1st & Goal: Finals in Review

January 28, 2021

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

With absolute certainty, we can say this recently-concluded football season was like no other during the nearly 100-year history of the MHSAA.

But after just more than five months, and amid COVID-19, it was played to completion – with 8-Player Finals on Jan. 16 at Brighton’s Legacy Center and 11-Player Finals Jan. 22-23 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Second Half again covered all 10 championship games, with quick recaps and links (click on the game scores) to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA Finals record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the championship weekends. See also below highlights from State Champs Sports Network. 

Finals in Review

11-Player Division 1: West Bloomfield 41, Davison 0

Led by Donovan Edwards’ 257 yards and three touchdowns rushing, West Bloomfield won its first Finals championship with a shutout of the 2019 champion Cardinals. Much more on Edwards below, but the Lakers’ effort on the other side of the ball can’t be overlooked – the shutout was the team’s sixth of the season.

11-Player Division 2: Muskegon Mona Shores 25, Warren De La Salle Collegiate 19

After winning its first championship in 2019, Mona Shores earned another in its encore led again by quarterback Brady Rose. Rose had started last season’s Final in place of an injured all-stater, but he was hardly unknown this time – and still ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard sprint during the fourth quarter that helped wrap things up for the Sailors.

11-Player Division 3: DeWitt 40, River Rouge 30

DeWitt finished off the longest football season in MHSAA history with its first championship, earning it against a River Rouge team looking to repeat after winning its first title in 2019. Quarterback play was on display in this finale as well, with DeWitt’s Tyler Holtz and Rouge’s Mareyohn Hrabowski putting up big numbers.

11-Player Division 4: Detroit Country Day 13, Cadillac 0

With youngest son Danny a major contributor, Country Day coach Dan MacLean led the Yellowjackets to their first Finals championship since 1999. Country Day kept first-time finalist Cadillac to just 166 total yards, and the shutout was the Yellowjackets’ third straight.

11-Player Division 5: Grand Rapids Catholic Central 48, Frankenmuth 21

The Cougars added their fourth championship in five seasons, this one their first in Division 5 after winning previously in Division 4. GRCC quarterback Joey Silveri accounted for six touchdowns in a Final for the second-straight season as his team built a big early lead against the first-time finalist Eagles.

11-Player Division 6: Montague 40, Clinton 14

Strong quarterback play and a father-son connection both came into play in Division 6 as well as senior Drew Collins led dad Pat’s team to its first Finals championship since 2009. What Drew said after told the story of the entire season restart: “Everybody on this football team, coaches, players, trainers – everybody on this football team loves high school football. I love high school football. I love these coaches. I love my friends on the team. I love everybody on the team. I love the community. It’s bittersweet when you win a state championship when you’re a senior because it’s all over.” 

11-Player Division 7: New Lothrop 42, Traverse City St. Francis 35

The Hornets’ Julius Garza put up one of the most impressive individual performances of the weekend, scoring three ways for a total of four touchdowns. New Lothrop got up early and then held off a St. Francis comeback to claim its second championship in three seasons.

11-Player Division 8: Centreville 22, Ubly 0

Centreville’s shutdown defense put together one more awe-inspiring performance to help the Bulldogs’ to their first championship. Centreville ran its state-best points-allowed-per-game average to 2.9 with its seventh shutout in 10 games played.

8-Player Division 1: Adrian Lenawee Christian 47, Suttons Bay 0

The Cougars put an exclamation point on a dominating first season of 8-player football with their first Finals championship in the sport, either format. Lenawee Christian not only performed well offensively but held Suttons Bay to 52 yards total. The Norsemen finished Division 1 runners-up for the second-straight season.

8-Player Division 2: Powers North Central 70, Portland St. Patrick 48

The Jets claimed their third championship in what was the highest-scoring 8-player championship game in the decade-long MHSAA Finals history of this format. More on that below, and also on North Central quarterback Luke Gorzinski and St. Patrick quarterback Connor Cross, who were among those to put up giant numbers. The Jets also feature a father/son combo, with Luke the son of head coach Leo Gorzinski.

Records Report

As one might imagine, the highest-scoring game in 8-Player Finals history was filled with record book accomplishments. North Central’s 70 points were the 8-Player Finals record for one team, and the combined 118 points were 19 more than the previous record set in Peck’s 67-32 win over Rapid River in 2013. The teams’ 933 combined total yards ranks third on that 8-Player Finals list, while North Central’s 22 first downs was tied for second and St. Patrick’s 21 first downs ranked fourth. Neither team punted, making for another first in 8-player championship games. The game was not only the highest-scoring 8-Player Final, but the third-highest scoring 8-player game in MHSAA history (including regular season), missing tying that record by only six points.

