1st & Goal: 2022 Week 9 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 21, 2022

It’s not over yet.

Don’t look too far ahead to Sunday’s playoff selection when there’s plenty to behold during this weekend’s football regular-season finales.

MI Student AidFor starters, 37 teams are pursuing perfect finishes – and three games feature undefeated teams facing off. Additionally, Detroit Central, Negaunee and Bridgman moved to 9-0 with wins Thursday night.

A handful of league titles are still to be decided – including two by those matchups of unbeaten opponents.

And if last season’s first run using the enhanced strength-of-schedule format for playoff selection ends up the norm, we could see 15 changes in the playoff field between Thursday and the end of Saturday night. Last season, teams ranked Nos. 39 and 38 in playoff-point average heading into Week 9 were among those able to make the top 32 in their 11-player divisions, while 8-player saw teams sitting Nos. 18 and 17 move up into the top 16.

Don’t forget: We’ll unveil the full playoff field and all brackets during the “Sunday Selection Show” at 6 p.m. Sunday on Bally Sports Detroit.

Bay & Thumb

Davison (7-1) at Lapeer (7-1)

For the third time in five seasons but first since 2019, a Saginaw Valley League championship is coming down to these two – this time in the SVL South, as the winner takes the title outright. These two share an intriguing mutual opponent; Davison defeated Clarkston in its season opener, and the Lightning fell to the Wolves last week. But much can change over two months, and the key point instead may be how Davison’s offense – averaging 47 points per game – does against a Lapeer defense giving up 26 per contest. Lapeer scores just over 39 points per game as well, so this one could see a lot of scores put on the board – not too different from the Lightning’s 38-35 win over the Cardinals last season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Freeland (7-1) at Croswell-Lexington (6-2), Millington (7-1) at Flint Beecher (4-3), Gladwin (8-0) at Standish Sterling (7-0), Romeo (6-2) at Grand Blanc (4-4).

Greater Detroit

Brownstown Woodhaven (6-2) at Gibraltar Carlson (7-1)

These two and Trenton are tied for the Downriver League lead, with the winner of this matchup guaranteed a share of the title and the Trojans needing to defeat Wyandotte Roosevelt for another share. It’s a similar situation to last year, when Woodhaven entered the Week 9 matchup undefeated but Carlson was able to force a shared title (also with Allen Park) thanks to a 28-14 win. The Warriors haven’t given up more than 26 points to anyone this season, so something will have to give as the Marauders have scored at least 27 in every game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Detroit Cass Tech (5-3) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (3-4), River Rouge (5-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (6-2), Grosse Pointe South (5-3) at Grosse Pointe North (8-0). SATURDAY Madison Heights Bishop Foley (8-0) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (7-1) at Ford Field.


Belleville (8-0) at Brighton (8-0), Saturday

After turning back undefeated Livonia Franklin last week to clinch the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, Belleville will put its 19-game winning streak on the line against another unbeaten for the overall KLAA championship. This will be these teams’ first meeting since Brighton won a 2019 Semifinal matchup. Their strengths this time match up well. The Tigers are averaging 53 points per game despite scoring only 49 and 42 the last two weeks, respectively. Brighton has allowed only 81 points all season. Belleville is No. 1 in Division 1 playoff-point average, and Brighton is tied for No. 3.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Hopkins (5-3) at Belding (7-1), Marine City (7-1) at Durand (8-0), Grand Ledge (6-2) at East Lansing (6-2), Ithaca (7-1) at Shepherd (6-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Detroit Country Day (5-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)

The Gladiators should have a really great idea what they do best heading into the playoffs after dominating Lawton last week and facing Division 5 contender Country Day this week. St. Francis sits atop Division 7 in playoff-point average heading into the weekend, guaranteeing three home playoff games, and will still get a nice bonus win or lose. Country Day will be seeking a bounce back after a Week 8 loss to Brother Rice, and is seeking a third win over a league champion after previously downing Detroit U-D Jesuit and Warren Michigan Collegiate.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Elk Rapids (6-2) at Frankfort (7-1), Ogemaw Heights (6-2) at Lake City (5-3), Traverse City West (2-6) at Traverse City Central (4-4), Charlevoix (7-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (3-5).

