1st & Goal: 2021 Week 8 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 15, 2021

Some weeks during football season need little introduction. Week 8 this fall qualifies.

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By Sunday, the majority of the state’s leagues will have their champions. By Sunday, we also will have a much clearer picture of every team’s chances of making the playoffs with one more regular-season game to go.

Below is a look at many of Friday and Saturday’s matchups that will play parts in determining both.

Bay & Thumb

Lapeer (6-1) at Grand Blanc (7-0)

The Lightning are coming off a solid 37-27 nonleague win over Midland Dow with Saginaw Valley League Red leader Grand Blanc up this week and reigning champion Davison next to finish the regular season. Lapeer likely must defeat both to clinch a third league championship over the last four seasons, but Grand Blanc already has a Davison win and a similarly close one over Dow to match – and closes with winless Saginaw United. That Week 4 win was Grand Blanc’s first over the Cardinals since joining the SVL in 2018, and another tonight would be Grand Blanc’s first victory over Lapeer during the same stretch.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (5-2) at Bad Axe (7-0), Mount Pleasant (7-0) at Bay City Western (6-1), Essexville Garber (5-2) at Frankenmuth (7-0), Durand (5-2) at Montrose (5-2).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Martin Luther King (6-1) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern

These two are lined up for a second regular-season meeting for the second season in a row, this one to decide the Detroit Public School League Blue championship after King won the PSL Division 1 title. King did so thanks to winning the first matchup in Week 3, 41-34, and the Crusaders are sitting comfortably in the No. 2 spot in Division 3 playoff points. Cass Tech sits in a much more uncertain spot in Division 1, making this matchup about much more than a championship. The Technicians currently are in the playoff field, but 30th out of 32 teams in Division 1.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Croswell-Lexington (6-1) at Armada (6-1), Royal Oak Shrine (4-3) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (6-1), Dearborn Fordson (6-1) at Dearborn (5-2), Detroit Central (7-0) vs. Detroit Pershing (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern.


Canton (5-2) at Hartland (6-1)

These two and Howell are tied for first in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West with tonight’s games the last on the league schedule. The Eagles are relative newcomers to this level of late-season anticipation, having guaranteed their first overall winning record since 2015, and they are a one-point Week 3 loss to Brighton from being undefeated. Canton is the reigning league champ and more of a regular in these sorts of games – but also lost to Howell 41-21 in Week 2, whereas Hartland downed the Highlanders 29-7 in Week 6. Canton defeated Brighton 35-32 in Week 6. Howell plays at Brighton tonight.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Howell (6-1) at Brighton (4-3), East Lansing (4-3) at Grand Ledge (6-1), Millington (7-0) at Ithaca (5-2), Cadillac (5-2) at Portland (6-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (5-2) at Traverse City Central (6-1)

Central again loaded up this season’s nonleague schedule, which in addition to its perfect run through the Big North Conference has the Trojans sitting in the No. 6 spot in Division 2. They also haven’t had a game closer than 32 points since falling to Division 3 top-ranked DeWitt in the season opener. Of course, Brother Rice is another formidable challenge – the Warriors are No. 10 in Division 3 with notable wins over Macomb Dakota and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and a five-point loss to Division 2 No. 1 Warren De La Salle Collegiate. Central and Brother Rice played each other in 2016 and 2017 – both Rice wins, but by a combined 11 points.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mancelona (5-1) at Charlevoix (6-1), McBain (4-3) at Manton (3-4), Hopkins (3-4) at Frankfort (6-1), Harbor Springs (1-6) at East Jordan (5-2).

Southeast & Border

Addison (7-0) at Napoleon (5-2)

Last week’s Michigan Center 12-7 win over Napoleon took a bit of thunder out of this matchup, but it still will have plenty of impact in multiple ways. Addison can clinch the Cascades Conference championship outright, which would be the Panthers’ third straight, but a Napoleon win would create a three-way shared title with these two and Michigan Center. As noted a few times this season, the Pirates have bounced way back after going 1-6 last year and a combined 3-13 over the last two, but they remain in a tough spot for playoff qualification at No. 37 in Division 6 with two games to play.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY St. Joseph (5-2) at Chelsea (7-0), Parma Western (5-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (6-1), Petersburg Summerfield (5-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (6-1), Dexter (5-2) at Saline (7-0).

Southwest Corridor

Kalamazoo United (5-2) at Constantine (7-0)

Constantine is one of the best teams we haven’t talked about enough this season, sitting No. 3 in Division 6 and up to a combined 24-5 over the last three seasons while coming off a 2020 run to the Semifinals. The Falcons have won every game by double digits this fall, but United is likely at least the top in-state team Constantine will see this regular season. Both are undefeated in Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore play, with United able to clinch the title outright and Constantine able to clinch a share with one more league game left. United sits No. 16 in Division 5, its only losses to Division 4 and 3 teams that are both 6-1.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Stevensville Lakeshore (6-1) at Battle Creek Lakeview (4-3), Reading (5-2) at Homer (5-2), Paw Paw (5-2) at Vicksburg (6-1), Portage Central (5-2) at Battle Creek Central (3-4).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming Westwood (6-1) at Bark River-Harris (5-2)

Bark River-Harris will face Ishpeming in a Week 9 winner-take-all matchup for the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron title, but first will meet the West-PAC Copper-leading Patriots in a game that won’t impact league standings but may impact if the Broncos continue into the postseason. They’re currently in at No. 28 in Division 8, and the Division 7 Patriots are the strongest opponent they’ll have seen so far. Westwood is ranked No. 10 in its division and has clinched a share of the Copper title with a chance to win it outright against Negaunee in Week 9.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hancock (4-3) at Calumet (5-2), Ishpeming (3-3) at Iron Mountain (4-3), Traverse City West (6-1) at Marquette (5-2), Houghton (4-3) at Negaunee (6-1).

West Michigan

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0) at Cedar Springs (6-1)

These two are tied for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold with two games to play and the winner tonight clinching a share of the league title. Grand Rapids Catholic Central would be earning a seventh-straight league championship, and the Division 5 top-ranked Cougars also are carrying a 30-game winning streak. But Cedar Springs also has done its work well to get here, sitting No. 11 in Division 3 with its only loss to Division 1 top-ranked Rockford. GRCC won last season’s meeting 42-28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Byron Center (6-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (6-1), Montague (6-1) at Whitehall (6-1), Coopersville (5-2) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-0), Centreville (6-1) at Muskegon Catholic Central (6-1).


Peck (5-2) at Kinde North Huron (7-0)

North Huron earned a share of the North Central Thumb League Stripes championship last week and can lock up a repeat outright title. But Peck will be loaded with motivation stretching past a possible championship share. One more win this season will guarantee the Pirates’ best record since 2015 and would break a streak of eight straight losses to the Warriors, who defeated Peck during both the regular season and playoffs the last two years.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Rogers City (7-0) at Mio (6-1), Marion (6-1) at Vestaburg (5-2), Colon (6-1) at Climax-Scotts (5-2). SATURDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-0) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-2).

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PHOTO Mount Pleasant, here on defense against Holland West Ottawa during a Week 2 win, is among teams that can clinch a league championship this weekend. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)