1st & Goal: 2023 Week 8 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

October 11, 2023

Only two regular-season games remain for the majority of Michigan’s high school football teams, but thousands of players and coaches will be striving this weekend to extend their time on the field this fall.

MI Student AidAnd it may take only one more winning performance to do so.

Just last weekend, 19 teams moved into the possible playoff field of 288 as one of the top 32 in 11-player divisions or 16 in 8-player divisions based on playoff-point average.

Among those 256 11-player teams – qualifiers if the regular season had ended after last weekend – Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central jumped 13 spots to No. 9 in Division 7, Oak Park moved up nine spots to No. 29 in Division 2 and Hastings jumped eight spots to No. 11 in Division 4, while several more hopefuls earned upward movement of seven or six positions. Overall, only the potential qualifier list in 8-player Division 2 remained unchanged from Week 6.

To keep an eye on those possibilities as results come in, load the Playoff Point Summary page at MHSAA.com.

Below are this week’s most intriguing matchups across the state, many still determining league champions and most factoring into which teams will continue to play after the regular season is done. All games are Friday unless noted. 

Bay & Thumb

Davison (7-0) at Grand Blanc (5-2) - WATCH

This will be the first time since 2020 that these rivals will decide a league championship, with Grand Blanc the outright Saginaw Valley League Red title winner with a victory and Davison facing one more game against Lapeer next week but able to claim a share if it comes out on top this weekend. The Cardinals are 6-1 against the Bobcats – including two playoff wins – since they began playing in the same division of the SVL in 2018, and Davison won 49-14 and then 27-0 a year ago. After a five-point win over Division 2 powerhouse Warren De La Salle College in Week 1, Davison has prevailed in all of its games by at least two touchdowns. But the Bobcats’ defeats have come against a pair of ranked opponents, Grandville and East Lansing, who are a combined 11-3 – and Grand Blanc posted an impressive 44-26 win over Lapeer two weeks ago.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ubly (7-0) at Cass City (6-1) - WATCH, North Branch (4-3) at Croswell-Lexington (6-1) - WATCH, Beaverton (5-2) at Gladwin (6-1), Lapeer (5-2) at Midland (4-3) - WATCH.

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (5-2) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (4-3) at Ford Field

The first meeting between these two Sept. 15 was an opportunity to see how rearranged lineups matched up with each other, and Cass Tech won 14-7. Now that those new players and other players in new places have nearly a full regular season behind them, this Detroit Public School League Blue championship game could settle into another titanic faceoff. Cass Tech hasn’t given up a point since King scored those seven a month ago, and King hasn’t given up more than six in a game since Cass put up those 14. Keep this in mind as well: In the four seasons Cass and King have met twice over the last decade, only last year – when the Technicians avenged a 28-23 loss with a 28-14 win four weeks later – has the same team not won both.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allen Park (7-0) at Gibraltar Carlson (6-1) - WATCH, Mason (7-0) at Walled Lake Western (7-0) - WATCH, Southfield Arts & Technology (7-0) at West Bloomfield (5-2) - WATCH, Northville (7-0) at Novi (6-1) - WATCH.


Portland (7-0) at Lansing Sexton (7-0) - WATCH

The first meeting between these two Sept. 15 was an opportunity to see how rearranged lineups matched up with each other, and Cass Tech won 14-7. Now that those new players and other players in new places have nearly a full regular season behind them, this Detroit Public School League Blue championship game could settle into another titanic faceoff. Cass Tech hasn’t given up a point since King scored those seven a month ago, and King hasn’t given up more than six in a game since Cass put up those 14. Keep this in mind as well: In the four seasons Cass and King have met twice over the last decade, only last year – when the Technicians avenged a 28-23 loss with a 28-14 win four weeks later – has the same team not won both.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Fowler (6-1) at Laingsburg (4-3) - WATCH, DeWitt (4-2) at Lansing Everett (4-3) - WATCH, Midland Dow (4-3) at Mount Pleasant (6-1). SATURDAY Fenton (6-1) at Corunna (7-0) - WATCH.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Frankfort (6-1) at East Jordan (6-1) - WATCH

This league championship matchup has seemed destined for a while, with only a pair of nonleague detours keeping these teams from perfection heading into this weekend, and this will be the second time in three seasons these two will meet to decide a title winner. East Jordan’s last three seasons together have amounted to the program’s best string of success in two decades, and only two six-point losses – including one to Frankfort – kept the Red Devils’ from repeating as the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends champion last season. Their only loss this fall was to NMFC Leaders champ Charlevoix. Frankfort is coming off a nonleague loss to another likely Division 8 contender in Fowler, but will try to bounce back to clinch its first league title since 2016. After falling in the title matchup to East Jordan 22-18 in 2021, the Panthers also finished league runner-up last fall.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Jackson Lumen Christi (7-0) at Gaylord (7-0) - WATCH, Evart (5-2) at Houghton Lake (4-3) - WATCH, Benzie Central (4-3) at Maple City Glen Lake (4-3) - WATCH. SATURDAY Marquette (4-2) at Cadillac (4-3) - WATCH.