Also as noted above, all-state quarterback play was on display for both 8-player Division 2 finalists. North Central QB Luke Gorzinski totaled the second-most rushing yards, 299, in an 8-Player Final, and with 156 yards passing set the total offense record at 455. St. Patrick QB Connor Cross, with 397 total yards, is fourth on that list. Cross’s 374 passing yards were second-most in an 8-Player Final, as were his six passing touchdowns, and he earned the first listings with 25 completions and 38 pass attempts. Shamrocks receiver Shane Cook, meanwhile, set the record with 13 receptions for the second-most receiving yardage, 179. North Central as a team finished with the third-most rushing yards, 373 on 37 attempts, and third-most rushing touchdowns with six. St. Patrick as a team was second for team passing yards and touchdowns.

Gorzinski wasn’t the only offensive star for the Jets; teammate Wyatt Raab finished with the third-most points scored in an 8-Player Final, 32, on four touchdowns, three two-point conversions and a safety. Gorzinski did finish with the fourth-most points, 28, on four touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Both made the total touchdowns list with four apiece.

The 8-Player Division 1 Final made the record book as well, in two categories. Lenawee Christian as a team defense posted the lowest number of yards allowed, just 52. And Cougars quarterback Landon Gallant also made the total offense list with 326 yards – 59 rushing and 267 passing.

New Lothrop’s Julius Garza was among individual standouts from the 11-Player Finals, tying for fourth with 26 points scored – on four touchdowns and a two-point conversion – and also tying for fourth for touchdowns in a game, in Division 7.

West Bloomfield’s Jake Ward made all three kicking lists for 11-player, tying for third with two field goals in a game, ranking fourth for longest with a 45-yarder, and making the extra points list with five in the Division 1 Final. Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Jack Barlow tied for fourth on that extra points list with six in the Division 5 game. 

The Lakers’ Donovan Edwards was another of the stars of the weekend, with his 257 yards rushing ranking eighth all-time for an 11-Player Final – and while coming on just 14 attempts in Division 1.

Montague’s Drew Collins made the 11-player passing yards list with 244, coming on 15 completions in the Division 6 game. Three of those went for touchdowns to teammate Samuel Smith, who tied the record held by nine others for touchdown catches in an 11-Player Final.

DeWitt quarterback Tyler Holtz tied for fifth on the passing touchdowns list with four in Division 3. Opposing quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski from River Rouge made the total yardage list with 321 – 94 rushing and 227 passing. New Lothrop’s Cam Orr also made the total yardage list with 344 – 122 rushing and 222 passing.

While quarterbacks starred in many cases, the run game was hardly left behind. In addition to Edwards’ performance for West Bloomfield, Clinton had the fifth-most rushing attempts in 11-player championship game history with 65, for 358 yards. Clinton also tied the record with just one pass attempt, with West Bloomfield tying for fifth on that list with two throws. Those two and Cadillac all tied the 11-Player Finals record by recording zero completions – they brought that all-time list to 21 teams that didn’t complete a pass in an 11-player title game.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Division 5 also became the 28th 11-player finalist to go an entire game without punting.

The Division 6 Clinton/Montague matchup also finished as one of the least-penalized in MHSAA 11-Player Finals history. The two teams combined for just 10 penalty yards, coming on one Clinton penalty. Montague was not penalized in the game.

Stories Behind the Scores

The Longest Season: Due to COVID-19, this season started on time, stopped, restarted, stopped again in mid-November, and restarted one more time with rapid testing the final week of December with playoffs ending over two weekends in mid-January. There are many reasons to want to forget the last year, and many much sadder circumstances. But the perseverance of all Fall athletes and families, coaches, administrators and support staff; along with the testing program provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, made for a memorable story that surely will be recalled for years to come.

First finishing 1st: West Bloomfield in 11-Player Division 1, DeWitt in Division 3 and Centreville in Division 8, and Adrian Lenawee Christian in 8-Player Division 1 all won their first MHSAA Finals in this sport. Cadillac in Division 4 and Frankenmuth in Division 5 made their first championship game appearances.

Edwards’ excellent ending: Edwards was slated to join University of Michigan’s football program as an early enrollee in January. But first, he wanted to finish his high school season, and career, with the Lakers. He led them to their first championship, with one of the top rushing performances in Finals history, and as arguably the biggest headliner from the weekend at Ford Field – likely gaining a few more fans along the way as well.

Many ways to win: As noted above, defense still works – four of 10 Finals were shutouts, and Centreville’s season-long performance was incredible. Also noted above, champions won both running and passing. But a final fun note on offense – seven of 10 champions this season scored 40 or more points in their championship games. That’s compared to two in 2019, five in 2018 and five in 2017.

(Click for more photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)