1st & Goal: 2022 Playoff Week 3 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 14, 2022

We’re just days away from awarding our first MHSAA Football Finals championships for the 2022 season, and we’re guaranteed at least five new winners with many more hopefuls moving closer to earning that opportunity.

MI Student AidOur two 8-player championship games are set – we’ll have just one team returning to Superior Dome from last year’s finalists – and we’re down to 32 contenders set to play 11-player Semifinals, including just six that reached Ford Field a year ago. We’re already assured of new champions in four of those 11-player divisions.

Below is a glance at how we reached this point – headed to Marquette this weekend and then on to Detroit.

8-Player Division 1

SEMIFINAL Merrill 22, Munising 20 A big comeback sent the Vandals (12-0) to their first MHSAA championship game in this sport. Munising led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before Merrill came back and went ahead for good during the closing minutes. The Vandals were held 25 points below their average, but also kept Munising (11-1) well below its 51 points-per-game average heading into the weekend. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

SEMIFINAL Martin 42, Brown City 8 After falling in Semifinals in 2020 and 2021, Martin is headed to its first championship game since 1987. The Clippers (10-2) posted one of their top defensive performances of the last three seasons, stalling a Green Devils offense that was averaging 52 points per game. Brown City concluded its first season of 8-player at 10-2 after going 1-8 in 11-player in 2021. Click for more from WWMT.

8-Player Division 2

SEMIFINAL Powers North Central 36, Marion 12 North Central will play for a third-straight Division 2 championship but had to advance from its closest game of the season to earn the opportunity. The Jets (12-0) took a 22-12 lead into halftime and were able to hold Marion (11-1) off during the third quarter before pulling away for two more scores during the fourth. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

SEMIFINAL Mendon 30, Morrice 14 Jack McCaw ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns as Mendon (10-2) reached the Finals in just its second season of 8-player after playing in 12 championship games in 11-player. The Hornets scored the first two touchdowns of the game and contained a Morrice offense that had scored 42 points per game coming into the contest. The Orioles finished 9-3. Click for more from the Sturgis Journal.

11-Player Division 1

HEADLINER Clarkston 36, Rochester Adams 33 The Highlanders (10-2) went ahead on a Parker Picot run with 3:17 to play, but the Wolves (10-2) clinched the Regional title when Desman Stephens hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass with less than a second remaining. Clarkston completed a season sweep of the Highlanders, after the Wolves’ 45-35 Week 3 win eventually decided the Oakland Activities Association Red title. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Regional Roundup Caledonia 42, Grand Ledge 14 The Flighting Scots (11-1) advanced to their first Semifinal since 2012 by taking a seven-point lead into halftime and scoring 21 unanswered points during the final two quarters. Grand Ledge finished its winningest season since 2015 at 9-3. Belleville 33, Detroit Catholic Central 10 The Tigers (12-0) ran for four of their five touchdowns in reaching the Semifinals for the fifth straight season. DCC finished 8-3 for the second straight. Detroit Cass Tech 35, Macomb Dakota 21 The Technicians (9-3) defeated a third league champion in three playoff games, this time handing Macomb Area Conference Red title winner Dakota (11-1) its lone defeat.

11-Player Division 2

HEADLINER Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 21, East Lansing 17 The Rangers (12-0) built a two-touchdown lead and then held off a Trojans comeback attempt to earn their first Regional title since 2017. This was Forest Hills Central’s closest game, but the defense continued to shine holding East Lansing (8-4) to half its 34 ppg average heading into the weekend. Click for more from FOX 17.

Regional Roundup

Dexter 42, Midland 7 Reeves Taylor threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns to lead Dexter (12-0) to its first Regional championship. Midland finished 10-2, its best since 2013 and a major improvement from 2-7 in 2021. Birmingham Groves 32, Livonia Franklin 25 The Falcons (9-3) are another team making a great comeback this fall, after two straight sub-.500 seasons; they’re headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since 2018. Franklin finished 10-2, its winningest run since 2017. Warren De La Salle Collegiate 55, Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse 7 The Pilots (11-1) scored just a point short of their season high and lowered their points allowed average to 12.3 per game in winning a third-straight Regional title. L’Anse Creuse finished 7-5 after winning its first District title two weekends ago.

11-Player Division 3

HEADLINER Muskegon 27, Zeeland West 20 This matchup came down to one score again after West had won the Week 5 meeting 38-36. Big Reds quarterback M’Khi Guy – a member of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council – ran for three touchdowns including the eventual game winner. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Regional Report DeWitt 29, Linden 16 The Panthers (9-3) are headed to the Semifinals for the fifth-straight season after becoming only the second team this fall to hold Linden (7-5) under 21 points. Mason 49, Trenton 30 The Bulldogs (12-0) clinched their second-straight Regional title with quarterback Cason Carswell tossing six touchdown passes to keep his team a step ahead of the Trojans (10-2), who finished their first double-digit win season since 1998. Detroit Martin Luther King 22, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 12 The Crusaders (8-3) are headed to their seventh Semifinal in eight seasons with quarterback Dante Moore rushing for two second-half touchdowns after Rice (5-6) led at halftime.

11-Player Division 4

HEADLINER Grand Rapids South Christian 28, Whitehall 21 A back-and-forth matchup of undefeated teams ended with South Christian claiming its first Regional title since 2014 and after falling short in Regional Finals the last two seasons. The Sailors (12-0) put up the last two scores for the final margin. Whitehall finished its winningest season at 11-1. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Regional Report Edwardsburg 24, Hastings 14 The Eddies (11-1) won their third-straight Regional title and seventh over the last nine seasons with another lockdown defensive performance as Hastings entered averaging 41 points per game. The Saxons (10-2) completed their first double-digit win season. Goodrich 40, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 20 The Martians are first-time Regional champions after scoring first and following quarterback Gavin Hart to their third 40-point scoring performance over the last four games. The Eaglets finished 5-6. Riverview 45, Dearborn Divine Child 35 The Pirates (12-0) won their first Regional title since 2017 as Jacob Shank ran for 251 yards and five scores, the last after Divine Child (9-3) had pulled within three points of the lead.

