1st & Goal: 2023 Week 1 Review

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 28, 2023

Every football season starts as a fast-tracked learning experience – we know some things from the previous year, but we’re watching to learn quickly with only nine weeks to figure out as much as we can before the highest achievers from the regular season move on to play for more.

MI Student AidAnd of course, opening weekend is always memorable – but this one had a few more unexpected wrinkles with a number of games moved a day or two later because of a heat wave across the Lower Peninsula, and several more stretched over two days as severe storms moved across the state.

When all was said and done, 296 varsity games were played. And although it’s impossible to list all of the significant moments – special shoutout to Pontiac for its first win on the field since 2018, and we see you too Livonia Franklin, Warren Michigan Collegiate, Millington and Pickford after solid wins –  below we return with our weekly report highlighting some of the most intriguing results from all over Michigan.

Bay & Thumb

HEADLINER Davison 31, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 26 The marquee matchup at the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic saw two-time reigning Division 2 champion De La Salle carry a 14-0 third-quarter lead from Thursday to Friday at Kettering University, but Davison’s offense found its stride overnight. The loss was only the second for the Pilots over their last 28 games. Click for more from the Flint Journal and see below for highlights from WJRT-ABC12.

Watch list Goodrich 14, Frankenmuth 8 This Battle at the Big House matchup was a rematch of last season’s 27-2 Frankenmuth win as both teams went on to reach Finals at Ford Field. This time Goodrich scored the game-winner on a Chase Burnett run with 18 seconds to play at U-M.

On the move Midland 20, Cadillac 17 (OT) The Chemics added to last season’s 27-21 season-opening win over the Vikings by holding Cadillac to a field goal to start overtime and then clinching the victory on a touchdown pass from Isaiah Henderson to Zach Buschlen. Ubly 50, Clarkston Everest Collegiate 13 The Bearcats were Division 8 runners-up last season and started this one in a big way against another 2022 Division 8 semifinalist in Everest. Saginaw Heritage 42, Mount Pleasant 7 The Hawks are generating plenty of buzz after making a major move last fall, and breaking a nine-game losing streak against the Oilers will add to that.

Greater Detroit

HEADLINER Southfield Arts & Technology 29, Detroit Cass Tech 27 History repeated itself at the Xenith Kickoff Classic at Wayne State, but with nearly half the scoring as Southfield also defeated Cass Tech in the opener a year ago 56-54. Quarterback Isiah Marshall scored the go-ahead touchdown this time on a run with just under a minute to play. But don’t forget, the Technicians went on to win last year’s rematch 25-14 in a District Final, and these two could see each other again later this fall as well. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press and see highlights below from State Champs! Sports Network.

Watch list Belleville 35, River Rouge 28 The Tigers ran their winning streak to 26, but not without a major scare at Wayne State as the Tigers went ahead for good with just seven seconds to play.

On the move Roseville 41, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 0 The Panthers have been building up to something big the last two seasons, and this absolutely ranks among the most notable wins in program history. Northville 24, Clarkston 10 The Mustangs bounced back big from 3-6 in 2021 to 8-3 last season, and that surge looks to continue under new coach Brent Luplow after this Big House win over a 2022 Division 1 semifinalist. West Bloomfield 22, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 21 The Lakers pulled within a point during the closing seconds at WSU, then went for the win and converted a two-point conversion to start 1-0.


HEADLINER DeWitt 27, Haslett 17 The Panthers trailed 10-7 when Thursday’s action ended due to thunderstorms, and Haslett scored the first touchdown after play resumed Friday. But DeWitt pulled away with 20 unanswered points as junior quarterback Elliott Larner ran for 227 yards and all four of the team’s scores. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Watch list Laingsburg 14, Durand 6 After just missing the playoffs with a 6-3 record last season, Laingsburg is grinding again after having also handed Durand its only regular-season defeat of 2022.

