1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 28, 2022

Everything begins anew this weekend for Michigan’s remaining football hopefuls.

MI Student AidThat isn’t entirely true, of course. Only 288 varsity teams are still playing based on what they accomplished during the regular season, and those teams are matched up in their Districts according to how they performed over the last nine weeks.

But at the same time, all 288 have a championship opportunity as playoffs begin Friday with District Semifinals in 11-Player and Regional Semifinals in 8-Player – click here for the full schedule for every division.

Of 144 games being played this weekend, 122 will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv, with Bally Sports Detroit broadcasting the Detroit Cass Tech/West Bloomfield Division 1 District opener at 7:30 p.m. on the BSD Extra channel.

See below for a glance at an especially notable playoff opener in every division. (Games are Friday unless noted.)

11-Player Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (6-3) at West Bloomfield (8-1)

These continue to be two of the most high-profile programs in the state, and this will be their first meeting since the 2017 Semifinals when West Bloomfield advanced with a 9-7 victory. Both have strung together solid wins especially over the last two weeks, with the Lakers coming off victories over Southfield Arts & Technology and Utica Eisenhower and Cass Tech defeating Detroit Martin Luther King and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. The Technicians gave up only 14 points in both of those victories, and West Bloomfield’s offense (34 ppg) may be facing its biggest test.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (7-2) at Brighton (8-1), Lapeer (7-2) at Clarkston (7-2), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-2) at Romeo (7-2), Detroit Catholic Central (6-2) at Dearborn (7-2).

11-Player Division 2

South Lyon (6-3) at South Lyon East (7-2)

Just a week ago, South Lyon East broke a four-game losing streak against its rival – and now they’re meeting again on the same field. That 27-21 triumph was only the second win for the Cougars in 15 tries against the Lions since East began playing varsity football in 2008, a year after it opened with only underclassmen. But this fall under second-year coach Jacob Topp, the Cougars have posted their winningest regular season despite facing five eventual playoff teams. The Lions – who made the Semifinals last season – faced five as well and surely are driving even harder after losing the last two weeks by a combined seven points.   

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Lansing (6-3) at Battle Creek Central (7-2), Grosse Pointe South (6-3) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (8-1) at Wayne State University, Traverse City Central (5-4) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-2). SATURDAY Saginaw Heritage (7-2) at Waterford Mott (7-2).

11-Player Division 3

River Rouge (5-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-3)

These are two more of the state’s most high-profile programs, but they’re plenty familiar with each other after facing off the playoffs the last two seasons with King last year’s victor and Rouge coming out on top in 2020. After both matchups, the winner eventually reached Ford Field. The Panthers are slightly more than two touchdowns from perfection this fall, having lost their games by a combined 15 points. Often recognized more for a high-powered offense, Rouge is giving up only 8.5 points per game on defense despite facing another strong schedule. That should make for an interesting matchup for King standout quarterback Dante Moore and an offense averaging 36 points per game but coming off losses to Cass Tech and Ohio powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord (6-3) at Mount Pleasant (8-1), Haslett (6-3) at Linden (5-4), Lowell (6-3) at Zeeland West (8-1), Parma Western (6-3) at Jackson (5-4).

11-Player Division 4

Freeland (7-2) at North Branch (8-1)

The strengths of a pair of Saginaw/Thumb-area leagues will be tested as North Branch was a co-champion of the Blue Water Area Conference and Freeland finished second in the Tri-Valley Conference 10. Aside from its Week 7 loss to Armada, the Broncos didn’t have another game closer than 14 points – and the two do share a recent opponent with North Branch defeating Croswell-Lexington 35-21 in Week 8 and Freeland falling to the Pioneers last week 41-34. That said, the Falcons have made the Semifinals the last two seasons and have plenty of know-how when it comes to this time of year.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Big Rapids (7-2) at Whitehall (9-0), Chelsea (5-4) at Charlotte (8-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (3-5) at Croswell-Lexington (7-2), Carleton Airport (7-2) at Tecumseh (9-0).

11-Player Division 5

Howard City Tri County (7-2) at Belding (8-1)

Belding is enjoying its winningest season since a District title run in 2017, while Tri County is hoping to continue building on last year’s 9-2 finish that was its winningest since 2004. Both have kept the scoreboard moving. The Vikings are enjoying their best offensive season in recent memory, averaging 44 points per game, and Belding is right there too averaging nearly 42. Both are league champions but took good losses late – Tri County to Big Rapids and Muskegon Catholic Central over the last three weeks and Belding to Cadillac in Week 7.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kingsley (7-2) at Kingsford (6-3), Olivet (7-2) at Portland (8-1), Williamston (7-2) at Corunna (7-2), Flint Hamady (8-1) at Armada (7-2).