11-Player Division 5

HEADLINER Gladwin 26, Muskegon Oakridge 8 After trailing by two points at the break, Gladwin (12-0) scored 20 unanswered during the second half to win its first Regional title since 1998 and extend its winningest season. Only Whitehall had held the Eagles (10-2) to single digits this season as they reached 10 wins for the second time in four years and first since 2019. Click for more from the Midland Daily News.

Regional Roundup Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Portland 19 Quarterback Connor Wolf and running back Kellen Russell-Dixon provided much of the offense’s firepower as GRCC (11-1) won its seventh-straight Regional title. The Cougars also held Portland (10-2) to its fewest points in a game this fall. Frankenmuth 49, Flint Hamady 7 Griffin Barker ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns and caught a third as the Eagles (12-0) won their third-straight Regional championship. Hamady’s two winningest seasons have come over the last five, as this year’s 10-2 finish joined the 2018 team’s 11-1 at the top of the list. Detroit Country Day 44, Flat Rock 7 After just missing last season, Country Day (8-3) is headed back to the Semifinals for the third time in four seasons and coming off its highest-scoring showing this fall. The Yellowjackets also held Flat Rock to its season low. The Rams did finish with plenty to celebrate, as their 8-4 record came after four straight sub-.500 seasons.

11-Player Division 6

HEADLINER Clinton 31, Warren Michigan Collegiate 30 The Redwolves (12-0) came back from a double-digit deficit to edge last season’s Division 6 runner-up and move on to the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. A pair of late scores put Clinton over the top, including the eventual game-winner with 1:29 to play. Michigan Collegiate finished 10-2 and stands 21-5 over the last two seasons. Click for more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

Regional Roundup Negaunee 18, Gladstone 12 The Braves made this rematch closer than Negaunee’s 24-6 win in Week 7, but the Miners (12-0) won their first Regional title since 2003 by holding on for only their second single-digit win – and first since opening night – of a stellar season. Gladstone finished 9-3, its winningest run since 2008. Reed City 6, Millington 0 Both defenses were stellar as Reed City entered averaging 47 points per game and Millington 44. But the Coyotes got all the points their needed on a third-quarter score to reach the Semifinals for the first time since 2017. Millington finished 10-2, their second-straight season with 10 wins. Grand Rapids West Catholic 37, Lansing Catholic 7 The Falcons (11-1) continue to climb as they reached 11 wins and won their first Regional title both since 2017. Lansing Catholic finished 6-6 after winning four straight entering the weekend.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Kellen Russell-Dixon (23) holds off a Portland defender during his team's Division 5 Regional Final win.

11-Player Division 7

HEADLINER Napoleon 14, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 7 The Pirates are headed to the Semifinals for the first time, continuing a memorable rise that saw Napoleon go 1-6 two seasons ago and just miss the playoffs last year at 6-3. The Pirates (12-0) have given up just 20 points over their last four games – the Big 8/Cascades champions crossover and three playoff matchups. Monroe St. Mary finished 6-6 after winning four straight entering the weekend. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Regional Roundup Traverse City St. Francis 63, Ithaca 0 Of many impressive wins this season, this one might top the list as St. Francis (12-0) posted its first shutout and scored its season high against an Ithaca team that was averaging nearly 44 points per game. The Yellowjackets finished 10-2, their winningest season since 2017. New Lothrop 29, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 20 The Hornets (10-2) are headed back to the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons, thanks in part to a defense that held Laker to half its 41-ppg scoring average entering the game. Laker’s 10-2 finish was its best since posting the same record in 2017. Jackson Lumen Christi 7, Lawton 6 After Lawton (9-3) won last year’s Semifinal matchup 21-20, Lumen Christi (9-3) will move on this time after a second-half touchdown and extra point – and after blocking Lawton’s extra-point attempt after a first-half score.

11-Player Division 8

HEADLINER Iron Mountain 34, Evart 33 The Mountaineers (11-1) came back from a double-digit deficit to edge Evart and earn their second Regional title in four seasons. Iron Mountain hadn’t given up more than 19 points in a game this season, but Evart built a three-touchdown lead before the Mountaineers got rolling – their 34 points were the most Evart had given up this fall as well. The Wildcats finished 10-2, their first season reaching double-digit victories. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Regional Roundup Ubly 49, Fowler 7 The Bearcats’ only loss the last two seasons was in last year’s Semifinal, and they’ll get to return to that round this weekend after halting a Fowler offense that was scoring 32 points per game entering the weekend. Ubly is 12-0, and the Eagles finished 10-2. Ottawa Lake Whiteford 38, White Pigeon 26 The Bobcats (12-0) repeated as Regional champions in winning their closest game this fall, ending White Pigeon’s run at 8-4 after the latter had opened 2-3 but won six straight to reach this point. Clarkston Everest Collegiate 30, Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 6 These Mountaineers (9-3) earned a rematch with Whiteford after losing to the Bobcats in last season’s Regional Final. Parkway finished 6-6, a solid jump from 3-6 a year ago – and after starting the season 1-5.

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PHOTOS (Top) A Dexter ball carrier works to break free from a Midland tackler during their Division 2 Regional Final. (Middle) Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Kellen Russell-Dixon (23) holds off a Portland defender during his team's Division 5 Regional Final win. (Top photo courtesy of Midland High's athletic department. Middle photo by 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.)