Southeast & Border

Clinton (8-0) at Hudson (8-0)

Clinton is in its third season since returning to the Lenawee County Athletic Association and finds itself with a golden opportunity in addition to the chance to claim its first title since coming back from the Tri-County Conference. Hudson is riding a 22-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the state – and sits No. 3 in Division 7 playoff-point average after winning Division 8 a year ago. By the numbers, the Redwolves have scored about two points more and given up a little more than two points fewer against the other six teams in the league this fall. Hudson won last year’s meeting 36-28.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Dexter (8-0) at Chelsea (5-3), Addison (4-4) at Jonesville (4-4), Manchester (5-3) at Reading (6-2), Battle Creek Harper Creek (3-5) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-3).

Southwest Corridor

St. Joseph (7-1) at Battle Creek Central (7-1)

This has been lining up as the potential deciding game in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference for a few weeks, and both teams made good on their ends to make it happen. St. Joseph has won the last two meetings, but this is Central’s best team since at least 2018, and with another win will tie its most in a season since 2004. Neither team has lost since Week 1. The Bearcats are 3-1 in games decided by one score, so they will be ready if crunch time presents itself again. But St. Joseph also won its only similarly close game and has an impressive victory over Hudsonville Unity Christian to bolster its SMAC run.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Portland (7-1) at Berrien Springs (6-1), Centreville (6-2) at Buchanan (7-1), Napoleon (8-0) at Union City (7-1), Sturgis (5-3) at Edwardsburg (7-1).

Upper Peninsula

Benzie Central (3-5) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3)

Sault Ste. Marie is one of four teams with a 5-3 record sitting outside the Division 3 playoff field heading into this weekend. The Blue Devils broke a three-game losing streak last week and will need those three opponents to continue harvesting bonus points while they look to take care of what they can control against the Huskies. Benzie has bounced back since starting the season 0-3 and sits No. 25 in Division 7 playoff-point average thanks in part to losses to some of the same powerhouse teams as Sault Ste. Marie has faced.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Bark River-Harris 28, Ishpeming 20; Negaunee 44, Ishpeming Westwood 0. FRIDAY Menominee (4-4) at Kingsford (6-2), Calumet (5-3) at L’Anse (4-4).

West Michigan

Rockford (8-0) at Caledonia (8-0)

This is a dream Week 9 showdown, with the top two teams in the most prominent league on the west side of the state facing off with a perfect regular season and Ottawa-Kent Conference Red outright title on the line. Rockford’s 17-14 win in Week 7 of last year ended up being the title decider. Don’t expect Caledonia’s fifth shutout of this season tonight, but the Fighting Scots’ defense has given up more than 14 points only once. Rockford will counter with an offense scoring 40 points per game that put up 31 against a similarly-strong Muskegon Mona Shores defense in a Week 2 win.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Muskegon Mona Shores (7-1) at Muskegon (6-2), Grand Rapids South Christian (8-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (6-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (5-3) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-1), Byron Center (6-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-5).


Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-1) Powers North Central (8-0)

The Jets have won a record 32 straight 8-player games, and 40 straight during the regular season. But prior to the streak, Forest Park was one of few to have success against North Central, and the Trojans will try to find some again against a team that has outscored its seven opponents (one win was a forfeit) by a combined 448-17. Forest Park’s only loss was by two to Norway, which fell to North Central last week by a much more significant margin.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Tekonsha (7-1) at Colon (8-0), Peck (7-1) at Deckerville (5-3), Farwell (7-1) at Marion (8-0), Au Gres-Sims (7-1) at Posen (7-1).

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PHOTO Davison, on offense, and Grand Blanc match up last week; the Cardinals won 49-14. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)