1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 3 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 10, 2022

Michigan’s first 2022 football finalists will earn their ways to the Superior Dome this weekend, as the eight remaining 8-player hopefuls face off in four Semifinals across two divisions Saturday.

MI Student AidMore detailed looks at those games move to the top of this weekend’s “1st & Goal” preview, followed by glances at Regional Final matchups in every 11-player division as those teams seek to take a step closer to spending Thanksgiving weekend at Ford Field.

Once again, click here for all things football matchups – schedules, scores as they come in and next-round pairings as they’re determined – and enjoy the opportunity to watch several games as 34 of 36 this weekend will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv.

8-Player Division 1

Merrill (11-0) at Munising (11-0), Saturday

This will be the first 8-player Semifinal for both, although both played at this stage of the 11-player tournament before – Munising most recently when it finished Division 8 runner-up in 2014, and Merrill in 1999. Merrill senior quarterback Joel Tack can do it all offensively; he leads the Vandals with 1,864 yards and 27 touchdowns rushing and has thrown for 1,518 yards and 26 scores. Munising throws effectively when needed, but makes no secret of its rushing power. The Mustangs have run for 4,390 yards, led by seniors Kane Nebel with 1,496 and 15 touchdowns and Josiah Peramaki with 1,480 yards and 26 scores.

Brown City (10-1) at Martin (9-2), Saturday

The Green Devils’ turnaround from last year’s 1-8 finish has landed at their first Semifinal since 1997, where they’ll face Martin looking to avenge a 49-6 defeat to the Clippers in Week 5. Brown City has scored 60 points in four of five games since and 52 in the fifth (another win was a forfeit), with seniors Kyle Affer (1,537 yards, 24 touchdowns rushing) and Clint Ford (1,117 yards, 14 TDs rushing) shouldering a lot of the load. Martin will be playing in a Semifinal for the third-straight season, seeking to reach a championship game for the first time since 1987. Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand directs the attack well and has totaled 1,254 yards and 25 touchdowns passing and 1,518 yards and 25 scores on the ground.

8-Player Division 2

Powers North Central (11-0) at Marion (11-0), Saturday

This is a rematch of North Central’s 73-8 Semifinal win from a year ago, but there are reasons to expect a closer game this time. True, the Jets are at 35 straight wins and counting, going back three seasons and with no opponent coming closer than 39 points over the last two. Senior quarterback Luke Gorzinski has set the pace during the entirety of the run, and heads into this weekend with 1,067 yards and 18 touchdowns passing with 1,109 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing. He’s also a starting defensive back for a defense giving up 2.9 points per game. But Marion’s defense has taken a few steps upward as well, giving up only 8.5 points per game this fall and none during the playoffs. The Eagles also have a standout quarterback – senior Mason Salisbury has run for 1,046 yards and 27 touchdowns and thrown for 1,378 yards and 22 scores.

Morrice (9-2) at Mendon (9-2), Saturday

Mendon opened its 8-player era reaching the Regional Finals last year, and the Hornets took a sizable next step advancing to this Semifinal with a 46-44 win over previously-undefeated Colon last week. The powerful rushing game that helped make them a state power in 11-player for decades works here as well – junior Jack McCaw has run for 1,674 yards and 22 touchdowns and senior Evan Lukeman follows with 1,180 and 17, respectively. Morrice missed the Semifinals by a win both of the last two seasons, but is back thanks in part to a pair of 1,000-yard rushers as well. Senior Drew McGowan has run for 1,403 and 20 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Travis Farrow has 1,012 yards and 17 scores on the ground.

11-Player Division 1

Rochester Adams (10-1) at Clarkston (9-2), Friday

Clarkston won the first meeting of these Oakland Activities Association Red rivals, 45-35 in Week 3, and has already responded to two strong playoff challenges with a combined 111 points. Ethan Clark has run for more than 5,000 yards over his career including 337 and six touchdowns against Davison last week. But Adams has plenty of star power as well and hasn’t lost again as Parker Picot has continued to show he’s one of the state’s top quarterbacks.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Detroit Cass Tech (8-3) at Macomb Dakota (11-0). SATURDAY Grand Ledge (9-2) vs. Caledonia (10-1) at East Kentwood, Detroit Catholic Central (8-2) at Belleville (11-0).

11-Player Division 2

Midland (10-1) at Dexter (11-0), Friday

Star running back Cole Cabana continues to lead Dexter into uncharted waters as the Dreadnaughts will look to add to their first District title won last week. Midland won a Regional title as recently as 2018 and has more than rebounded from last season’s uncharacteristic 2-7 finish thanks in part to an ability to win close games – four victories this fall were by eight points or fewer. Two of Dexter’s best wins were by one score as well – including over Saline in Week 8.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY East Lansing (8-3) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (11-0), Birmingham Groves (8-3) at Livonia Franklin (10-1), Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (7-4) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (10-1) at Wayne State University.

