Drive Complete: 2015 Finals in Review

December 2, 2015

Those who watched the MHSAA Football Finals in person, online or on TV on Fox Sports Detroit probably didn’t leave their seats much over Thanksgiving weekend.

Five of eight 11-player Finals were decided by seven points or fewer. Two more were still in question into the fourth quarter. And if you missed the ends of the Division 2 or Division 5 games, get to the next time you have a few hours to spare.

Second Half covered all nine championship games including the 8-player Final on Nov. 20, with quick recaps and links to those stories below followed by notations of performances entered into the MHSAA record book and a report on some of the biggest and best stories to emerge from the 2015 Finals.

Finals in Review

Division 1: Romeo 41, Detroit Cass Tech 27

Romeo earned its first championship in its first trip to the MHSAA Finals, completing a playoff run that included victories over recent winners Cass Tech, Detroit Catholic Central and Clarkston. Despite a heroic performance by Technicians back-up quarterback Aaron Jackson, the Bulldogs marched for six touchdowns to remain a few steps ahead throughout. Click to read more.

Division 2: Detroit Martin Luther King 40, Lowell 38

For the second time in MHSAA Football Finals history, a game was decided on the final play of regulation – and in this case King’s final-second touchdown earned national buzz. Quarterback Armani Posey put up a record-setting passing performance, capped by a 40-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Corley on the final play that gave the Crusaders their second title. Click to read more.

Division 3: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 29, Chelsea 12

The Eaglets won their second straight Division 3 title, this time over first-time finalist Chelsea. St. Mary’s had two runners each gain more than 100 yards and quarterback Brendan Tabone hooked up with receiver K.J. Hamler for a pair of highlight-reel scoring plays. Click to read more.

Division 4: Zeeland West 40, Flint Powers Catholic 14

The Dux won their fourth MHSAA title over the last decade and second in three seasons with the same rushing attack that has brought them great success throughout the run. West ran for 318 yards and scored four of the game’s first five touchdowns in what would be Powers coach Bob Buckel’s final game (he resigned Monday). Click to read more.

Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic 40, River Rouge 34

Once of the most offense-driven Finals in MHSAA football history ended with West Catholic winning its third straight championship – but not without repeated comeback attempts by River Rouge and near record-setting quarterback Antoine Burgess. The Falcons defeated three top-10 and two honorable mention teams on the way to the title, while River Rouge was playing in its first football championship game. Click to read more.

Division 6: Ithaca 27, Clinton 20

The Yellowjackets finished their fifth perfect season over the last six and earned another championship after falling in last season’s Final to break a 69-game winning streak. Ithaca won this time against an undefeated Clinton team that also had fallen to the Yellowjackets in the 2013 championship game. Ithaca featured 17 seniors, many of whom had played prominent roles in 2014 as well. Click to read more.

Division 7: Ishpeming 22, Pewamo-Westphalia 16

Ishpeming played in its fourth straight Final and won its third title in that time, coming back from last season’s loss led by returning quarterback Ozzy Corp. The 6-foot-5 senior scored three touchdowns, and the Hematites held MHSAA single-season rushing record-holder Jared Smith to a still-impressive 149 yards and a score. Click to read more.

Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central 7, Waterford Our Lady 0

These small-school powers played to a near stalemate to kick off the weekend, with MCC’s touchdown with 10:21 to play the difference in earning the Crusaders their third straight MHSAA championship. MCC’s defense also came up with the first shutout against Our Lady since 2011, slowing down one of the state’s most accomplished passing attacks this fall. Click to read more.

8-Player: Powers North Central 58, Battle Creek St. Philip 33

Undefeated St. Philip played North Central closer than any opponent this season, but the Jets took over during the second quarter on the way to their first MHSAA title in this sport and a 13-0 finish. Junior running back Bobby Kleiman scored six times – five rushing and one receiving – and another junior, quarterback Jason Whitens, capped a season that saw him throw 45 touchdown passes without an interception. Click to read more.

