Drive for Detroit: 11-Player Semis Preview

November 22, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The "Drive for Detroit" will take one last turn this weekend on the way to the final destination for 16 teams fortunate enough to finish this fall at Ford Field. 

This season's Semifinal field is a mix of teams that have made this trip plenty of times in the past – along with a few traveling this path for the first time, or the first time in a long while.

We're expecting great weather across most of the state, so find a seat in the bleachers and root on your favorite team. But if you’d rather watch from the comforts of home, this weekend we again will have all 16 Semifinals available, either on or (Click for the full schedule.)

All games are 1 p.m. Saturday unless noted. “Drive for Detroit” is powered by MI Student Aid

Division 1

Belleville (12-0) vs. Brighton (10-2) at Howell High School

For the second straight season, Belleville is one more win from reaching the Finals for the first time. Junior quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid (2,706 yards/33 TDs passing) has led a return Semifinal march that’s seen the Tigers go unbeaten since falling in last year’s Semifinal to eventual champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley. Brighton also is playing to reach its first championship game in this sport and also follows a dynamic quarterback in senior Colby Newburg (1,140 yards/17 TDs rushing, 1,319 yards/17 TDs passing).

Davison (10-2) vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson (8-4) at Troy Athens

The Cardinals are playing in their fifth Semifinal and for their first trip to a championship game. Davison is riding the arm of another quarterback getting a lot of attention – junior Brendan Sullivan has thrown for 2,635 yards and 31 touchdowns and run for eight more scores. Stevenson will be the third team from the vaunted Macomb Area Conference Red to see Davison this playoffs. The Titans are one of the state’s best comeback stories coming off three straight sub-.500 seasons. They have a number of versatile weapons, among them senior running back Nick Wingfield (1,018 yards/15 TDs rushing), as they seek their first Finals trip since 2009.

Division 2

Walled Lake Western (11-1) vs. Muskegon Mona Shores (10-2) at Okemos

The Warriors are a Week 3 three-point loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s from undefeated this fall as they seek their second trip to Ford Field in four seasons. Quarterback Zach Trainor (2,685 yards/32 TDs passing) to receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (1,443 yards/18 TDs receiving) has been one of the state’s top scoring combinations. Mona Shores will need to slow Western down to return to Ford Field after finishing Division 2 runner-up a year ago. The Sailors will counter with an attack led by running back Tre Hatcher (1,257 yards/12 TDs rushing) and veteran quarterback Caden Broersma (406 yards/10 TDs rushing, 908 yards/11 TDs passing).

Detroit Martin Luther King (10-2) vs. Birmingham Seaholm (9-3) at Novi, 3 p.m.

Despite moving back to Division 2 after winning Division 3 a year ago, King will play in its fifth straight Semifinal and is riding a 10-game winning streak after early losses to Detroit Catholic Central and Muskegon. Freshman Dante Moore (2,240 yards/30 TDs) has more than fulfilled preseason media build-up, and senior Peny Boone (903 yards/15 touchdowns) is regarded as one of the top backs in the state. Seaholm is seeking its first championship game berth and playing its first Semifinal since 1997. Chaz Strecker has carried the load with 1,493 yards and 20 touchdowns for a Maples team approaching nearly 4,000 yards on the ground.  

Division 3

Muskegon (12-0) vs. DeWitt (10-2) at East Kentwood

Muskegon has appeared on a mission since falling to King in last season’s Division 3 Final, and senior quarterback Cameron Martinez (1,735 yards/32 TDs rushing, 1,122 yards/10 TDs passing) again has led the charge. The only team to come within 20 points of the Big Reds this season was East Grand Rapids in Week 3, and Muskegon won the rematch last week 49-10. But DeWitt as a program has more experience at this level of the playoffs than most in the state, and the Panthers are coming off a 35-14 win over Edwardsburg that ended the reigning Division 4 champion’s winning streak at 25. The Panthers haven’t given up more than 15 points in a game since Week 5, and senior quarterback Andrew Schorfaar leads the team both in passing (1,458 yards/18 TDs) and rushing (1,058/14).

