1st & Goal: 2022 11-Player Semifinals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 17, 2022

Snow has blanketed the majority of the state over the last few days. But it’s nearly a guarantee that the players on the field for this weekend’s 11-player Semifinals will be the last to notice it’s gotten wetter and colder outside.

MI Student AidThey’re focused on getting to Ford Field, and a snowy mid-November game is just part of the unique path traveled by championship contenders in Michigan.

All 16 Semifinals will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription, with Friday’s Belleville/Detroit Cass Tech game in Division 1 to be broadcast live on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel. The other 15 Semifinals will be played Saturday; click for the full schedule.

Below is a look at all 16 games that will determine this season’s Finals matchups.

Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (9-3) vs. Belleville (12-0) at Novi – FRIDAY

Cass Tech has won eight straight games, with its last five victories as impressive a string as anyone has conquered statewide. Senior quarterback Leeshaun Mumphfield (1,712 yards/25 TDs passing) is a proven leader and has standouts like senior running back Sean Hodges (846 yards/12 TDs rushing) and freshman Corey Sadler Jr. (665 yards/8 TDs receiving) to take away some of the playmaking pressure. Belleville’s 23-game winning streak is on the line, and the reigning champion has plenty of big-game experience too with sophomore quarterback Bryce Underwood (2,479 yards/34 TDs passing) and junior running back Jeremiah Beasley (1,088 yards/23 TDs rushing) showing the way.  

Clarkston (10-2) vs. Caledonia (11-1) at DeWitt

These teams have combined to run for 7,458 yards this season, perhaps the best fit for what weather conditions might provide this weekend. Caledonia has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers – junior running back Brock Townsend (1,130/16 TDs) and senior quarterback Mason McKenzie (1,441/19), who also has thrown for 1,356 yards and 19 touchdowns. Clarkston’s top five runners all average at least seven yards per carry, but senior running back Ethan Clark is shouldering the load with 2,542 yards – at 10.1 per carry – and 30 touchdowns on the ground. Both teams have avenged a regular-season loss during the playoffs, Caledonia to Rockford and Clarkston to Davison.

Division 2

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (12-0) vs. Dexter (12-0) at Portage Northern

Dexter is playing for its first championship game berth, and Forest Hills Central for its first since 1994. A Rangers defense giving up only 7.9 points per game will face its strongest challenge as senior running back Cole Cabana (1,433 yards/26 TDs rushing) and senior quarterback Reeves Taylor (2,248 yards/30 TDs passing) give the Dreadnaughts a variety of options on the offensive side of the ball. Not that FHC doesn’t have the same, especially with senior quarterback Justin Osterhouse’s ability to make plays rushing (654 yards/15 TDs) and throwing (1,070 yards/13 TDs passing). Dexter’s defense has been similarly special too, giving up only 9.3 ppg.

Birmingham Groves (9-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (11-1) at Troy Athens

Groves had rebounded off 3-6 and 2-7 seasons and accelerated after a 4-3 start to return to the Semifinals, impressing especially with last week’s 32-25 win over Livonia Franklin. Senior running back Josh Woods went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in that victory, and Franklin was the first team in six weeks to score more than 12 points on the Falcons. Reigning champion De La Salle has put up more than 4,600 yards in total offense and will challenge Groves beginning with senior quarterback Brady Drogosh, who has thrown for 1,839 yards and 33 touchdowns and run for 1,088 yards and 13 scores. The Pilots have allowed more than 16 points just once, in their lone loss two months ago.

Division 3

DeWitt (9-3) vs. Muskegon (10-2) at Greenville

This will be the fourth time these two have matched up over the last six seasons and third time in Semifinals over the last four years. The Big Reds’ losses this fall were to De La Salle and Zeeland West, the latter avenged last week. Their top playmakers are all juniors – quarterback M’Khi Guy leads in rushing (1,297 yards/18 TDs) and passing (614 yards/10 TDs), while Destin Piggee (318 yards/4 TDs receiving, 713/5 rushing) and Jakob Price (863 yards/14 TDs rushing) provide plenty of options. All three of DeWitt’s losses were by seven or fewer points, and the Panthers have grown up quickly this fall after several leaders graduated from the teams that reached Finals the last two seasons. Senior Bryce Kurncz does a lot of everything, leading the team in rushing (1,395 yards/17 TDs) and receiving (727 yards/11 TDs) while also throwing for four scores, returning punts and starting on defense. A variety of others contribute too, including sophomore Abram Larner who is second on the team in rushing and receiving yardage.

