1st & Goal: 2022 11-Player Semifinals Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 21, 2022

This season's 11-Player Football Finals field is set. And it's fair to expect phenomenal after how this weekend's Semifinals played out. 

MI Student AidBoth Division 1 games went to overtime. The Division 5 and Division 8 Semifinals produced Ford Field matchups of undefeated contenders. Three reigning champions advanced, as did two teams that won Semifinals for the first time and two more that won their first during the lifetimes of the players on their rosters this fall. 

And that's just a sample of what's to come, as we'll preview all eight matchups Wednesday. For today, we're taking a glance back at all 16 games from a snowy, stormy and mostly frigid but forever memorable Friday and Saturday. 

Division 1

SEMIFINAL Belleville 29, Detroit Cass Tech 28 (OT) Arguably the game of the weekend was played Friday night as Belleville took an early 14-0 lead, got behind 21-14, scored with 1:04 left in regulation to force overtime, then answered Cass Tech’s overtime touchdown with a score and game-winning 2-point conversion. The reigning Division 1 champion Tigers improved to 13-0, while the Technicians finished 9-4. Click for more from MLive-Detroit.

SEMIFINAL Caledonia 21, Clarkston 0 An anticipated offense back-and-forth turned into one of the most impressive defensive performances in the state this season as Caledonia shut out a Clarkston offense averaging nearly 41 points per game. The Fighting Scots (12-1) will be playing in their first Final since winning the Division 3 title in 2005. Clarkston finished 10-3. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 2

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 20, Dexter 17 (2OT) A Forest Hills Central defense that has been a big part of the story all season showed well again as the Rangers (13-0) advanced to their first Final since 1994. Quarterback Mason McDonald certainly did his part as well, and especially at crunch time, with a game-tying touchdown pass on the last play of regulation and the game-winning scoring run. Dexter finished its first Semifinal season at 12-1. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

SEMIFINAL Warren De La Salle Collegiate 43, Birmingham Groves 15 The reigning champion Pilots (12-1) once again followed quarterback Brady Drogosh, who scored four touchdowns, while the defense took care of their side with a ninth-straight game of allowing 18 or fewer points. Groves finished 9-4, an excellent comeback from finishing 2-7 last season. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Division 3

SEMIFINAL Muskegon 49, DeWitt 21 After two seasons away, Muskegon (11-2) will return to Ford Field for the fifth time in seven years. Quarterback M’Khi Guy showed the way scoring six touchdowns on the ground and throwing for a seventh. DeWitt, last season’s Division 3 runner-up, finished 9-4. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

SEMIFINAL Detroit Martin Luther King 52, Mason 17 The reigning champion Crusaders (9-3) also are headed back to the Finals, for the sixth time in eight seasons after shutting down a Mason offense averaging 45 points per game. Dante Moore also offered a few more highlights as his career draws to a close, throwing four touchdown passes. Mason finished a second-straight Semifinal run at 12-1. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 4

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids South Christian 26, Edwardsburg 20 The Sailors improved to 13-0 and earned their first Finals trip since 2014 by handing Edwardsburg its first loss since the season opener. The Eddies (11-2) pulled within a score late, but South Christian held them off the rest of the way. Click for more from FOX 17.

SEMIFINAL Goodrich 51, Riverview 26 The Martians (12-1) are headed to the season’s final weekend for the first time after piling up their second-most points in a game this season and handing Riverview (12-1) its lone defeat. Jace Simerson ran for five touchdowns to lead the way. Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Division 5

SEMIFINAL Gladwin 28, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 21 Arguably the stunner of the playoffs goes to the Flying G’s, which is saying a lot since they remain undefeated at 13-0 but also ended Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s three-season Finals streak a win short of extending it to four. The Cougars (11-2) pulled within the final margin late and had the ball, but a Gladwin interception sealed the program’s first trip to the Finals. Click for more from the Bay City Times.

SEMIFINAL Frankenmuth 38, Detroit Country Day 0 The Eagles (13-0) earned their second trip to Ford Field in three seasons with arguably the finest defensive effort of a season full of them as they didn’t allow a first down while posting their fifth shutout. Aidan Hoard threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score. Country Day finished 8-4. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Division 6

SEMIFINAL Negaunee 13, Reed City 12 The Miners emerged from one of the snowiest Semifinals by twice coming back, the second time with the eventual game-winning touchdown run by Kai Lacar. The Negaunee (13-0) also reached its first Finals since 2002 by continuing a run of allowing no more than 15 points in a game this season, and even though Reed City (11-2) averaged 44 per game entering the day. Click for more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

SEMIFINAL Grand Rapids West Catholic 33, Clinton 14 The Falcons are headed back to the Finals for the first time since 2017 by handing Clinton its only defeat and holding the Redwolves (12-1) to their fewest points scoring this fall. Tim Kloska ran for 349 yards and five more touchdowns for West Catholic (12-1). Click for more from FOX 17.

Division 7

SEMIFINAL Traverse City St. Francis 53, New Lothrop 8 The Gladiators’ dominance seems to become more extraordinary every week as they’re 13-0 for the first time since 2009 and have now won their last two games by a combined 116-8. St. Francis led 20-0 after the first quarter in this one. New Lothrop finished 10-3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

SEMIFINAL Jackson Lumen Christi 20, Napoleon 7 The Titans (10-3) earned a rematch with one of the opponents that contributed to their 0-3 start this season. Lumen Christi relied on a steady defense that held Napoleon to its fewest points scored in a game this fall. Napoleon also finished its first Semifinal season at 12-1. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Division 8

SEMIFINAL Ubly 41, Iron Mountain 14 The Bearcats have equaled St. Francis’ mastery so far, with this their closest game this season. Ubly (13-0) will return to Ford Field for the second time in three seasons after holding Iron Mountain to its fewest points since a Week 1 defeat to Negaunee and scoring the most the Mountaineers (11-2) gave up this season. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

SEMIFINAL Ottawa Lake Whiteford 44, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 6 The Bobcats also are headed back to the Finals for the first time since 2017 after defeating Everest (9-4) in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Quarterback Shea Ruddy ran for four scores for Whiteford (13-0). Click for more from the Monroe News.

MHSAA.com'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 Jakob Price (20) finds room to run in his team's win over DeWitt. (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.)