Chelsea (12-0) vs. River Rouge (11-1) at Dearborn

Chelsea has advanced to MHSAA Finals in both Divisions 3 and 4 over the last five years. The Bulldogs have won three games by seven points or fewer this playoffs to come within another victory of a second-straight trip to Ford Field after finishing Division 4 runners-up a year ago. A steady defense gives up just more than 12 points per game, while running back Brennan Van Riper (952 yards/13 TDs rushing) is among a number of offensive options. Rouge has won 11 straight since falling by three in its opener to Division 4 contender Grand Rapids Catholic Central and will play in its fourth Semifinal in five years. Running back Deandre Bulley (1,820 yards/20 TDs) has been tough to bring down at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, and quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski has reached 1,000 yards both rushing and passing. Meanwhile, the defense is giving up just 8.3 points per game.

Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (9-3) at Jenison

The Cougars are playing in their fourth-straight Semifinal and seeking their third championship game trip during this string after missing out last year with a two-point loss to Edwardsburg. GRCC is unbeaten in-state this fall, with its lone loss to a team from Illinois. Quarterback Joey Silveri drives the offense, throwing for 2,491 yards and 31 touchdowns and running for 704 yards and 13 scores. But Unity Christian has plenty of experience at this level too coming off last season’s Division 5 championship. Running back Malekhi Obande is averaging nearly 10 yards per carry (1,311 total, with 14 TDs rushing), and like GRCC the Crusaders won their first three playoff games all by at least three touchdowns.

Detroit Country Day (12-0) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (10-2) at Howell Parker Middle School

The Yellowjackets are playing in their fourth Semifinal in six seasons and advanced after handing Milan its only loss this season last week. The defense shined again, giving up just six points, which actually upped its average to 5.6 points given up per game. On the other side of the ball, running back Anthony Ammori (822 yards/14 TDs) leads a rushing attack that’s gained more than 2,200 yards. Powers’ defense during the regular season against much larger opponents in the Saginaw Valley League Blue didn’t stand out, but during the playoffs the Chargers have given up only 28 points over three games. Quarterback Luke Phillpotts has run and passed both for more than 700 yards to lead the team in both categories.

Division 5

Kingsley (12-0) vs. Lansing Catholic (11-1) at Greenville

Kingsley has won all of its games by double digits including in Week 7 against Division 6 semifinalist Maple City Glen Lake, and eliminated unbeaten Muskegon Oakridge in a 17-point win two weeks ago. Running backs Ayden Mullin (1,451 yards/21 TDs rushing) and Owen Graves (713 yards/12 TDs) are both averaging more than nine yards per carry as the team works toward making the Finals for the first time since 2005. But Lansing Catholic, now free of rival Portland after falling to the Raiders the last two District Finals, is aiming for its first Ford Field trip since 2014 with its most productive offense since that season. Quarterback Zach Gillespie has thrown for 2,247 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for another 18 scores.

Almont (12-0) vs. Detroit Denby (10-2) at Walled Lake Central

The Raiders have put together a 22-1 run over the last two seasons as they seek their first trip to the Finals. Almont long has been known for defense, and this year’s unit is giving up just 10 points per game. But the offense has reached 500 points for the first time since 2014 with four rushers gaining at least 500 yards and quarterback Josh Hellebuyck providing a nice complement with 1,194 yards and 22 TDs through the air. Denby also is seeking its first Finals berth, while playing in its first Semifinal, and has lost this season to only King, twice. The Tars have given up only 97 points this season – and subtract the King losses, they are allowing only 3.8 points per game.

