1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 2 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 4, 2022

The MHSAA Football Playoffs are set up purposely to begin with local matchups and continue to branch out along more unfamiliar paths.

MI Student AidThis weekend’s 11-Player District Finals and 8-Player Regional Finals still include a good share of familiarity – whether they are pitting regular-season rivals for a rematch or past playoff opponents who have become more known over years of similar November meetings.

Below is a glance at a game in each division that especially pops off the page. Click here for all things football matchups – schedules, scores as they come in and next-round pairings as they’re determined – and if you can’t make it to a game live this weekend, 85 percent of those games will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv.

11-Player Division 1

Caledonia (9-1) at Rockford (10-0)

The much-hyped Week 9 game matching undefeated contenders for the outright Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title turned into a 38-15 Rockford win over the Fighting Scots. But we’ve already seen plenty of rematches going the other way this postseason, even after a big win in the first meeting. Rockford opened the playoffs with a 50-14 victory over East Kentwood, putting up its most points this season and outdoing its 41-20 win over the Falcons on Sept. 23. Caledonia did similar in its 48-26 first-round win over Grandville after previously defeating the Bulldogs 50-40 during Week 5.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Ledge (8-2) at Holt (7-3), Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (9-1), Romeo (8-2) at Macomb Dakota (10-0).

11-Player Division 2

Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (10-0)

The Rangers have been piling up strong seasons for the last seven, and made the Division 2 Semifinals in 2017. They haven’t advanced past the District level since, but defeating Mona Shores to do so this weekend certainly would be considered a breakout performance. Forest Hills Central hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a game and is allowing only 5.7 per game this fall. That should get a strong challenge from the Sailors, who even in their defeats put up 27 and 35 points – and they’re averaging 43 per game. Mona Shores has won its last three playoff meetings with FHC (over the last four seasons) including 31-7 last fall.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY South Lyon (7-3) at Dexter (10-0), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (9-1) at Roseville (8-2), Birmingham Groves (7-3) at Birmingham Seaholm (8-2).

11-Player Division 3

Zeeland West (9-1) at St. Joseph (9-1)

The Dux are playing in their fifth District Final in six seasons but seeking to advance for the first time since their most recent championship run of 2015. St. Joseph shut West’s pursuit down quickly last year with a 29-26 District-opening victory that turned into an unexpected Semifinal run for the Bears after they’d entered the playoffs 5-4. Expectations are much higher this time as St. Joseph hasn’t lost since Week 1, and the offense especially is surging scoring 42 or more points in four of its last five games including three against playoff teams. West’s only loss was to Mona Shores in Week 6, and its 36-28 win over Lowell last weekend was especially noteworthy among Division 3 matchups.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY DeWitt (7-3) at Mount Pleasant (9-1), Trenton (9-1) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (4-5) at Walled Lake Western (9-1).

11-Player Division 4

Tecumseh (10-0) at Riverview (10-0)

Riverview deserves more due after completing a third-straight undefeated regular season, and a first District title since 2017 would add another highlight to arguably its most impressive run of the three. Tecumseh’s story has been told a few times in this space – the team was a combined 8-25 over the last four seasons but has reached 10-0 for the first time since 1991. Tecumseh’s offense is up to 51 points per game after going over 50 last week for the seventh time this fall. Riverview is giving up 15 points per game and has never allowed more than 28 – giving this matchup the feel of a potential back-and-forth tug-of-war.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-4) at Grand Rapids South Christian (10-0), Charlotte (9-1) at Hastings (9-1), Freeland (8-2) at Goodrich (9-1).

11-Player Division 5

Belding (9-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (9-1)

Only three of eight teams on this side of the Division 5 bracket won their league’s championship this fall. Belding was one of those three, its only loss to another league champion in Cadillac. The Black Knights’ offense is churning at 43 points per game but next runs into an Oakridge defense giving up just under 13. The Eagles finished second in their league, losing only to still-undefeated Whitehall – and aside from Whitehall, no other opponent has scored more than 18 points against them. Similarly, aside from Cadillac, Belding has scored at least 34 points on every other opponent and more than 40 points on seven.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Corunna (8-2) at Portland (9-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-3) at Detroit Country Day (6-3). SATURDAY Flint Hamady (9-1) at Marine City (8-2).