Records Report

A number of team and individual entries have been added to the MHSAA Football Finals record book, found by clicking here. A breakdown:

Detroit King’s Armani Posey set the MHSAA Finals record with 383 yards passing, and River Rouge’s Antoine Burgess ended up second after also breaking the previous record with 354 yards. Posey made the completions list with 19 in 27 attempts and tied the passing touchdowns record with five. Burgess missed setting the total offense yards record by only two, tallying 424 with 70 rushing as well, and Posey’s 403 total yards ranks fifth on that list.

Two more quarterbacks also made record lists. Cass Tech’s Aaron Jackson also completed 19 passes in 27 attempts. Ithaca’s Jake Smith made the total yardage list with 126 rushing and 180 passing for 306 total.

River Rouge receiver Aaron Vinson tied for ninth for receiving yardage, gaining 162 on four receptions.

Lowell kicker George Gonzales joined a host of others by making all five of his extra-point attempts.

River Rouge and Grand Rapids West Catholic combined for 929 total yards, the second-most by two teams combined in an MHSAA Final, and Ishpeming and Zeeland West became two of 22 teams that didn’t punt in a championship game.

North Central’s Bobby Kleiman became the first entry in 8-player for rushing yards (205) and touchdowns (five), and his 337 total yards rank fourth. Teammate Jason Whitens’ 294 total yards were the fifth-most in 8-player Finals history. Kleiman also became the first entry for total touchdowns in a game (six) and easily set the record for points scored with 46. North Central and Battle Creek St. Philip combined for a record 952 total yards.

Muskegon Catholic Central moved up to third with 14 MHSAA Finals appearances, only two fewer than record holders Farmington Hills Harrison and Detroit Catholic Central. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s moved up into a tie for fourth on that list with 13 appearances. MCC also moved into a tie for third with 11 titles, behind Harrison’s 13 and Detroit St. Martin dePorres’ 12.

Stories behind the scores

The Play: Corley’s touchdown will be talked about for years to come – and not just by people who saw it live. An MHSAA video shot on Instagram and then posted on Facebook has reached 179,500 fans and been viewed more than 75,000 times, and the Fox Sports Detroit clip can be watched by clicking here. Corley’s grab gave King its only lead of the game.

Filling the trophy case: Six of eight winners this weekend have made quite a home at Ford Field. Grand Rapids West Catholic and Muskegon Catholic Central both won their third straight championships and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was a repeat winner. Ithaca won its fifth title in six seasons, Ishpeming its third in four years and Zeeland West its second over the last three.

Romeo’s run: Save for a three-point loss to Utica Eisenhower in Week 9, Romeo’s run to its first title was perfect – and regardless, incredibly difficult. First, the Bulldogs downed two-time reigning champion Clarkston (final record 7-3) in the Pre-District, then handed Lapeer (10-1) its only loss. Next was Detroit Catholic Central (9-3), the Division 1 runner-up from 2011-13, followed by undefeated Grand Ledge (12-1). Detroit Cass Tech (11-3) had lost only to King, twice, and was the champion in 2011 and 2012.  

Bringing Mitchell to Detroit: Although St. Ignace’s run ended one win shy of reaching Ford Field, teammate Mitchell Snyder’s memory was everywhere during the Division 8 Final. The Saints, who lost to Muskegon Catholic Central in a Semifinal, had worn stickers on their helmets with the name and number of Snyder, who died in a car crash in October. MCC and Waterford Our Lady both wore the helmet sticks during their game at Ford Field, carrying Snyder’s memory to the final game of the season.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top middle) River Rouge gets revved up in the Ford Field tunnel before entering the field. (Middle) Detroit King poses for a team photo while celebrating its championship. (Below) Powers North Central hoists its first football title trophy. (For more photos and video, click for the MHSAA Instagram feed.)

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.)