Division 6

Maple City Glen Lake (11-1) vs. Montague (10-2) at Clare

Glen Lake’s only defeat this season was to Kingsley, as noted above, and the Lakers are seeking their second trip to Ford Field in four years. After dominating most of the regular season, Glen Lake has won close the last three weeks – with that experience possibly paying off in what’s sure to be a challenging matchup with last season’s Division 6 runner-up. Quarterback Reece Hazelton towers over most defenders at 6-6 and has thrown for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns, with Jonathan Wright adding 1,112 yards and 17 scores on the ground for the Lakers. Montague quarterback Drew Collins started during last season’s run and is starring with 2,354 yards and 27 TDs passing and 663 yards and 14 scores rushing.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) vs. Onsted (10-2) at Ypsilanti Lincoln

The Falcons opened this decade with three Semifinal appearances over the first five years, and will close with one more thanks in part to a defense that hasn’t given up more than 16 points since Week 3. St. Mary also has scored its most points since its championship season of 2014 despite playing one fewer game so far than the last two years (because of an open date). Alex Morgan leads that effort with 1,571 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing. Onsted has made its first Semifinal since 1993 by avenging losses to Blissfield and formerly-undefeated Hillsdale during the playoffs. The Wildcats finished only 3-6 a year ago but have rebounded in part because of a ground attack featuring two 1,000-yard rushers, Travis Hill (1,312 yards/14 TDs) and Rourke Barth (1,025/16).

Division 7

Iron Mountain (12-0) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (12-0) at the Superior Dome, 7 p.m. Friday

Pewamo-Westphalia will see its second-straight undefeated opponent after handing the first and only loss of the season last week to reigning champion New Lothrop. Iron Mountain won a league that sent four teams total to the playoffs and also has won all of its playoff games by at least two scores. Caleb Evosivich-Hynes is the team’s leading rusher (1,289 yards/12 TDs) and receiver (435/8), catching passes from quarterback and also basketball standout Marcus Johnson (1,037 yards/14 TDs passing). The Pirates got up big on New Lothrop before holding off the Hornets down the stretch to win by a point 36-35, but otherwise P-W has locked down all of its opponents, giving up only 56 points on the season. Expect to see the ball often in running back Tanner Wirth’s hands, as he has run for nearly 10 yards per carry and 1,499 and 24 touchdowns overall.

Jackson Lumen Christi (11-0) vs. Cass City (11-1) at Novi, 11 a.m.

The Titans have won 24 straight games and the last three Division 6 championships, and they impressed in a major test last week holding off Schoolcraft 35-30. It’s hardly a surprise that Lumen Christi runs the ball well – the latest in its string of star runners is Walker Plate, who has rushed for 2,279 yards and 31 touchdowns. Cass City is playing in its first Semifinal boasting a defense that has given up only 52 points all year – and just two over three playoff games. The Red Hawks have given up more than eight points only once, in a two-point opening-night loss to Montrose.

Division 8

Beal City (11-1) vs. Ubly (10-2) at Mount Pleasant

Both of these teams have reached the Semifinals previously this decade, Beal City most recently in 2014 and Ubly in 2016. Both also bounced back from late losses this time to make their runs – Beal City against McBain and Ubly to Cass City (see Division 7 above). Beal City has gained more than 3,200 yards this season showing impressive balance with no one rushing for more than 750 or throwing for more than 450. Ubly has four backs with at least 600 yards rushing, but the main ball carrier for an offense with nearly 4,300 yards total is Carson Heleski (1,447 yards/19 TDs rushing).

Reading (11-1) vs. Fowler (11-1) at Battle Creek Harper Creek

There are a lot of similarities in how these two small-school powers conduct business on the field. Fowler, in its first Semifinal since reaching the Division 8 championship game in 2011, has for decades been known for its powerful running. This season that’s come in the forms of Kyle Snyder (1,481 yards/21 TDs rushing) and Caiden Pung (1,222 yards/21 TDs). Reading rode the same to last season’s Division 8 title and is back in the hunt led by Hunter Midtgard (1,212 yards/15 TDs) among others running behind 6-3, 307-pound Nick Affholter. The key may be who stops whom; the Rangers have given up only 79 points, and the Eagles only 137.

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Beal City's Logan Chilman (10) breaks away from an Ishpeming's Dawson Delongchamp  during last weekend's Division 8 Regional Final win. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

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.)