1-5), Charlevoix (5-1) at Kalkaska (1-5).

Southeast & Border

Saline (6-0) at Temperance Bedford (5-1)

The last time Saline lost a Southeastern Conference Red game was Week 5 of 2013 – to Temperance Bedford. This matchup has determined the league champion three times since the Kicking Mules claimed the title that season, and Saline has a one-game edge heading into this weekend thanks to Bedford’s one-point loss to Ann Arbor Huron in Week 4. Three of the last five games between these two have been decided by one score – although Saline won last season 56-14. The Hornets are ranked No. 3 in Division 1, while Bedford is No. 6 in Division 2 from a league that also has Huron at No. 10 in Division 1, Dexter slated to make the playoffs and Monroe only one spot away from doing the same with three games to play.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sand Creek (4-2) at Erie Mason (4-2), Napoleon (5-1) at Michigan Center (5-1), Dundee (4-2) at Clinton (4-2), Chelsea (6-0) at Tecumseh (3-3).

Southwest Corridor

Stevensville Lakeshore (5-1) at St. Joseph (5-1)

The Bears lost an overtime heartbreaker last week to Portage Central but have had to rebound quickly with this game now pitting two of the three teams sitting in first place in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. Lakeshore has defeated St. Joseph in nine of their last 10 meetings, including 26-0 and then 14-9 in the playoffs a year ago – when the Lancers were the only team to defeat the Bears. Lakeshore’s loss this fall came against Portage Northern in Week 4, and it won by four against Portage Central in the season opener. St. Joseph downed Northern 21-3 in Week 3.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY South Haven (5-1) at Berrien Springs (6-0), Vicksburg (5-1) at Plainwell (5-1), Cassopolis (4-2) at White Pigeon (5-1), Watervliet (4-2) at Kalamazoo United (4-2).

Upper Peninsula

Menominee (4-2) at Marquette (5-1)

This matchup once again will decide the Great Northern Conference title, as Marquette can clinch the championship outright with a win and Menominee can clinch a share with a Week 9 meeting with Kingsford left on the GNC schedule. Marquette has won the last two league titles outright after sharing with Escanaba in 2018, and its only loss this season came Week 2 against Traverse City Central, which can clinch the Big North Conference title outright this week. Menominee’s losses both qualify as good ones – both came to Wisconsin teams that are 6-1, and because of that the Maroons are No. 13 in Division 6. Marquette is No. 16 in Division 3 coming off a one-point win last week over Clare (mentioned above).  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hancock (3-3) at Iron Mountain (3-3), L'Anse (3-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (5-1), Traverse City St. Francis (6-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (4-2). SATURDAY Calumet (4-2) at Houghton (4-2).

West Michigan

Muskegon (5-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (5-1)

Undefeated Caledonia and Rockford meet with first place on the line in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red, but it’s tough these days to not call Muskegon High/Mona Shores this region’s top game of any week. They are tied atop the O-K Green, both having lost to Detroit Public School League powers (Muskegon to Cass Tech and Mona Shores to Martin Luther King). The Big Reds haven’t given up a point since Week 3 and before that allowed just 20 to a Zeeland West team averaging nearly 40 per game. Mona Shores will counter with an offense averaging 47 points per game. The Sailors won last season’s meeting 21-14 on the way to eventually claiming their second-straight Division 2 championship.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Caledonia (6-0) at Rockford (6-0), Manistee (4-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (5-1), Grand Rapids Christian (3-3) at Byron Center (6-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-0) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-0).


Mendon (5-1) at Martin (6-0)

The winner receives a share of the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1 title, and this will be their first meeting since 1997. Martin is in the midst of its third season as a force in 8-player football, and Mendon made the format switch this fall and has only a nonleague loss to Bridgman keeping it from a matching perfect start. Subtract that defeat, when the Hornets were shut out, and they’re averaging 58 points per game in their wins. Martin no doubt will incorporate a little bit of what worked for the Bees to augment a defense that has given up only a combined 18 points in five games played (the sixth win was a forfeit).

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Suttons Bay (6-0) at Marion (6-0), Waldron (5-1) at Tekonsha (4-2), Pickford (5-1) at Newberry (5-1), Genesee (4-1) at Morrice (6-0).

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's defense readies for the snap this season against Detroit Cass Tech. (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.)