1st & Goal: Playoff Week 3 Preview

November 12, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

There inevitably will be big scores put up this weekend as we roll into the third round of the 11 and 8-player football playoffs.

But it’s fair to anticipate those games will be down to a few as 96 of 144 teams remaining on the bracket are undefeated or have only one loss this season.

We’ve switched things up for this week’s preview, looking first at our 8-Player Regional Finals, where 15 of 16 remaining teams are 8-0 or 7-1, and the 16th team’s only defeats were to schools too big to qualify for the tournament. Our 11-Player District Finals are loaded as well, with six games matching undefeated opponents and many more featuring one-loss teams squaring off or attempting to tackle an unbeaten foe. See the full schedule on MHSAA.com.

Spectator limits remain in effect (check with your local school for purchasing information), but 28 games will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv or FOX Sports Detroit. Games below are Friday unless noted. Historical context is based in part on data at Michigan-football.com.


Division 1

Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-0) at Morrice (8-0), Saturday

The Cougars put up a season-high 78 points against an also-unbeaten opponent last week, handing rising Mayville its only loss of a memorable run. But Lenawee Christian now runs into a more established 8-player power – Morrice is a combined 31-2 over the last three seasons, won Division 1 in 2018 and made the Semifinals a year ago. It’s tough to say how much past years’ experience will make a difference, but the Orioles definitely are familiar with this caliber of opponent – and scoring 52 points per game, they are outpacing the 2018 championship-winning offense by nearly 10 on average.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Pickford (7-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (7-1), Gaylord St. Mary (7-1) at Suttons Bay (8-0), Marcellus (5-2) at Martin (7-1).

Division 2

Colon (7-1) at Portland St. Patrick (8-0), Saturday

Last season’s Division 1 champion, Colon is playing in Division 2 this fall with its only loss to Lenawee Christian (see above). The Magi stand in the way of a St. Patrick program that was Division 2 runner-up last season and in 2017 as well. The Shamrocks have played only one single-digit game this season, a four-point win over Merrill. Both are continuing to steam-roll opponents offensively as during their 2019 runs – but the key might be St. Patrick solving Colon’s defense, which is giving up eight points a game this fall.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Cedarville (7-1) at Powers North Central (8-0), Hale (7-1) at Marion (7-1). SATURDAY Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-1) at Kinde North Huron (7-1).


Division 1

Belleville (8-0) at Canton (8-0)

Although both of these teams are undefeated, Belleville certainly has gotten more attention this fall with an offense scoring more than 50 points per game and a defense that’s given up 43 all season. Only Livonia Stevenson on opening night has come within 21 points of the Tigers. The Chiefs meanwhile have won three one-possession games – including against Stevenson last week. All in all, this is lining up very similarly to when these teams last met, in a 2017 District Final won by Canton 28-25 over an unbeaten Belleville team – and surely both teams are recalling that last matchup this week.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grandville (7-1) at Rockford (6-0), Grand Blanc (7-1) at Davison (8-0). SATURDAY Detroit Catholic Central (8-0) at White Lake Lakeland (7-0), West Bloomfield (7-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (7-1).

Division 2

Portage Northern (7-1) at East Lansing (7-0)

The Trojans have won pretty even matchups against Northern the last two seasons, by 10 in 2018 and 35-28 a year ago. There’s only one shared opponent between the two this fall – East Lansing beat Holt 63-0, and Northern lost to the Rams 26-0 – but it’s hard to say that will play much into this matchup. What will more is how the Huskies attack one of the most successful defenses in the state this fall, as East Lansing is giving up only three points per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Traverse City Central (7-1) at Midland, North Farmington (5-3) at South Lyon (6-2), Livonia Franklin (5-3) at Livonia Churchill (5-2), Oak Park (2-6) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (6-1).