11-Player Division 3

Zeeland West (10-1) at Muskegon (9-2), Saturday

This is a rematch of a West 38-36 win in Week 5, and the two went on to share the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title with Muskegon Mona Shores. The Dux ended up on top in that back-and-forth game with a last-minute touchdown, but the Big Reds haven’t lost since – with their most notable victory 55-35 over Mona Shores in Week 9. West lost to Mona Shores 34-6 the week after the Muskegon win, but rebounded to finish the regular season and open the playoffs with one of the most impressive District runs in any division – victories over Lowell and St. Joseph.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY DeWitt (8-3) at Linden (7-4), Mason (11-0) at Trenton (10-1), Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (5-5) at Detroit Martin Luther King (7-3).

11-Player Division 4

Whitehall (11-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (11-0), Friday

The best season in Whitehall football history has been filled with unforgettable highlights, starting with early wins over 2021 Division 4 runner-up Hudsonville Unity Christian and then Hastings (still Hastings’ only loss) and followed by a league title run through the West Michigan Conference Lakes that included a 42-victory win over Muskegon Oakridge (which remains Oakridge’s only loss). Total, eight wins have come against playoff teams, and another over South Christian would be the biggest of all. Not only did the Sailors end Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s two-plus season winning streak, but that was one of seven wins over playoff teams and one of only two single-digit games they’ve played this fall. Whitehall’s closest game was the 41-30 win over the Saxons.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Hastings (10-1) at Edwardsburg (10-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-5) at Goodrich (10-1), Dearborn Divine Child (9-2) at Riverview (11-0).

11-Player Division 5

Portland (10-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1), Friday

Over the course of GRCC’s two straight Division 5 championships, the Cougars have faced most of the usual contenders but not Portland, which had to forfeit their scheduled District Final matchup during COVID-altered 2020. That provides some anticipation now that they’ll finally meet, as the Raiders are known for their ability to grind through close games against their strongest opponents. Portland’s first two playoff games both were settled by one score, and it will be interesting to see how the Raiders match up as GRCC’s offense has heated up during the playoffs with two 56-point outputs. There is a recent common opponent to consider: The Cougars shut out Berrien Springs 56-0 last week, while Portland defeated Berrien Springs 40-6 in Week 9.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Flint Hamady (10-1) at Frankenmuth (11-0), Detroit Country Day (7-3) at Flat Rock (8-3). SATURDAY Gladwin (11-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (10-1).

11-Player Division 6

Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-1) at Clinton (11-0), Friday

Michigan Collegiate is coming off arguably the most impressive of a series of take-notice defensive performances this fall, shutting down a Madison Heights Bishop Foley team averaging 39 points per game to win their District. Next up is a Clinton attack averaging 42 points and coming off its fifth game this season scoring 50 or more. That may be the key matchup, but there’s a smidge of history here too. Clinton defeated Michigan Collegiate 13-12 in a 2020 Regional Final on the way to finishing Division 6 runner-up, and of course the Cougars came back last season to also finish runner-up at Ford Field.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Lansing Catholic (6-5) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-1). SATURDAY Negaunee (11-0) at Gladstone (9-2), Millington (10-1) at Reed City (10-1).

11-Player Division 7

Ithaca (10-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Saturday

This will be St. Francis’ ninth-straight Regional Final, and few other programs consistently reach this point in November. But Ithaca is another; this will be the Yellowjackets’ 11th Regional Final over the last 14 seasons. Their lone loss was in Week 2, by four points to Division 6 Standish-Sterling, and they put up a season-high 63 points in defeating Ravenna by 36 last week. That’s the right way to enter this matchup against a Gladiators team that has rumbled through a schedule that includes three teams still playing this weekend. That said, St. Francis has had just one single-digit game all season – although last week’s 34-18 rematch win over Benzie Central may have given Ithaca some ideas.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (10-1) at New Lothrop (9-2), Lawton (9-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-3), Napoleon (11-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-5).

11-Player Division 8

Evart (10-1) at Iron Mountain (10-1), Saturday

The Mountaineers are playing in their third Regional Final in four seasons and have nearly matched their 12-1 season of 2019 both in record and impressiveness. Their lone loss this fall came Week 1 to still-undefeated Negaunee, and that was by just five points; otherwise, Iron Mountain has won all of its games by double digits and had held every opponent to eight points or fewer until winning a rematch with Bark River-Harris last week 32-16. Evart also deserves more fanfare as it’s reached 10 wins for the first time and with its only loss by five points to Beal City, which finished 10-1. The Wildcats’ offense is capable of putting up a big number, averaging 40 points per game, which should make for an interesting matchup with Iron Mountain’s defense that allows only 6.9 ppg.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY White Pigeon (8-3) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0), Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (6-5) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (8-3). SATURDAY Fowler (10-1) at Ubly (11-0).

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PHOTOS (Top) A Lansing Catholic pass rusher collapses the Ovid-Elsie pocket during the Cougars' District Final win last weekend. (Photo by Christine McCallister.)

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.)