Drive for Detroit: District Finals in Review

November 12, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

There will be at least four new MHSAA football champions when this season ends later this month in Greenville and then Detroit.

One opportunity was an opening of circumstance, as reigning Division 8 champ Harbor Beach moved into Division 7 for this season's playoffs. But reigning Division 3 winner Grand Rapids Christian lost this weekend in a District Final, joining Division 5 Portland and 8-player Deckerville among teams whose drives to defend have come to an end.

Three weeks remain in the 11-player season, with four 8-player Regional champions meeting this week to decide who will face off in the championship game Nov. 22 at Legacy Field. 

Read on for some of the most intriguing results of last week's action as the field was whittled to 68 teams still alive.

Division 1 

Hudsonville 19, Rockford 14

Hudsonville (8-3) was one of the state’s most successful programs last decade, but this is its first season with a winning record since 2008. The recent struggle coincided in part with six straight losses to Rockford (9-2) – including a 28-19 regular-season defeat this fall in Week 6. But this District title leaves the Eagles as best in Division 1 from the always-strong west side of the state. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted: 

Detroit Cass Tech 28, Warren Mott 19: The reigning champ Technicians (11-0) kept rolling in handing Mott (10-1) its first and only defeat.

Temperance Bedford 36, Saline 29: Bedford (11-0) also beat Saline (9-2) by 16 points in Week 5 in the game that eventually decided the Southeastern Conference Red title. 

Detroit Catholic Central 37, Walled Lake Western 27: The Shamrocks (9-2) earned their fifth straight District title, while ending a streak of two straight for Western (9-2).

Division 2

Muskegon 28, Lowell 21

Big Reds quarterback Deshaun Thrower had to gut out the last few minutes after suffering a slight injury, but to that point he’d thrown for two touchdowns and run for a third as Muskegon (10-1) avenged a Week 4 loss to the Red Arrows (10-1) to claim a second straight District title. The victory also evened the recent playoff series between the two at 3-3 over the last six seasons. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle

Also noted:

Detroit Martin Luther King 28, Detroit East English 20: Only a few more points separated these two than when King (9-1) also edged East English (7-4) by six in Week 2.

Detroit U-D Jesuit 14, Oak Park 8: The Cubs (7-4) continued their comeback season with a first District title since 2001, while Oak Park (6-5) also can celebrate making it this far for the second straight season.

Portage Central 40, Battle Creek Lakeview 7: This matchup of Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference champions didn’t end up close, with West winner Portage Central (11-0) getting out front big and Lakeview (10-1) never able to catch up.  

Division 3

Zeeland West 48, Grand Rapids Christian 35

So ended the title defense of reigning champion Grand Rapids Christian, which did finish 8-3 despite graduating a large group of standouts from last season’s team and not having superstar receiver Drake Harris all season because of an injury. Zeeland West (10-1) – the Division 4 champion only two seasons ago – now looks like a favorite to emerge from this side of the bracket. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Stevensville Lakeshore 31, St. Joseph 21: Usually-powerful Lakeshore (8-3) was something of an afterthought after finishing fourth in the SMAC West, but no longer after taking down league runner-up St. Joseph (9-2) despite losing by 12 to the Bears in Week 3. 

Melvindale 35, Milan 31: Melvindale (9-2) has bounced back from two straight losing seasons to post its best record since 2009, and its best win likely was this first loss for Milan (10-1).

Eaton Rapids 24, Tecumseh 20: Eaton Rapids’ first-ever playoff run has grown to three weeks, thanks to the Greyhounds (7-4) winning a bit of a shocker over Tecumseh (8-3).  

Division 4

Detroit Country Day 49, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 27 

Country Day (8-3) won close over Notre Dame Prep on the way to Ford Field in 2012, and came up big this time to run its 2013 winning streak to eight. The Yellowjackets have three high-major Division I college prospects on offense, and they continued to shine while ending another solid run for Notre Dame (8-3). Click to read more from the Oakland Press.

Also noted:

Marine City 35, Richmond 21: Richmond (9-2) won the Blue Water Area Conference while Marine City (10-1) finished second in the Macomb Area Conference Gold – but the postseason is the Mariners’ time, and they won a 10th game for the 13th time in 15 seasons. 

Battle Creek Pennfield 35, Dowagiac 21: Coming off an upset win the week before, Dowagiac (7-4) couldn’t knock off another league champion in Kalamazoo Valley Association power Pennfield (10-1).