Southeast & Border

Dundee (4-3) at Hudson (7-0) - WATCH

Hudson can meet Clinton next week for a winner-take-all in the Lenawee County Athletic Association, but Dundee definitely can switch things up as well with success tonight. Although the Tigers have won their last three meetings with the Vikings, Dundee also is pushing for a third-straight playoff appearance and already has scored more points this fall than they did over 11 games in 2021 and 10 games last season. The Vikings' offense will get its toughest test, however, as Hudson has given up only 50 points this season and none since Week 5. Still, the Tigers must be sure to not look ahead to next week's opponent, as Clinton is the only team that has defeated Hudson in LCAA play over the last three seasons. 

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (5-2) at Manchester (6-1) - WATCH, Trenton (4-3) at Chelsea (6-1) - WATCH, Belding (6-1) at Jackson (4-3) - WATCH, Milan (3-4) at Carleton Airport (6-1).

Southwest Corridor

Constantine (6-1) at South Haven (5-2) - WATCH

Only a few seasons ago, South Haven ended a 29-game losing streak, and just last season the Rams finished 2-7. This weekend they’ll play for a share of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore championship, entering this matchup off three league wins all by at least 28 points. Of course, Constantine is a major obstacle standing in the way. The Falcons’ three league wins are all by 20 or more points, and they’ve won 19 straight Lakeshore games going back to 2019 – when they still shared the league championship. South Haven will have a chance to put into practice lessons learned in losses to tough opponents – Lawton is a likely Division 7 contender and Ada Forest Hills Eastern is strong in Division 4 – and Constantine bounced back from its lone loss to Benton Harbor to defeat Lawton the following week in starting a five-game winning streak.   

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Portage Northern (6-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (5-2) - WATCH, Kalamazoo United (4-3) at Allegan (4-3) - WATCH, Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0) at Union City (6-1) - WATCH, Dowagiac (4-3) at Buchanan (4-3) - WATCH.

Upper Peninsula

Menominee (6-1) at Kingsford (6-1) - WATCH

The winner of this game will claim a Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper championship – either shared or outright – while the loser will finish either tied for second or solo in third, depending on what a third co-leader, Negaunee, does at Houghton this weekend. Kingsford’s only defeat this fall was 13-12 to the Miners in Week 4, and Menominee is hoping to rebound quickly after falling to Negaunee 47-20 last week. The Flivvers and Maroons have played memorable matchups the last two seasons, Kingsford winning 34-27 in 2021 and Menominee avenging 42-41 to close the 2022 regular season. Kingsford still has given up only 25 points this fall, with five shutouts, and Menominee has four shutouts and had given up only 32 points before last week.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Manistique (4-3) at Bark River-Harris (4-3) - WATCH, Gladstone (5-2) at Calumet (3-4) - WATCH, Petoskey (4-3) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-2) - WATCH, Negaunee (6-1) at Houghton (2-5) - WATCH.

West Michigan

Rockford (7-0) at Grandville (6-1)

Rockford has won 24 straight Ottawa-Kent Conference Red games, but this won’t be the first time the Rams and Grandville have squared off for the league title – in fact, it will be the fourth time over the last 10 years, and Rockford still won the Red championship in 2019 despite the Bulldogs handing them their most recent league loss that fall. Grandville started this season playing back-to-back games against the teams vying tonight for the Saginaw Valley League Red title, defeating Grand Blanc and falling to Davison, and the Bulldogs also have earned close yet impressive wins over Hudsonville and last week Caledonia. Rockford followed its opening 20 and 23-point wins over Muskegon and Mona Shores, respectively, with more of the same in league play – and hasn’t played a single-digit regular-season game since Week 2 of last fall.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids South Christian (6-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-1) - WATCH, East Grand Rapids (6-1) at Byron Center (6-1), Lawton (6-1) at Saugatuck (7-0) - WATCH, Zeeland West (6-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (5-2).


Pittsford (7-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (7-0) - WATCH

The winner takes all in the Southern Central Athletic Association East. The familiarity between these two goes back more than a decade, and with Lenawee No. 1 and Pittsford tied at No. 3 on the Division 2 playoff-points average list, this could be just the first round this season. Pittsford, not surprisingly, has found itself back in a championship mix; the Wildcats were among the state’s top small-school 11-player programs for decades before making the switch to 8-player last fall. That first run ended at 5-4 and the Wildcats just missing the playoffs, but they’ve found their stride this fall, especially on defense where they gave up a high of 16 points in the season opener and no more than eight in a game since. Lenawee Christian brings the challenge of an offense that scores 57 ppg and put 73 up against Mendon two weeks ago and 56 on Pittsford in their 2022 meeting.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marion (6-0) at Brethren (5-2) - WATCH, Pickford (7-0) at Newberry (6-1), Rogers City (4-3) at Alcona (6-1) - WATCH, Mayville (5-2) at Kingston (6-1) - WATCH.

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.

PHOTO A pair of Muskegon defenders make a tackle against Holland this season.  (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)