'22 Game' Lasts 2 Plays, Lives on

By Ron Pesch
MHSAA historian

October 26, 2015

What would you do with 22 seconds to right a wrong?

In Michigan, the longest football game in high school sports history was played on September 23, 1977 when Detroit Southeastern defeated Detroit Northeastern 42-36 in nine overtimes.

But what is the shortest?

On the evening of Thursday, Nov. 5, 1953, Eaton County foes Bellevue and Vermontville squared off in a Tri-C Conference battle. It was a home contest for Vermontville, but without illumination at its field, the game was staged just west beneath the lights at Nashville High School in Barry County.

The dominant team in Tri-C play over the previous three years, Bellevue’s Broncos had posted three consecutive undefeated seasons from 1950 and 1952. However, graduation took its toll and with only five returning veterans in the fall of 1953, Bellevue lost its nonconference season opener to Homer. The Broncos had also dropped a pair of league contests, to Lake Odessa and Olivet, just prior to the Vermontville game, and entered with a 4-3 record.

Vermontville brought a 4-2 mark into the contest, and was in a four-way tie with Bellevue, Nashville and Lake Odessa for second in the conference.

The Broncos and Wildcats were evenly matched and played to a scoreless tie in the first half. Vermontville opened up a 6-0 lead on a 20-yard end sweep by the Wildcats’ quarterback Pete Benton in the third quarter, but entered the final minutes of the game trailing 12-6 thanks to a TD run by Bellevue’s Jim Smith and an early-fourth quarter scoring pass from Smith to Bob Babbitt.

Coach Dave McDowell’s Wildcats mounted a long final drive, and fans strapped in for a thrilling finish. Pushing deep into Bellevue territory, Vermontville faced a fourth down and eight from the 16-yard line with under a minute to play when Benton launched a desperation pass to the end zone.

The pass fell incomplete, but Bellevue was flagged for pass interference. Officials stepped off the penalty and awarded Vermontville the ball at the one-yard line, but the Wildcats’ plunge into the line fell an inch short on what was called a repeated fourth down play. Vermontville took possession and ran out the clock.

Following the game, Coach McDowell protested the ruling to officials, correctly stating that his team should have been awarded an automatic first down and goal from the 1-yard-line on the penalty, according to high school rules. Appealing the call, the situation was brought to the attention of the league, MHSAA executive director Charles Forsythe and the MHSAA athletic board.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the state athletic board agreed an error had been made, but did not order a replay. Instead, they noted three possible solutions:

  1. Result left as it was.
  2. Called a no contest.
  3. Replay it at the point of infraction.

The board moved a final decision back to the league. Because of the possible impact on the final conference standings, and eventually, the awarding of the league’s all-sports trophy, the Tri-C Conference opted to replay the contest from the point of infraction – the 1-yard line – with 22 seconds placed on the clock.

The news of the league’s decision was blasted out by the news services nationwide, and immediately, the pending replay of a small town contest captured the imagination of reporters and sports fans across the United States.

“Shortest ‘Game’ in History?” read the headline in the Lexington, Kentucky Herald. From Biloxi, Mississippi, to Boston, Massachusetts, from Rockford, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska and Seattle Washington, sports aficionados read the news about the error. Best of all, details flowed forth on the plan to replay critical seconds that might alter the result, fulfilling every fan’s dream.

So began the longest huddle in history.

“What would you do?” was the question on the lips of coaches and followers in barber shops and factories. Detroit Free Press writer George Puscas asked that very question to some of Michigan’s top coaches.

Detroit Lions coach Buddy Parker offered his advice to Vermontville’s coach McDowell.

“The other team will be expecting a run,” noted Parker, “so I would fake a run off tackle then throw a pass in the other direction – with three receivers downfield.”

Michigan State’s legendary Biggie Munn stated the obvious:

“Call a scoring play.”

University of Michigan head coach Bennie Oosterbaan was tied up preparing for the Wolverines’ upcoming contest with MSU, so instead U-M end coach Bill Orwig weighed in with a tongue-in-cheek recommendation:

“Take the time out.”

Earl “Dutch” Clark, in charge at the University of Detroit, suggested that McDowell diagram “two of the most unusual offensive formations … anything to confuse the defense. The first play should be a running play and if it didn’t work, take time out then try again.”

Wayne University’s coach Lou Zarza was the most specific of them all.

“On a goal line stand, the defense usually drifts toward the middle. So I would fake the ball to the right halfback on a slant, then send the fullback with the ball wide to the right, outflanking the defense. It’s a good goal line play on the T formation.”