Detroit Martin Luther King (8-3) vs. Mason (12-0) at Westland John Glenn

The reigning Division 3 champion King is seeking to reach the Finals for the fourth time in five seasons, which included 2019 in Division 2. Senior quarterback Dante Moore is the name everyone knows, and rightly so as he’s thrown for 1,787 yards and 24 touchdowns in his fourth season directing the offense. But senior running back Sterling Anderson Jr. is another of many to note, as he’s run for 918 yards and 12 scores and caught 36 passes including four for touchdowns. Mason is certainly less familiar statewide at this point; this will be the Bulldogs’ second Semifinal in two seasons as they seek their first Finals appearance. But they’re starting to gain plenty of attention, especially sophomore quarterback Cason Carswell (2,141 yards/33 TDs passing) and junior running back AJ Martell (1,221 yards/20 TDs rushing).

Division 4

Edwardsburg (11-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (12-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek

A season that started differently than usual for Edwardsburg with a loss is shaping up the same as the rest lately as the Eddies will play in their third straight and sixth Semifinal over the last seven seasons – and with that opening-night opponent, Grand Rapids West Catholic, still playing as well. Edwardsburg  again relies on the run game – it’s thrown 21 passes, but rushed for 4,343 yards led by senior backs Brett Allen and Andrew Colvin, who have combined for 1,957 yards and 27 scores on the ground. South Christian has followed the lead of senior quarterback Jacob DeHaan to its first Semifinal since 2014. He’s run for 949 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 2,308 yards and 28 scores.

Goodrich (11-1) vs. Riverview (12-0) at Rochester

Goodrich is another team that didn’t get down after a season-opening loss, as the Martians won their next 11 games to reach the Semifinals for the first time. They have been balanced almost to the yard with just north of 1,600 rushing and 1,600 passing. Senior running back Jace Simerson has shouldered much of the load running for 1,130 yads and 15 touchdowns, with senior quarterback Gavin Hart balancing that out with 1,612 yards and 19 scores through the air. They’ll go against a Riverview team that’s won two straight games where the Pirates and their opponents have combined for 80 or more points. Jacob Shank (1,603 yards/28 TDs rushing), Anthony Bowman (1,026/11) and Max Lockhart (892/10) lead a ground game averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

Division 5

Gladwin (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) at Ithaca

Grand Rapids Catholic Central has won the last two Division 5 championships and the 2019 Division 4 title before that – and while most of the star power has turned over since last year, the new playmakers have provided similar results. Junior running back Kellen Russell-Dixon is averaging nine yards per carry for 1,406 total and 17 touchdowns on the ground, while junior quarterback Connor Wolf has thrown for 2,622 yards and 30 scores. No opponent has gotten closer than 19 points since the Cougars’ 36-34 loss to South Christian in Week 6. Gladwin can turn to a defense that’s given up only 8.4 points per game and 4.1 yards per play.  The Flying G’s will also employ several options offensively, with senior Earl Esiline at 1,048 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing, senior running back Logan Kokotovich at 833 and 11, respectively, and senior quarterback Nick Wheeler having thrown 11 touchdown passes and run for 19 scores.

Detroit Country Day (8-3) vs. Frankenmuth (12-0) at Lapeer

After falling in the Regional Final to eventual Division 4 champion Chelsea last season, Country Day will play in its third Semifinal in four seasons and coming off both its highest-scoring game of this fall and lowest-scoring defensive effort last week in a 44-7 win over Flat Rock. Junior fullback Gabe Winowich (833 yards/11 TDs) has run for nearly half the team’s rush yards, and senior Gabe Zeldes is another intriguing playmaker – he’s caught nine touchdowns passes, returning three of his five interceptions for scores and also found the end zone on a kickoff return. They’ll try to get past a Frankenmuth defense giving up just 5.3 points per game – and not more than seven since Week 3. The Eagles have allowed only eight offensive touchdowns this season. They also spread things around on offense, as junior Griffin Barker, senior Sam Barger and senior quarterback Aidan Hoard all have run for at least 10 touchdowns. Hoard also has thrown for 16 scores.

