1st & Goal: Week 8 Preview

October 15, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The midpoint of every other regular season is crunch time during this abbreviated fall of 2020.

Teams across Michigan will play their fifth games this weekend – but a week from Saturday, all of this year’s league championships and playoff profile boosting will be complete.

Every game has meant even more, and below are a number of games this weekend that could end up meaning the most. 

Find the schedule and then results this weekend as they’re reported via the MHSAA Score CenterThis week’s broadcast schedule includes 53 varsity football games on MHSAA.tv; click the link for listings

Bay & Thumb

Hemlock (4-0) at Millington (4-0)

This will decide the Tri-Valley Conference West I championship, with Hemlock seeking its first league title since 2012 and Millington its first since 2014. To finish first, the Huskies will need to break a recent three-game losing streak against the Cardinals, who won last year’s matchup 15-6. Millington’s defense might be the key this time; it has given up just 34 points over its other three league matchups. 

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Marine City (4-0) at Marysville (4-0), North Branch (4-0) at Imlay City (3-1), Bad Axe (3-1) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (3-1), Fenton (4-0) at Swartz Creek (3-1).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (4-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (3-1) at Detroit Collegiate Prep, Saturday

They opened this season with their closest result since 2015, Cass Tech winning 34-26, and now meet again in the Detroit Public School League 1-2 championship game. Both cruised through their league schedules, both giving up only seven points over their other three games this fall.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Detroit U-D Jesuit (2-1) at Detroit Catholic Central (4-0), Garden City (3-1) at Dearborn Heights Crestwood (4-0), Detroit Central (4-0) vs. Detroit Southeastern (4-0) at Detroit Collegiate Prep. SATURDAY Clarkston Everest Collegiate (4-0) at Royal Oak Shrine (4-0).


McBain (4-0) at Beal City (4-0)

The Aggies were well on their way to a perfect run through the Highland Conference last season when third-place McBain stunned with a 27-0 win in the league finale – which sent Beal into a shared championship with Houghton Lake instead. McBain and Beal City are meeting in the league finale again, with the winner taking the championship outright.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Pewamo-Westphalia (4-0) at Fowler (4-0), Harrison (3-1) at Clare (4-0), Durand (4-0) at New Lothrop (4-0), Williamston (4-0) at Olivet (4-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula 

Sault Ste. Marie (3-1) at Kingsley (4-0)

The Blue Devils have launched an impressive chase of reigning champion Kingsley in their first season as part of the Northern Michigan Football Conference, as both are the only teams still unbeaten in Legends division play. Both have wins over Traverse City St. Francis, but Sault Ste. Marie’s victory over Marquette in Week 5 may turn out to have been even more important prep for the powerful Stags.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Jordan (3-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-0), Manistee (3-1) at Ludington (3-1), Cadillac (3-1) at Traverse City West (3-1). SATURDAY Ogemaw Heights (3-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (2-2).

Southeast & Border 

Erie Mason (4-0) at Sand Creek (4-0) 

The Eagles, first-year members of the Tri-County Conference, are in a league title conversation for the first time since winning the Lenawee County Athletic Association in 2003. They also can tie their winningest finish since 2003 with a victory this week or next, having won a combined eight games over the last seven seasons before this fall. Sand Creek is used to more success, but still is hoping to clinch its first league championship since 2011. Both have scored at least 46 points in every game this fall.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Homer (4-0) at Reading (3-1), Monroe (3-1) at Temperance Bedford (3-1), Ida (2-2) at Blissfield (4-0), Michigan Center (1-1) at Manchester (2-2). 

Southwest Corridor 

Lawton (4-0) at Schoolcraft (3-1)

In 2019, Lawton won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley title, and Schoolcraft the SAC Lakeshore championship. This fall, Schoolcraft moved into the Valley, and Lawton this weekend no doubt is rolling up the welcome mat – recalling as well how the Eagles defeated the Blue Devils 47-10 in last season’s Division 7 District Final.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Constantine (3-1) at Kalamazoo United (4-0), Battle Creek Lakeview (4-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (3-1), Cassopolis (2-2) at Mendon (3-1), Watervliet (2-2) at Coloma (3-1).

Upper Peninsula

Escanaba (0-1) at Marquette (3-1)

Arguably the Upper Peninsula’s most famed rivalry will add one of its more interesting chapters, as Marquette has clinched a share of the Great Northern Conference championship while Escanaba is finally getting an opportunity to play its first game this fall. This could go a few ways. The Eskymos could show some rust against their game-sharpened rivals. They also could unleash a month’s worth of wanting to get back on the field now that they’ve finally gotten the chance.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gladstone (2-1) at Menominee (2-2), West Iron County (4-0) at Gwinn (2-2), Negaunee (3-1) at Houghton (1-1), Calumet (1-2) at Hancock (1-2).

West Michigan 

Whitehall (4-0) at Montague (4-0)

Tonight’s winner will clinch a share of the West Michigan Conference title, and Montague is a frequent part of the championship conversation. Whitehall is seeking its first WMC title since 1999, but has had a big role is making this one of the most competitive leagues in the state as well with five playoff appearances over the last six seasons. This matchup could be a test of defensive wills – the Vikings have allowed only three points this season, and Montague has given up a mere 12.  

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Zeeland West (4-0) at Muskegon (3-1), Allendale (3-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (3-1), Hamilton (2-2) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (4-0), Ada Forest Hills Eastern (3-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (4-0).


Kinde-North Huron (4-0) at Peck (3-1)

This showdown will decide at least a share of the North Central Thumb League Stripes championship, with North Huron able to clinch outright what would be its second title in four seasons. The Warriors have won six straight times over Peck, including in last season’s playoff opener – although the team’s regular-season meeting was decided by just eight points.

Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Munising (4-0) at Cedarville (3-1), Deckerville (3-1) at Genesee (3-1), Pickford (4-0) at Rapid River (3-1). SATURDAY Merrill (4-0) at Portland St. Patrick (4-0).

PHOTO: Muskegon Catholic Central is another undefeated team this fall; here the defense surrounds Sparta’s quarterback during the Oct. 2 victory. (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.)