11-Player Division 6

Calumet (6-3) at Menominee (5-4)

These two both made it count down the stretch to earn longer seasons. Calumet has won three straight, including two matchups over playoff teams, and its losses are against arguably the three best teams from the Upper Peninsula this fall. Menominee held off Kingsford 42-41 last week after losing two in a row, but its offense has been rumbling with 42 or more points both of the last two weeks – raising its season average to 31. Calumet has been on a similar ride, scoring at least 35 points over those last three games – about a touchdown above its season average of 28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Kent City (7-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (7-2), Buchanan (8-1) at Constantine (8-1), Ovid-Elsie (7-2) at Almont (6-3), Detroit Voyageur College Prep (7-2) at Ecorse (8-1).

11-Player Division 7

Ravenna (6-3) at North Muskegon (8-1)

This is a rematch of a Week 7 game won 28-7 by North Muskegon on its way to claiming the West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. These two annual league opponents also met in a District opener last season, won 7-6 by the Bulldogs. The Norsemen have tied their winningest season since 2006 and haven’t lost since a season-opening two-point defeat to Muskegon Catholic Central. The offense is scoring 40 points per game and the defense is giving up eight and hasn’t allowed more than seven to an opponent in a month. Ravenna bounced back from two straight losses with a big win last week over Hart.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bath (6-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-4), Bad Axe (6-3) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (8-1), Union City (7-2) at Hudson (8-1), Homer (7-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (6-3).

11-Player Division 8

Harbor Beach (8-1) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-1)

These two are part of one of the most competitive Districts in any division, making this one of the top openers of the weekend statewide. On the other side of the bracket, Ubly (9-0) hosts Saginaw Nouvel (6-3), and whichever team advances to Regionals surely will have earned it and then some. MLS’s only loss was to Division 7 contender Ithaca, and its best win was over another Division 8 contender in Marine City Cardinal Mooney – plus MLS defeated Nouvel 55-7 in Week 6. Harbor Beach’s only defeat came to Ubly, but otherwise only Division 7 Cass City put up much of a challenge – and a 28-7 win over Division 7 Bad Axe two weeks ago was especially notable.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bark River-Harris (7-2) at St. Ignace (7-2), Carson City-Crystal (8-1) at Fowler (8-1), White Pigeon (6-3) at Centreville (6-3), Addison (5-4) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-0).

8-Player Division 1

Newberry (8-1) at Rogers City (9-0)

These two are part of a super-strong Regional – Munising (9-0) hosts Norway (6-3) on the other side. The Hurons finished their first perfect season since 1998 and really started to impress after midseason, with none of their last four opponents getting closer than 16 points as they averaged 57 points per game over the string. Newberry’s loss came all the way back in Week 2, when it was the only team this season to hang with Munising. Newberry hasn’t allowed a point in three straight games and four of its last five, taking its defensive average down to 7.4 points allowed per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Deckerville (6-3) at Kingston (9-0), Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (8-1) at Brown City (8-1), Fulton (7-2) at Breckenridge (7-2).

8-Player Division 2

Mendon (7-2) at Climax-Scotts (8-1)

Climax-Scotts was one of the elite small-school 11-player programs in Michigan during the first two decades of the 2000s, and although the Panthers made the 8-player Division 2 Semifinals in their first season in the format in 2019, this season feels like potentially a bigger step toward winning a championship. Climax-Scotts’ only loss was by five to undefeated Colon, and it joined Colon in handing two-time reigning Division 1 champion Adrian Lenawee Christian a defeat this fall. Mendon seems on a similar track. The Hornets dominated small-school 11-player football for years and debuted in 8-player with an 8-3 finish a year ago. But with their two losses this season by a combined eight points to teams that are a combined 16-2, Mendon may too be on the verge of something substantial.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Posen (7-2) at Marion (9-0), Central Lake (7-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (7-2), Morrice (7-2) at Peck (7-2).

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PHOTO Traverse City Central applies the pressure as Mount Pleasant gets off a pass during the Oilers’ Week 4 win over the Trojans. (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.)