Suggestions came from all over. A gentleman in Syracuse, New York, even penned a personal letter to McDowell with a sure-fire suggestion.

Three days after the 1953 prep season had officially ended, on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 16, the same officiating crew and the Vermontville and Bellevue squads emerged and again travelled to Nashville to line up for what can arguably be called the shortest – or perhaps the longest – game in high school football history.

Reporters from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Battle Creek converged on the city for 22 seconds of football. High school reporting legends Hal Schram of the Detroit Free Press, Bob Hoerner of the Lansing State Journal, George Maskin of the Detroit Times, Harry Stapler of the Detroit News and writers from the Associated Press and United Press International all descended upon mid-Michigan, “almost as if the Rose Bowl was to be played.”  

“That game brought more publicity to coach Gordon Korstange’s 6-3 squad then his teams received for posting three consecutive unbeaten seasons in 1950, 1951 and 1952,” recalled 80-year old Burton H. Brooks, who was the only reporter who had covered the original contest, and one of many covering the replay. A graduate of Bellevue, he was a freshman at Michigan State at the time, earning money as a sports stringer for the Bellevue Gazette and Charlotte Republican Tribune.

Beneath sunny skies, “a crowd of over 500 fans and curiosity seekers, most of them attired in shirt sleeves, lined the field on both sides near the east end of the Nashville gridiron,” wrote Brooks, many years later. “At 5:00 the shrill blast of an official’s whistle split the air, announcing time for the game.”

Attendance was way up from the original contest, and in an unusual move for the time, Kalamazoo television station WKZO announced that they would send a crew to Nashville and then televise the game – (all 22 seconds of it!) – Tuesday evening. In addition, 10 newspaper photographers were on site to capture images from the game.

While the size of the crowd was up, turnout on the football squads had decreased. Vermontville dressed its full squad of 24 for the showdown, but kept out two regular tackles and his first-string quarterback, as all had been on the injured list at the end of the first clash.

Meanwhile, Bellevue brought only 14 players.

“Just our defensive unit and enough to run back the kickoff,” Korstange told the Lansing State Journal, prepared for a situation that could arise if Vermontville scored.

“Three of the defensive starters had decided to go deer hunting instead,” said Brooks discussing the shortened game, “so Bellevue needed to call up some kids for the game from the junior varsity squad.”

“Bellevue won its sixth game of the year, downing Vermontville in a sensational goal line stand in the famous ‘22’ Game” at Nashville last Monday,” wrote Brooks in the Bellevue Gazette. “Coach Dave McDowell’s Wildcats ran two plays against Bellevue, but couldn’t dent the solid Bronco defense. On the first play the Wildcats sent big Bob Steward up center, but he was driven back a yard by the entire center of the Bellevue line.”

Following a timeout, the Green and White tried to sneak quarterback Pete Benton across the line to the left of center as the ball carrier on the second play, but the hole was quickly plugged by tackle Donald Rogers and guard Jerry Babbitt. Steward had been stopped by Bellevue guard Wayne Lesser. Dale Spotts, Bob Babbitt, Harold Messenger, Ralph Hales, Dick Moon, Jim Smith, Gordon Smith, and Ed Bessemer filled the other defensive spots and ensured the result of the first game went unchanged.

Once again, the wire services blasted their report from sea to shining sea.

 “Officials Didn’t Rob Vermontville Team” screamed the headline in the Miami Daily News. Beneath an AP photo, residents of the Florida town were treated to a detailed account of the contest.

“Prep Grid Game Ends Same Way Following 11-Day Break” read the caption in the Dallas Morning News in football-crazed Texas.

 “Replayed Grid Game Ends with the Same Result as Before,” read the headline in the Seattle, Washington, Daily Times.

As noted at the time, it certainly wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, that a refereeing crew made a mistake in a game. Fans then, like now, were reminded officials are only human.

Bellevue ended the extended season in a tie for second with Lake Odessa, with 5-2 marks. For the first time in league history the Tri-C gridiron championship was awarded to Olivet, which, at 8-0, posted its first unbeaten season and, as it turned out, unseated Bellevue for the league’s 1953-54 all-sports trophy.

More than 60 years later, a forgotten showdown between high school football teams, played out before national attention in little Nashville, Michigan, still stands as one of the most entertaining and unusual sports moments in the history of America.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top and below) What's believed to be a Battle Creek Enquirer photo shows one of the goal line stands by the Bellevue defense against Vermontville. (Middle) The Lansing State Journal reported on the nationwide reporting of the "22-second game." 

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.)