1st & Goal: Playoff Week 1 Preview

October 29, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

During a football season full of new and different this fall, this weekend will be right up there for first-time opportunities.

With the regular season shortened to six games because of COVID-19 precautions, tonight begins the first MHSAA Playoffs with nearly every team in the state taking part. And with more playoff games than ever before, this first round will see 15 games played Thursday night.

The 11-player bracket kicks off with District First Round games, while 8-player begins in the Regional First Round. Click for links to all 10 brackets and monitor the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for scores as they come in.

Spectator limits remain in effect (check with your local school for purchasing information). So if you can’t attend in person, check out one or more of 87 games being broadcast on MHSAA.tv or FOX Sports Detroit.

Let’s take a glance at a game that jumps out from each division this opening weekend. Games below are Friday unless noted.



Lake Orion (3-2) at Grand Blanc (5-1)

The Bobcats haven’t reached the second round of the playoffs since 2012, but have seemed on the verge of taking a step – and last week’s 14-13 win over previously-undefeated Saline provided an indication the time may be now. Lake Orion had trouble with league rivals Clarkston and West Bloomfield this fall, but has to be one of the stronger five seeds – this District is topped by three undefeated teams.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (3-3) at Davison (6-0), Utica Eisenhower (2-4) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-3). SATURDAY East Kentwood (2-3) at Hudsonville (4-2), Detroit Western (5-1) at Dearborn Fordson (4-2).


Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (4-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (5-1) at Forest Hills Eastern

Everything looks to be going the Rangers’ way heading into this rematch, as they’ve won all five recent meetings with Forest Hills Northern – including 28-13 in Week 5 – and picked up a share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with Friday’s win over Lowell. But the Huskies are on a roll too; they’ve won their last four games, all by double digits, and also including a victory over the Red Arrows.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lowell (3-3) at Byron Center (5-1), Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2-4) at Roseville (4-2), Ypsilanti Community (3-3) at Dearborn Heights Crestwood (5-1), Birmingham Groves (3-3) at Auburn Hills Avondale (3-3).


Trenton (3-3) at Allen Park (4-2)

These Downriver League rivals also have met in the playoffs the last two seasons. Allen Park won both of those games and also this regular season’s opener, 29-7. But that’s only half the history. Before this fall’s first meeting, Trenton had taken the last three during the regular season. Semi-related, both played Brownstown Woodhaven to nearly matching one-score losses over the last five weeks.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Parma Western (4-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-2), Sturgis (3-3) at Coldwater (4-2), Garden City (3-3) at South Lyon East (4-2), Gibraltar Carlson (4-2) at River Rouge (4-1).


Imlay City (4-2) at Croswell-Lexington (5-1)

This is a rematch of a season opener, won by the Pioneers 54-12. But the Spartans have gone on to guarantee their second-straight winning finish (after a string of mostly sub-.500 seasons over the last decade). That said, Croswell-Lexington was a seven-point loss to North Branch from a perfect regular season and league title – also a good improvement story after finishing 4-5 a year ago.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ada Forest Hills Eastern (3-3) at Allendale (3-3), Plainwell (3-2) at Vicksburg (4-2), Armada (3-3) at Goodrich (5-1), Detroit Henry Ford (3-3) at Detroit Country Day (3-2).


Belding (5-1) at Hopkins (5-1), Saturday

This is among the most surprising first-round matchups, as these two played for the O-K Silver championship just three weeks ago. Chalk it up to being in a District that includes an unbeaten team and four at 5-1. The Vikings’ got the best of their first meeting with Belding, 34-28, but are coming back off a week off while the Black Knights went on to win their last two games by a combined 108-3.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake Odessa Lakewood (3-3) at Portland (5-1), South Haven (4-2) at Dowagiac (3-3), Hillsdale (4-2) at Olivet (5-1). SATURDAY Ogemaw Heights (3-3) at Kingsford (3-2).


Kent City (5-1) at Clare (6-0)

This is another big-time matchup for the first round, with third-seeded Clare the Jack Pine Conference champion and sixth-seeded Kent City the winner of the Central State Activities Association Silver title. The Eagles’ lone loss came in last week’s finale, 26-20 to Muskegon Orchard View, and they’ll surely be revved up play spoiler this time. But they’ll have to figure out a Pioneers defense giving up only 9.3 points per game in what could be a low-scoring one – Kent City gives up just 8.8 on average.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Negaunee (3-3) at Gladstone (2-3), Harrison (4-2) at Sanford Meridian (4-2), Comstock (3-3) at Niles Brandywine (3-3). SATURDAY Flint Hamady (3-3) at Detroit Pershing (3-3).


Houghton Lake (4-2) at Evart (4-2)

In just six games, Evart tied its win total from a year ago and best season since 2016. After opening 0-2, the Wildcats got rolling with a 29-22 win over Houghton Lake and now are seeking their first playoff win since 2012. The Bobcats are coming off a loss to undefeated Oscoda but still guaranteed to end with their third winning season in four years. Whoever comes out on top in this rematch will see Highland Conference champ McBain next week.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Morley Stanwood (4-2) at Ravenna (3-3), Hesperia (4-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-1), Delton Kellogg (3-3) at Bronson (3-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (2-4) at Hanover-Horton (4-2).


Gwinn (3-3) at East Jordan (3-3)

One of these teams will end the night celebrating its first playoff win since 1999 – both are seeking to break a two-decade drought. After a fast start, East Jordan has had some troubles especially on offense the last two weeks – but with one more win, the Red Devils would equal their total from last season. Gwinn is a tough read because two wins came by forfeit. But a 22-14 loss two weeks ago to undefeated West Iron County is an indication the Modeltowners will be up for this challenge.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Frankfort (3-3) at Saginaw Nouvel (4-2), Marlette (3-3) at Unionville-Sebewaing (4-2), Saugatuck (3-3) at White Pigeon (3-2). SATURDAY Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (2-4) at Harbor Beach (3-3).



Deckerville (4-2) at Merrill (5-1), Saturday

Deckerville had a few stumbles against the co-champions in its league, but few programs have done the playoffs better over the last decade – Deckerville is 16-7 during the postseason since moving to 8-player in 2012. Merrill is the latest new force in 8-player, not entirely surprising after back-to-back 6-4 finishes in 11-player the last two seasons, and will be looking to extend the run into its first playoff win since 2010.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Genesee (4-2) at Mayville (6-0). SATURDAY Newberry (3-3) at Onaway (6-0), International Academy of Flint (3-3) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (6-0), Camden-Frontier (2-4) at New Buffalo (3-3).


Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-3) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-1), Saturday

These longtime league and occasional playoff rivals in 11-player will face off for the first time in 8-player – and first time at all since 2015 since Lake Linden-Hubbell made the format switch this fall. The Lakes are 3-1 on the field and gave undefeated Powers North Central easily its closest game, falling 34-22 two weeks ago. Forest Park has played two games on the field, but both were wins over teams that entered the postseason with .500 records.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Rudyard (3-3) at Rapid River (5-1), Climax-Scotts (3-3) at Colon (5-1). SATURDAY Ashley (3-3) at Peck (3-3), Waldron (4-2) at Tekonsha (4-2).

PHOTO by Robert Batzloff.

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.)