Division 6

Negaunee (12-0) vs. Reed City (11-1) at Gaylord

Negaunee enters its first Semifinal since 2003 following just its second single-digit game this season, and Gladstone last week also was the first opponent in five weeks to score on a Miners defense giving up only 6.3 points per game. A pair of 1,000-yard rushers set the pace offensively – senior Nico Lukkarinen (1,124 yards/18 TDs) and junior Kai Lacar (1,082/16 TDs). Reed City most recently played a Semifinal in 2017 and is seeking its first championship game berth. A high-producing offense churns with three rushers with at least 900 yards led by senior running back Bryson Hughes (1,215 yards/15 TDs rushing.)

Clinton (12-0) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (11-1) at Coldwater

Clinton is playing in its second Semifinal in three seasons after last week’s 31-30 win over 2021 runner-up Warren Michigan Collegiate. The Redwolves have capitalized on 29 turnovers by opponents this fall, and also feature a strong running attack with senior back Bradyn Lehman leading with 1,005 yards and 16 TDs rushing plus five receiving scores. West Catholic is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2017 after winning the first three games of these playoffs by an average of 33 points per. Senior running back Timmy Kloska has piled up 1,852 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground.

Division 7

New Lothrop (10-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Clare

This is a rematch of the 2020 Final, won by New Lothrop 42-35. The Gladiators have won their games this fall by an average of 33 points per after suffering their lone 2021 loss in the Semifinals by seven points to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia. Senior quarterback Wyatt Nausadis is just one of several talented playmakers; he’s run for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns and thrown for 1,192 and 17. New Lothrop’s losses were by a combined three points to a pair of Division 6 league opponents. Junior quarterback Jack Kulhanek provides similar run-pass options, having thrown for 1,682 yards and 25 touchdowns and run for 1,342 yards and 17 scores. 

Napoleon (12-0) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (9-3) at Chelsea

Both have great stories. Napoleon was 1-8 two years ago, missed the playoffs last season after improving to 6-3, and followed up with this perfect run that has included four wins by eight points or fewer including last week’s over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. Lumen Christi is a frequent visitor to the Semifinals but started this fall 0-3 and hasn’t lost since, edging Lawton 7-6 last week to advance. Senior running back Bart Laretz is the key cog for the Pirates’ offense with 1,973 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. Senior quarterback Joe Lathers (678 yards/15 TDs rushing) and senior running back Derrick Walker (968/15) key another powerful Titans running attack. 

Division 8

Ubly (12-0) vs. Iron Mountain (11-1) at Petoskey

This will be Ubly’s fourth Semifinal in four years as the Bearcats seek their first championship, and last year’s five-point Semifinal loss was their only defeat over the last two seasons. They’ve defeated their opponents this season 49-6 on average, stacking up 4,400 rushing yards led by senior Mark Heilig (1,151 yards/26 TDs rushing) and junior Evan Peruski (1,158/20). Iron Mountain last played in a Semifinal in 2018, and got past Evart 34-33 last week in its first close game since a Week 1 five-point loss to Negaunee. Senior quarterback Joe Colavecchi directs a balanced attack and has thrown for 1,590 yards and 20 scores, and junior Luke Wolfe is the leading rusher and also has five interceptions. 

Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-3) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (12-0) at Brownstown Woodhaven

Everest Collegiate is back at a Semifinal for the second time in three seasons after winning eight of its last nine games – and avenging the lone defeat of that string. An offense that’s run for more than 2,100 yards and thrown for more than 1,500 has posted three of its four highest-scoring games over the last month. Whiteford got through its closest matchup of the season last week, 38-26 against White Pigeon, and has won its games by an average score of 50-13. Whiteford boasts two 1,000-yard rushers plus has enjoyed school record-setting performances from senior quarterback Shea Ruddy (19 TD passes) and junior linebacker Jake Iott.  

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PHOTO Ottawa Lake Whiteford's Hunter DeBarr gets up the sideline against Petersburg Summerfield. (Photo by Natalie McCormack.)

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.)