Division 3

Mason (8-0) at DeWitt (8-0)

This is the second time in a month Mason will be facing an undefeated team with a championship on the line. The first, in Week 9, Mason downed Williamston 40-10 to clinch the Capital Area Activities Conference Red title. DeWitt meanwhile has outscored its two playoff opponents by a combined 107-0 with a defense that has given up 50 points total this season (and 38 of those game in a Week 5 win over Grand Ledge). The Bulldogs also have been impressive on that side of the ball, giving up just more than 10 points per game – and their defense will need to play a significant role as DeWitt needs to score only 31 more points this week to equal last year’s 13-game total from a Semifinal run.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (7-1) at Chelsea (8-0), Detroit Martin Luther King (5-3) at Eastpointe (8-0). SATURDAY Marquette (7-1) at Muskegon (7-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (6-2) at St. Joseph (7-1).

Division 4

Ortonville Brandon (7-1) at North Branch (8-0)

Last week saw these league champions both defeat their strongest regular-season challengers for the second time, Brandon over Goodrich and North Branch over Croswell-Lexington. Both also are making a run this weekend at history, as neither has won a District title since that round of the tournament was introduced in 1999. The only loss between them this season was Brandon’s to Division 2 Fenton in a Flint Metro League crossover of first-place teams.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Sault Ste. Marie (6-2) at Cadillac (5-2), Detroit Country Day (5-2) at Madison Heights Lamphere (8-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (5-3) at Williamston (7-1). SATURDAY Milan (7-1) at Redford Union (7-1).

Division 5

Kingsley (8-0) at Reed City (8-0)

These two are crossing paths for the second straight season, but with different circumstances than what led up to last year’s 48-36 Stags first-round playoff win. The Coyotes were only 6-4 in 2019, compared to this fall when they secured their fourth perfect regular season over the last six years. But Kingsley also is coming off a second-straight perfect regular season plus a Semifinal run a year ago, and this Stags team has been arguably better – they’re scoring just as much but giving up nearly a touchdown less than last season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Olivet (7-1) at Lansing Catholic (6-2), Grosse Ile (5-3) at Romulus Summit Academy North (7-1), Essexville Garber (7-1) at Freeland (7-1), Detroit Denby (5-3) at Marine City (7-1).

Division 6

Montague (8-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-0)

Over the illustrious history of Muskegon-area football, these two have met only once before – in a 2017 regular-season finale, won by the Wildcats. MCC was strong that season but this will be an even better test of their mutual powers. The Crusaders put together their first perfect regular season since 2016 and haven’t allowed a point in five weeks (and 18 total this fall). Montague is coming off a 43-point win over another league champ in Clare and averaging 51 points per game.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Millington (7-1) at Montrose (7-1), Constantine (7-1) at Buchanan (8-0), Michigan Center (5-1) at Jonesville (7-1), Clinton (7-1) at Blissfield (8-0).

Division 7

Cass City (8-0) at Hemlock (8-0)

After a series of successful seasons, Cass City took the next playoff step last fall making the Semifinals, and the Red Hawks haven’t slowed pushing their combined record over the last two years to 19-2. Arguably their best win this fall was their closest, 14-12 over also-undefeated Sandusky a week ago, while Hemlock also won close –20-17 over Bad Axe, a Cass City league foe. That was a good test for the Huskies, who also are in position to take another step as they’ve won eight games for the third season in a row and are seeking their first District title since 2011.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lawton (7-1) at Schoolcraft (7-1), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-4) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-2), Traverse City St. Francis (6-2) at Charlevoix (8-0). SATURDAY Madison Heights Bishop Foley (7-1) at Detroit Loyola (7-1).

Division 8

Reading (7-1) at Centreville (7-0)

Centreville has followed a path similar to Reading’s of a few years ago, improving substantially the last two seasons and eliminating the close losses for a perfect run this fall. The Bulldogs, after losing four games by a combined 28 points in 2019, have given up only 15 points total this season. Reading’s next step came in 2018 when it won the first of two straight Division 8 titles. A Week 6 loss to Division 6 Jonesville quieted things down for a minute this fall, but anticipation should be high again. Both teams have solid wins over Mendon, Reading’s coming last week and Centreville’s earlier to eventually clinch a league title.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Beal City (7-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-0), Sand Creek (7-1) at Addison (7-0), Ubly (6-2) at Flint Beecher (7-1). SATURDAY Royal Oak Shrine (6-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (8-0).

PHOTO: DeWitt earned the opportunity to play for a fifth-straight District title with last week’s win over Lansing Waverly (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.)