DeLaSalle Hammers Home 1st Title

November 28, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – When his team fell to 3-3 to start October, Warren DeLaSalle football coach Paul Verska said he was the only one who believed the Pilots could still finish this fall at Ford Field. 

And he realized again before last week’s Semifinal against Southfield that his “loosey-goosey goofball group” was more than prepared for championship game pressure as his four captains danced to M.C. Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” in the snow.

The final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter were not always kind to DeLaSalle this season; all three losses, over three straight weeks, came by seven or fewer points as their opponents took the lead during the final half-minute. 

“That kinda strengthened us as a team. We said we’ve pretty much got to go out and get it and not leave it behind the last 30 seconds or a minute,” Pilots senior quarterback Joey Garbarino said. “Me and the captains, pretty much the whole team, pretty much everyone knew. We knew what we could do.”

Over the last five weeks, DeLaSalle showed everyone else – and finished by earning the school’s first MHSAA football championship with a 44-8 win over Muskegon Mona Shores that probably still surprised plenty despite the Pilots’ recent body of work. 

DeLaSalle (10-3) gave up only 9.9 points per game during its closing eight-game winning streak and avenged one of those losses by eliminating reigning three-time champion Birmingham Brother Rice in the Regional Final. 

Mona Shores (12-2) averaged 39.5 points per game entering Friday and had run for more than 3,000 yards. But the Sailors managed only 99 on the ground and 201 total and didn’t score until the final four minutes of the third quarter. 

“I told our kids when we got here that it isn’t how many Ws you have, but who you play,” Verska said. “I said we have a tough schedule, and I know we’re physical. And I knew deep down in my heart we could be more physical than them. I knew they had some great athletes, but I thought if we pounded on them, pounded on them, pounded on them, they wouldn’t go four quarters with us toe to toe.”

The quarterback conversation this week focused on Mona Shores senior Tyree Jackson. The four-year starter carried the Sailors to their first playoff game last season and through most of this school-record postseason run, but watched the end of the team’s 25-24 Semifinal win over Farmington Hills Harrison from the sideline on crutches after sustaining an injury. A University of Buffalo recruit, Jackson threw 24 touchdown passes and ran for 14 scores this season. 

Garbarino hasn’t had nearly that buzz although he’s been plenty solid in succeeding a pair of quarterbacks now playing in the Big 10 – University of Michigan’s Shane Morris and Rutgers University’s Giovanni Rescigno.

Garbarino’s numbers this season were solid – 11 touchdowns passing, 10 rushing and just under 1,700 yards combined – but he saved the spectacular for Friday rushing 18 times for 85 yards and two scores and completing all seven of his passes for 89 yards and another score. 

“We call the plays in the huddle, and he tells them to man up and let’s go; we’re going to get the three, four, five, six yards, whatever it is,” Verska said. “If I wanted an H-back or a fullback or tight end, this would be my guy. If I wanted a linebacker, this would be my guy. But he sacrificed for the team and played quarterback, and it’s like another fullback running with the ball when he gets it.”

DeLaSalle’s primary back was excellent Friday as well. Sophomore Allen Stritzinger ran for 175 yards on 18 carries, including a 56-yard scoring burst just more than four minutes into the second quarter that helped the Pilots build a 20-0 lead. 

Senior Jake Townsley – also a standout goalkeeper on the District finalist soccer team – set an MHSAA Finals record with three field goals, from 41, 23 and 29 yards. Senior Alex Spicuzzi caught only one pass – but it was for a score. Junior linebacker Eric Rogers and senior defensive back Cooper Gammon had nine and eight tackles, respectively, as Mona Shores didn’t get past the Pilots’ 44-yard line until that scoring drive midway through the third quarter.

Jackson wouldn't say how much his injury limited him in the Final, but he battled on despite not being at 100 percent. He did complete 17 of 27 passes for 102 yards but ran for just 14. Senior running back DeOntay Moffett ran for 85 yards, but the Sailors didn’t hold onto the ball for more than 2½ minutes during a possession until, again, that scoring drive when they trailed 30-0. 

They also played without junior Hunter Broersma, a starter at receiver and defensive back who was ill and unable to suit up. Junior Tyler Trovinger, the back-up quarterback and a starting defensive back, did play despite also being injured last week and caught the lone scoring pass and made 10 tackles. Junior linebacker Dominique Shermeta had 12 tackles. 

“The coaching staff got here four years ago, and we had 66 kids in the program (grades) 9-12,” said Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak, who previously coached multiple levels at Muskegon High. “We go 1-8 the first year, and the kids easily could have been, ‘This is the same old thing.’ But they saw something and were able to work for something.

“I’ve been part of three state championships at Muskegon in one way or another … and this has been my favorite season. I’ll never forget these guys, ever.” 

DeLaSalle had made the Finals twice before, finishing runner-up in 2006 and 2008.

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) DeLaSalle running back Allen Stritzinger pushes ahead for yards as Mona Shores’ Austin Wingett (8) and Kentrell Eason (20) pursue. (Middle) Sailors quarterback Tyree Jackson prepares to unload a pass Friday. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


STRITZING GOES THE DISTANCE - Allen Stritzing rushed for 175 yards for Warren DeLaSalle in the Division 2 Final, 56 of it coming on this second quarter TD run.
Muskegon Mona Shores got on the scoreboard in the third quarter on this 12-yard pass from Tyree Jackson to Tyler Trovinger.

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Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)