4th-Quarter Comeback Caps Season-Long Rally as Lumen Claims 12th Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 26, 2022

DETROIT – Battling back to overcome a slow start was a theme to Jackson Lumen Christi’s football season.

After starting the fall 0-3, Lumen Christi rattled off 10 straight wins to advance to Saturday’s Division 7 championship game. 

So when the Titans faced a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Traverse City St. Francis, there was no panic on the sidelines – just motivation to overcome it.

“Everybody, we just don’t give up,” Lumen Christi running back Derrick Walker said. “We all know the work we put in, and everything we did in the offseason and throughout the season. There were not too many people that believed in us, but we believed in ourselves. I told them that we’re not out of this game until the clock hits zero.”

Walker and his teammates had one more comeback in them, rallying for a 15-12 victory against the Gladiators to claim the school’s 12th Finals title, and first since 2018.

The win avenged one of those three losses from the beginning of the season, as St. Francis topped Lumen Christi 42-35 in Week 2.

“It was so motivating,” Lumen Christi quarterback Joe Lathers said of the early-season loss. “That’s the one thing that we were talking about all week, that we played them and lost to them earlier in the season. Also, we had an 0-3 start and faced so much adversity. A lot of people doubted us.”

The Titans’ Derrick Walker (4) and Conor Smith (99) celebrate Walker’s fourth-quarter touchdown. Being doubted isn’t something Lumen Christi (11-3) has been able to claim often, especially not during the more than 40 years coach Herb Brogan has been in charge. Saturday’s victory was his 395th leading Lumen Christi, compared to 94 losses. It was also his 10th Finals title, breaking a tie for second most by a coach with former Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa. Former Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington holds the record with 13.

“It’s the same as the other nine (titles),” Brogan said. “It’s just great for the kids. Because no matter how many we’ve had before, they haven’t had one. That’s where the focus is at.”

Getting to No. 10 was a grind, not only in navigating the 0-3 start to the season, but in getting anything going against the Gladiators’ defense. 

Lumen Christi had just 64 yards of offense at halftime, as it trailed 12-0. Eventually, though, the Titans began to find some success, specifically on the ground with Lathers. Lumen rushed for 112 yards in the fourth quarter as it mounted its comeback. Lathers had 89 of those fourth-quarter yards, and finished the game with 115 yards on the ground and 99 through the air.

Lathers scored Lumen Christi’s first touchdown on an 18-yard run 50 seconds into the fourth quarter, while Walker scored on a 2-yard run with 7:05 to play. An extra point by Andrew Salazar, and a two-point fumble recovered in the end zone by Conor Smith, ended up making the three-point difference.

“I think one of the things, I think that hurt them, is they’re so good they didn’t have to play many four-quarter games,” Brogan said. “Then you move from the up north environment to indoors and it gets hot like it did, I think they wore down a little bit.”

St. Francis (13-1) would get the ball just once more after Walker’s score, and that drive ended on an interception by Lumen Christi’s Alex Pastoriza. 

Lumen Christi took over with 6:21 left on the clock and ran it all the way down by getting four first downs. The biggest was the first, as Walker converted a 4th-and-1 from the Lumen Christi 46-yard line. 

Britton Hampton (3) makes his move during the kickoff return. “I had confidence that we were going to be able to get it,” Brogan said. “Too many bad things happen when you punt the ball. We struggled with the snap a few times. They came close to blocking the one. I felt good about our chances.”

The play was close, but Walker was sure of it before he hit the ground.

“The line had a great push,” he said. “I knew I had it. I was screaming, ‘Yes sir,’ as I was going down. Great push.”

While Lumen Christi’s offense was getting going, its defense was standing firm. St. Francis gained just 29 yards in the second half, after going for 200 in the first. The Gladiators also barely had the ball, as they ran just 12 second-half plays.

“We won the first half and lost the second half,” St. Francis coach Josh Sellers said. “We didn’t play how we typically play, but a lot of that had to do with the way Jackson Lumen Christi played us today. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for sure, especially because a lot of these guys were in the same position a couple of years ago, and had the intent of righting that runner-up finish with a championship. We just couldn’t get it done today.”

St. Francis built its lead with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second quarter. Joey Donahue had the first with a 1-yard run, while Wyatt Nausadis had the second with a 9-yard run.

Nausadis finished with a team-leading 77 yards rushing. Donahue and Josh Hagelstein each had 13 tackles for the Gladiators, with Hagelstein adding a pair of interceptions. Garrett Hathaway had eight tackles, including four for loss and two sacks.

Smith and Devian Franklin led the Lumen Christi defense with seven tackles apiece.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Lumen Christi quarterback Joe Lathers (12) charges toward the end zone during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division 7 Final. (Middle) The Titans’ Derrick Walker (4) and Conor Smith (99) celebrate Walker’s fourth-quarter touchdown. (Below) Britton Hampton (3) makes his move during the kickoff return. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)