1st & Goal: 2021 Week 9 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 21, 2021

Welcome to the 72 most exhilarating hours in MHSAA playoff football.

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OK, that’s a little over the top. But much of what’s determined over the next three days will set up the stories for the rest of this season.

First comes our regular-season finales, with a few high-impact matchups Thursday and many more for remaining league titles and playoff field maneuvering Friday and through Saturday evening.

With about 2,700 regular-season scores locked up for 2020, the playoff selection committee will draw all of our 11 and 8-player brackets Sunday morning – with those pairings announced at 5:30 p.m. on TV on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel and online on MHSAA.tv.

Here’s a look at a number of matchups this weekend that likely will add a few final wrinkles as we prepare to unveil this season’s playoff field.

Bay & Thumb

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-1) at Marine City (8-0)

This should give us one of our best looks at Division 5 No. 5 Marine City, which is coming off a Macomb Area Conference Silver championship. The Mariners earlier dealt Division 3 No. 15 Warren Fitzgerald its only loss and Division 4 No. 9 St. Clair its first of two defeats, and no opponent has gotten closer than 29 points in part because Marine City is giving up just 8.6 per game. The Fighting Irish’s only loss this season came to Division 3 No. 7 Harper Woods, and they could make a nice move up from No. 18 in Division 4 with a win tonight. None of Notre Dame Prep’s other opponents have gotten within single digits.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ubly (8-0) at Bad Axe (7-1), Lapeer (6-2) at Davison (5-3), Standish-Sterling (7-1) at Gladwin (8-0), Frankenmuth (8-0) at New Lothrop (6-2).

Greater Detroit

Troy (8-0) at Bloomfield Hills (8-0)

This winner claims the Oakland Activities Association Blue championship outright, and this also should have Division 1 playoff ranking implications with Troy sitting No. 7 and Bloomfield Hills at No. 14. The Black Hawks have turned things around after three-straight sub-.500 seasons and have guaranteed their best finish since the last time they were in this position when they won the Blue in 2016. Troy is having its most success since 2007 and has given up only 46 points over seven games won on the field.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Detroit Cass Tech (5-3) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (5-3). FRIDAY Hartland (7-1) at Belleville (7-1), Gibraltar Carlson (7-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (8-0). SATURDAY Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-1) vs. Madison Heights Bishop Foley (7-1) at Ford Field.


Lansing Catholic (8-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0)

A pair of league champions will meet in one of the Lansing area’s most anticipated games of the fall, as Division 6 No. 1 Lansing Catholic is seeking to complete a second perfect regular season in three years and Division 7 No. 5 P-W can finish a third perfect regular season in four years – with Lansing Catholic’s 28-13 win over the Pirates the lone regular-season defeat during that stretch. Together they’ve already defeated three league champions this fall – Lansing Catholic won early over Williamston, while P-W opened with a victory over Redford Union and defeated Olivet in Week 6.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (6-2) at Holt (6-2), Montague (6-2) at Portland (6-2), Charlotte (5-3) at Fowlerville (2-6), Ionia (4-4) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (4-4).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City St. Francis (8-0) at Kingsley (8-0)

Two Northern Michigan Football League divisions will be decided with outright champions this weekend, with this Legends finale joined by the Legacy decider between Frankfort and East Jordan. Kingsley vs. St. Francis has decided the Legends champion the last three seasons; the Gladiators won in 2018 and the Stags have won the last two meetings and titles. St. Francis is No. 3 in Division 7 and has scored 42 or more points seven of eight games this fall. Kingsley is No. 9 in Division 5 and features a defense giving up just under eight points per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankfort (6-2) at East Jordan (6-2), Howard City Tri County (7-1) at Manistee (5-3), Detroit Catholic Central (6-2) at Traverse City West (6-2), Maple City Glen Lake (3-5) at Mancelona (5-2).

Southeast & Border

Jonesville (8-0) at Addison (8-0), Saturday

This Big 8/Cascades crossover of champions matches teams that not only have topped those conferences this season but over the last few. Jonesville, No. 15 in Division 6, dominated the Big 8 Conference for the second-straight season, this time winning its league games by an average margin of 43 points. Division 8 No. 3 Addison’s third-straight Cascades Conference sweep included four wins by at least 29 points and a one-pointer that remains Michigan Center’s only defeat.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Chelsea (8-0) at Dexter (5-3), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-1) at Erie Mason (5-3), Dundee (5-3) at Hudson (8-0), Reading (6-2) at Michigan Center (7-1).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Central (6-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-2)

This is another meeting of champions, with Portage Central claiming the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference title and Harper Creek one of three teams celebrating a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference crown. Both sit in the middle of their potential playoff fields – Central is No. 16 in Division 2 and Harper Creek No. 16 in Division 3 – and the winner should get a valuable playoff point boost.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Berrien Springs (8-0) at Cassopolis (5-3), Plainwell (6-2) at Paw Paw (6-2), Battle Creek Lakeview (5-3) at St. Joseph (5-3), DeWitt (7-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (6-2).

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (7-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (7-1)

Both Western Peninsula Athletic Conference division championships will be decided this week. Bark-River Harris and Ishpeming meet in the Iron on Thursday, and Negaunee and Westwood will decide at least part of the Copper title Friday. (Calumet also can claim a share with a win over L’Anse.) The Miners’ 42-14 playoff win last fall broke a three-game losing streak on the field against Westwood; their first scheduled 2020 game turned into a forfeit, and tonight’s game is guaranteed to be their only meeting this fall. Negaunee is No. 10 in Division 6, and Westwood is No. 9 in Division 7.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Bark River Harris (5-3) at Ishpeming (3-4). FRIDAY L'Anse (4-4) at Calumet (6-2), Sault Ste. Marie (5-3) at Gladstone (4-4), Kingsford (5-3) at Menominee (5-3).

West Michigan

Whitehall (7-1) at Reed City (7-1)

The Vikings are fresh off earning a share of the West Michigan Conference title with last week’s 34-14 victory over Montague and sit among a group of seven tightly-packed teams just below the middle of the Division 4 top 32. A win over Division 6 No. 2 Reed City would provide a nice boost but won’t come easily. The Coyotes wrapped up a repeat in the Central State Activities Association Gold and haven’t had a game closer than two touchdowns since Week 3.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Northview (4-4) at Grand Rapids Christian (5-3), Cedar Springs (6-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (6-2), Muskegon Catholic Central (7-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (7-1), Lawton (8-0) at Saugatuck (5-3).


Deckerville (7-0) at Morrice (8-0)

Morrice is finishing its fifth season in the North Central Thumb League and won division titles the first four. The Orioles are looking to repeat in the Stars after defeating Deckerville 58-30 in Week 9 to clinch last year’s championship outright, while the Eagles are seeking their third division title in four seasons. This Morrice team is putting up defensive numbers very similar to its 2018 Division 1 championship team, giving up only 40 points over eight games this fall with three shutouts and only one team scoring more than eight. Deckerville should provide an incredible challenge though, entering averaging 56 points per game and having gone over 80 twice.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Britton Deerfield (8-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-0), Powers North Central (8-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-1), Rudyard (6-2) at Pickford (7-1), Indian River Inland Lakes (8-0) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-3).

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PHOTO Reed City, right, lines up against Remus Chippewa Hills during a 58-7 Week 4 win. (Photo by Tonya Holmes.)

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.)