11-Player Division 6

Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-1) at Madison Heights Bishop Foley (10-0)

Last season’s Division 6 runner-up Michigan Collegiate is an eight-point loss to Detroit Country Day from being undefeated, and statistically has been even better on both sides of the ball so far than during last year’s run to Ford Field. Likewise, Bishop Foley is having its best season, reaching 10 wins for the first time thanks in part to a defense that matches Michigan Collegiate’s in giving up only 11 points per game. This will be the Ventures’ second District Final in three seasons as they seek to reach the Regional for the first time.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Standish-Sterling (8-1) at Millington (9-1), Ecorse (9-1) at Clinton (10-0). SATURDAY Constantine (9-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-1).

11-Player Division 7

Hudson (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (7-3)

This might be one of the most telling games in the entire Division 7 bracket this month. The teams have traveled much different paths to end up looking like strong title contenders. Lumen Christi opened this season 0-3 with losses to two more Division 7 powers – New Lothrop and Traverse City St. Francis – and then a three-point loss to Division 5 Hastings, the eventual champion in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference. All three of those defeats were by seven points or fewer, and the Titans haven’t lost again. Enter Hudson, last season’s Division 8 champion, with its only loss to undefeated Division 6 contender Clinton but an impressive early-season win over another Division 6 contender in Constantine.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Schoolcraft (7-3) at Lawton (8-2), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (9-1) at Montrose (7-3). SATURDAY Ravenna (7-3) at Ithaca (9-1).

11-Player Division 8

Fowler (9-1) at Beal City (10-0)

Beal City is one of three undefeated teams left in Division 8, and a regular at this point in the season having finished Division 8 runner-up last year and in 2019. This time, however, the Aggies are 10-0 for the first time since 2013. Fowler is making its fourth-straight trip to a District Final as well. The Eagles handed Carson City-Crystal both of its losses and got past rival Pewamo-Westphalia for the first time since 2014. Fowler is giving up only 9.1 points per game and aside from a loss to Division 6 Laingsburg hasn’t allowed more than 16. Beal City has been similarly up to the task defensively, but also is scoring 42 points per game after putting up 63 in its playoff opener.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-1) at Ubly (10-0), Bark River-Harris (8-2) at Iron Mountain (9-1), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-3) at Marine City Cardinal Mooney (8-2).

8-Player Division 1

Newberry (9-1) at Munising (10-0)

One of the very few non-blowouts these teams played was against each other in Week 2, when Munising won 14-0 on the way to eventually claiming the Great Lakes Eight Conference East championship. Newberry is averaging 43 points per game despite that shutout and put up 54 last week on previously-unbeaten Rogers City to earn this rematch. Munising scores 52 points per game, so it’s anyone’s guess if this will be another low-scoring matchup or one that will keep the scoreboard moving. Both defenses have five shutouts this fall as well.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Breckenridge (8-2) at Merrill (10-0), Deckerville (7-3) at Brown City (9-1). SATURDAY Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-2) at Martin (8-2).

8-Player Division 2

Mendon (8-2) at Colon (10-0)

These neighbors met three times in the 11-player playoffs and will meet for the first time in 8-player with Mendon having made the format switch last year. Mendon has given up 49 points total over its seven-game winning streak (one victory was a forfeit). But the Hornets are facing a Magi team that also is enjoying a superlative season, which really seemed to take off with a Week 4 win over Adrian Lenawee Christian and included a 25-20 Week 6 victory over Climax-Scotts – which Mendon defeated 44-18 in its playoff opener last week. Colon has put up 60+ points in four straight games – although two of them were against the same team – and averages 55 per game despite playing half its games against playoff teams.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-3) at Powers North Central (10-0), Gaylord St. Mary (8-2) at Marion (10-0). SATURDAY Morrice (8-2) at Au Gres-Sims (9-1).

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PHOTO A Holt ball carrier works to find an opening during a District Semifinal win over Hartland. (Photo by Michele Hoffman.)

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.)