1st & Goal: Week 5 Preview

September 24, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Most years, we’d talk this weekend about Michigan high school football teams being in midseason form.

They’re getting there quickly – and with another series of big-time matchups these next few days helping all of us get back up to speed.

Major rivalries will play out again in Muskegon, Flint and Metro Detroit among various communities all over the state. Some of the most noteworthy games are briefly previewed below. Check out the MHSAA Score Center beforehand for kickoff times and locations of all games, and come back Friday and Saturday for scores as they’re reported.

This week we’ll also have 53 varsity football games broadcast on MHSAA.tv; click the link for listings.

Bay & Thumb

Flint Hamady (1-0) at Flint Beecher (1-0)

Anthony Branch’s coaching tenure after Courtney Hawkins left for Michigan State began with a 27-19 win over Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard last week. The Bucs’ biggest game of the regular season is up next, and Branch has plenty of experience in Hamady matchups after serving previously as an assistant coach and having played in the Beecher program. The Hawks have won all three regular-season matchups with the Bucs since the teams rejoined the same league in 2017.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Davison (1-0) at Grand Blanc (1-0), Frankenmuth (1-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (1-0), Sandusky (1-0) at Harbor Beach (1-0), Saginaw Nouvel (0-1) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (1-0).

Greater Detroit

Sterling Heights Stevenson (1-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-0)

These two finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the Macomb Area Conference Red in 2019. But together last week they defeated reigning champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (Dakota 29-20) and runner-up Utica Eisenhower (Stevenson 7-3). Dakota owns a five-game regular-season winning streak against the Titans, including last year by a 40-14 score. But Stevenson may be continuing a surge that took it to last year’s Division 1 Semifinals – a run which included a 38-35 win over Dakota in the District Final.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Dearborn Fordson (0-1) at Belleville (1-0), Detroit Mumford (1-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (1-0). SATURDAY Detroit Catholic Central (1-0) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (1-0).


Midland Bullock Creek (1-0) at Ithaca (1-0)

These two are in different divisions of the Tri-Valley Conference West this fall. But a year ago they were in the same division and shared the championship, breaking Ithaca’s streak of nine straight outright league titles. The Yellowjackets won last year’s matchup 35-21, but Bullock Creek was able to grab a championship share after Ithaca fell to Hemlock 30-6 in the league finale. Both opened last week with wins over 2019 playoff teams, Ithaca over Saginaw Nouvel and Bullock Creek over Carrollton.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY DeWitt (1-0) at Grand Ledge (1-0), LeRoy Pine River (1-0) at Beal City (1-0), Leslie (0-1) at Stockbridge (1-0), St. Johns (0-1) at Williamston (1-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Ogemaw Heights (1-0) at Kingsley (1-0)

Ogemaw Heights is coming off its first winning season since 2013 after going 8-3 a year ago. Kingsley, meanwhile, posted its best finish since 2005 at 12-1 and with a run to the Division 5 Semifinals. A 36-19 Week 2 win over Ogemaw Heights was among seven victories total the Stags posted against teams that finished with winning records. And this matchup should mean more in the future as Ogemaw Heights has joined Kingsley in the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends division.  

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY East Jordan (1-0) at Harbor Springs (1-0), Traverse City St. Francis (0-1) at Grayling (1-0), Petoskey (1-0) at Traverse City Central (1-0), Oscoda (1-0) at Rogers City (1-0).

Southeast & Border

Breckenridge (1-0) at Reading (1-0)

Added just this week, this might be one of the top small-school matchups in the state this season. Reading has won the last two Division 8 championships and defeated Breckenridge 39-20 in the 2018 title game. This could be a preview of another playoff matchup to come. Together they defeated their season-opening opponents last week by a combined score of 95-6.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Blissfield (1-0) at Hillsdale (1-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (1-0) at Clinton (1-0), Riverview (1-0) at Milan (1-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (1-0) at Parma Western (1-0).

Southwest Corridor

Saugatuck (1-0) at Schoolcraft (1-0)

This might have gotten a little more attention a year ago, as these two frequently are the best or near the top of their divisions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Schoolcraft was a co-champion in the Lakeshore last season, but Saugatuck finished sub-.500 overall for the first time since 2006. Saugatuck got off to a winning start last week, however, as did Schoolcraft – and this fall both are in the SAC Valley.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Marshall (0-1) at Coldwater (1-0), Portage Northern (1-0) at Mattawan (1-0), Decatur (0-1) at Cassopolis (1-0), Coloma (1-0) at Kalamazoo United (1-0). 

Upper Peninsula

Sault Ste. Marie (1-0) at Marquette (1-0)

Granted, it’s just one week to go on. But based on early returns, these might be the best in the Upper Peninsula this fall. Sault Ste. Marie opened with a seven-point win over Traverse City St. Francis, while Marquette downed Menominee by 23. Marquette has beaten the Blue Devils in four straight including 31-0 a year ago, but despite last year’s defeat Sault Ste. Marie went on to its winningest season since 2013. A win tonight could end up the Sault’s highlight of this shortened season.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY West Iron County (1-0) at L'Anse (1-0), Hancock (1-0) at Bessemer Gogebic (0-1), Menominee (0-1) at Marinette, Wis. (0-0), Norway (0-1) at Houghton (1-0).

West Michigan

Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0) at Muskegon (1-0)

This easily is the headliner of the week, matchup up a pair of teams that reached Ford Field a year ago. A 53-0 Muskegon win over Shores in Week 8 was among dominating victories that pushed the Big Reds to a Division 3 runner-up finish. The Sailors, meanwhile, didn’t lose again after that night, stringing together a series of mostly close wins on the way to the Division 2 title. Muskegon has a five-game winning streak in this rivalry matchup, but a much closer finish than last year’s has to be the expectation this time.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Montague (1-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (1-0), Rockford (1-0) at Caledonia (1-0), Byron Center (1-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (0-1), Hudsonville Unity Christian (1-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (1-0).


Colon (1-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (1-0), Saturday

Colon’s move to 8-player in 2018 proved beneficial and then some as the Magi went a combined 23-2 over the last two seasons and won the 8-player Division 1 title a year ago. Lenawee Christian’s move this fall could usher in similar dominance for the Cougars, who finished 10-2 and just missed defeating eventual Division 8 champion Reading in the Regional Final last year. Lenawee opened its 8-player era with a 62-0 win over another first-year 8-player team Athens last week, while Colon downed frequent playoff qualifier Bellevue 45-6.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Portland St. Patrick (1-0) at Vestaburg (1-0), Merrill (1-0) at Atlanta (1-0), Pickford (1-0) at Cedarville (1-0). SATURDAY Newberry (0-1) at Munising (1-0).

PHOTO: Johannesburg-Lewiston opened last week with a 47-14 win over Mancelona. (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.)