On the move New Lothrop 34, Muskegon Catholic Central 20 Division 8 is loaded with familiar contenders, and these two stand to be among them in eight weeks when we move into the playoffs. Grand Ledge 37, Holland West Ottawa 30 A late end zone interception followed by the heroics of freshman Anthony Baker and company gave the Comets a memorable opening win. Portland 33, Ovid-Elsie 6 These two finished a combined 18-5 a year ago after Portland won their opening matchup by nearly the same score.

Coopersville started 1-0 with a 49-6 win over Otsego.

Northern Lower Peninsula

HEADLINER Traverse City St. Francis 41, Charlevoix 40 (OT) This is a good sign not only for reigning Division 7 runner-up St. Francis’ resilience but also for Charlevoix’s potential this fall. The Gladiators survived multiple scares late in regulation and then stopped the Rayders on an overtime two-point conversion try to hold on. St. Francis is mustering after graduating many of the standouts from last year’s 13-1 team, while Charlevoix is hoping to build on three straight eight-win seasons. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Watch list Kingsley 46, Reed City 12 Reed City has lost only three times during the regular season since the start of 2020, and the Stags made this one happen on the Coyotes’ home turf as well.

On the move Alpena 34, Flint Powers Catholic 33 The Wildcats won only one game total last season – losing 34-7 to the Chargers along the way – and hadn’t started 1-0 since 2018. Boyne City 12, Standish-Sterling 7 After suffering its only 2022 loss in a Division 6 District Final, Boyne City is off on the right foot after downing another D6 playoff team from last season. Gaylord 13, Traverse City West 7 The Blue Devils followed up their first winning season last year since 2018 with their first victory over the Titans since 2005.

Southeast & Border

HEADLINER Saline 42, Brighton 3 CJ Carr is going to be one of the most followed stars in Michigan this fall, and it's fair to expect the entire Saline offense should benefit from the attention he draws. The Hornets ran for five touchdowns in a big opening win as Carr ran for one and threw for another score and directed the show throughout against a Bulldogs defense that gave up only 16 points per game last season. Click for more from the Ann Arbor News.

Watch list Parma Western 21, Dearborn Divine Child 7 The Panthers entered this fall with a streak of six straight winning seasons, but this still no doubt opened a few more intrigued eyes as Divine Child was 9-3 a year ago. Western kept the Falcons off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.

On the move Napoleon 29, Onsted 28 The Pirates survived quite a few close games in reaching the Division 7 Semifinals last season and showed they can do so again, but Onsted also should be excited after winning just one game a year ago. Tecumseh 40, Jackson Northwest 21 Tecumseh ran its regular-season winning streak to 11 after downing a Mounties team coming off its best finish last fall since 2013. Manchester 42, Whitmore Lake 6 The Flying Dutchmen earned a second-straight opening night win over Whitmore Lake after both went on to six victories last season.

Southwest Corridor

HEADLINER Portage Central 17, East Lansing 7 The Mustangs couldn’t have hoped for a better start after last season’s 4-5 finish, and this actually carried on their two-game winning streak to close 2022. The Trojans are coming off a Division 2 District title and defeated Portage Central 21-15 in last year’s opener and in 2021 as well. See below for highlights from FOX17.

Watch list Niles 55, St. Joseph 0 These two hadn’t faced off since Niles left the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference after the 2019 season, and before that the Vikings hadn’t defeated the reigning SMAC champion Bears since 2014.

On the move Battle Creek Harper Creek 33, Battle Creek Lakeview 32 Both are looking for better after matching 3-6 records a year ago, and Harper Creek took the first step by breaking a three-game losing streak against its rival. Kalamazoo United 28, Berrien Springs 27 The Titans scored last and got the conversion to win this matchup of 2022 playoff teams. White Pigeon 36, Reading 14 This also was a matchup of playoff teams from a year ago, and an avenging for White Pigeon after Reading won last year’s opener 33-14.

Ishpeming's Caden Luoma (20) is among Hematites pursuing Negaunee's Kai Lacar.

Upper Peninsula

HEADLINER Escanaba 40, Calumet 13 The last two seasons have been tough for Escanaba with a combined three wins, but this could be a great sign as the program moves into the Big North Conference this fall with its league opener this week. Calumet has a nine-season playoff streak – and also lost last year’s opener to a bigger school by a similar score but came back to finish 6-4 and reach the postseason again. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Watch list Gladstone 36, Marquette 7 These two are going separate ways for league play after spending most of the last several seasons together in a Great Northern Conference. Gladstone has run its winning streak over Marquette to two as it begins Western Peninsula Athletic Conference play this week.

On the move Hancock 56, L’Anse 14 The Bulldogs ended a two-year losing streak against the Purple Hornets, and after falling in last year’s opener to them by 33. Iron Mountain 56, Houghton 6 The Mountaineers returned after last season’s Division 8 Semifinal run with their highest scoring output since 2020. Negaunee 32, Ishpeming 16 The Miners’ only loss last season came at Ford Field, and the reigning Division 6 runner-up opened this fall by running its winning streak over the Hematites to four.

West Michigan

HEADLINER Rockford 27, Muskegon 7 The first meeting between these two was one of the most highly-anticipated openers in the state, and the Rams have to be energized after performing so well on the road against the reigning Division 3 runner-up. Rockford’s defense was especially impressive, mostly stopping a Big Reds offense with multiple playmakers back after averaging 39 points per game a year ago. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Watch list Grand Rapids West Catholic 56, Edwardsburg 12 An eight-point margin separated these two last season, but the reigning Division 6 champion Falcons expanded that substantially and especially impressed defensively against what might be one of its toughest challenges of the regular season.

On the move North Muskegon 17, Pewamo-Westphalia 14 The Norsemen put together their winningest season last fall since 2006, and edging an annual Division 7 contender is a great way to start the season and get ready for this week’s matchup with rival Muskegon Catholic Central. Whitehall 34, Hudsonville Unity Christian 28 Whitehall is coming off its winningest season and opens with a loaded nonleague schedule over the first three weeks – but started it well by holding off the Crusaders for the second-straight fall, although this time by a much closer margin. Caledonia 35, Romeo 28 Last season’s Division 1 runner-up Caledonia made a trip to the Big House and got a combined four touchdowns from Brody Betser and Maddox Greenfield to match the three passing and one rushing by Romeo’s Kaden Burroughs.

Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart opened with a 48-30 win over Blanchard Montabella.


HEADLINER Climax-Scotts 26, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 14 The Panthers have upped their win total each of the last two seasons and could be on their way to doing so again if this was an indication. NorthPointe was too large to qualify for the playoffs in 2022 but finished the regular season undefeated. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Watch list Rudyard 47, Munising 6 The Bulldogs not only avenged last season’s 34-7 loss to Munising, but did so against a team that didn’t lose last fall until it fell just two points short in a Division 1 Semifinal.

On the move St. Ignace 48, Suttons Bay 6 The Saints moved to 8-player this fall after rebounding to 7-3 in 11-player last season, and they started this next chapter off well against a frequent Division 1 contender. Martin 62, Colon 6 These two were a combined 21-3 last season, and reigning Division 1 champion Martin looks like it may have another group of playmakers to pick up where last year’s left off. Morrice 36, Breckenridge 12 Both are returning playoff teams from a year ago; they’re in separate divisions of the new Mid-State Activities Conference 8-player league after playing together in the Central Michigan 8-Man Football Conference last fall.

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.

PHOTOS (Top) Davison defenders wrap up a Warren De La Salle Collegiate ball carrier during the Cardinals' Week 1 victory. (2) Coopersville started 1-0 with a 49-6 win over Otsego. (3) Ishpeming's Caden Luoma (20) is among Hematites pursuing Negaunee's Kai Lacar during the Miners' victory. (4) Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart opened with a 48-30 win over Blanchard Montabella. (Photos by Terry Lyons [top], Gary Shook [2], Cara Kamps [3] and High School Sports Scene [4].)

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.)