Cadillac 35, Ogemaw Heights 27: Ogemaw Heights (7-4) made this much closer than the teams’ Week 5 meeting, but couldn’t catch the Big North Conference champion Vikings (11-0).

Division 5

Muskegon Oakridge 22, Reed City 20 

Oakridge (10-1) is back in the Regional Final for the first time since 2010 after holding off a late charge and stopping a two-point conversion attempt that would’ve tied the score. It was another in a heartbreaking string, however, for Reed City (10-1), which came into the District Final undefeated for the third straight season, but fell short of claiming its first District title by less than a field goal for the second consecutive year. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Also noted:

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 44, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 40: The Huron League runner-up Falcons (10-1) won their first District title in six seasons while keeping Gabriel Richard (8-3) from winning its third in four years.

Millington 33, Frankenmuth 29: The Tri-Valley Conference East rivals met in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, with the Cardinals (9-2) catching the league champion Eagles (9-2) at the end to split the season series and move on.

Livonia Clarenceville 31, Detroit University Prep 22: Clarenceville (10-0) is a District champion and undefeated this late for the first time since 2001, when it reached the Silverdome; University Prep ended its longest run ever at 8-3.  

Division 6 

Montrose 20, Saginaw Nouvel 6

Montrose vs. Madison Heights Madison has been one of the most anticipated potential Regional Finals in this playoffs, and Montrose took care of its end by jumping to a 20-0 lead and hanging strong on defense in this District Final. The win gave the Rams (11-0) their third District title in four seasons, while dropping a strong Nouvel team to 9-2. Click to read more from the Flint Journal.

Also noted: 

Madison Heights Madison 27, Flint Beecher 20: Madison (11-0) nearly missed out on the big Regional matchup thanks to a solid Beecher team that ended 8-3 and won eight games for the fourth time in seven seasons.

Schoolcraft 28, Watervliet 26: Like last week, the KVA continued to look strong with co-champion Schoolcraft (10-1) eliminating Southwestern Athletic Conference South champion Watervliet (10-1).

Clinton 39, Grass Lake 14: Clinton (11-0) is 20-1 over the last two seasons and has yet to allow an opponent within single digits this fall, including Cascades Conference co-champion Grass Lake (9-2). 

Division 7 

Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Carson City-Crystal 14

The best season in Carson City-Crystal history ended thanks to a late comeback by P-W (10-1), which won its third straight District title. The Eagles, who won 10 games for the first time and entered this one undefeated, did drive into Pirates territory late but fell short as time expired. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 34, Iron River West Iron County 0: The reigning champion Hematites (11-0) never let this matchup of undefeated teams turn into much of a game; West Iron finished 10-1.

Southfield Christian 28, Madison Heights Bishop Foley 24: Southfield Christian (10-1) extended the best season of its eight-year history with its closest victory this fall; Bishop Foley, at 7-4, did end with its best record since 2006.

Lake City 56, Lincoln Alcona 14: Lake City’s lone loss to Beal City continues to become a distant memory as the Trojans (10-1) pile up wins like this one over previously-undefeated Lincoln Alcona (10-1).

Division 8

Mendon 13, Climax-Scotts 0 

It’s an unfortunate circumstance of geography that these two always meet before the final rounds of the playoffs – Mendon (11-0) eliminated Climax-Scotts (9-2) for the third straight season, and the latter’s only other loss was to a team that generally makes the playoffs in Division 5 (Flint Powers). Make that now 526-19 in favor of Mendon over its combined opponents this season. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

New Lothrop 41, Waterford Our Lady 28: The Hornets (11-0) have piled up four straight seasons of double figure wins and have yet to allow an opponent to come within single digits, including Catholic League Intersectional champion Our Lady (8-3). 

Crystal Falls Forest Park 16, L’Anse 9: The dream of returning to Ford Field nearly ended as a nightmare for Forest Park (11-0) as it just edged the Purple Hornets (8-3).

St. Ignace 20, Johannesburg-Lewiston 14: The Saints (9-2) battled through to earn a rematch from last season’s Semifinal against Beal City; Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-3) did finish its third season in four with at least eight wins.

8-Player (Regional Finals)

Lawrence 58, Battle Creek St. Philip 28

Only two weeks ago St. Philip beat Lawrence 54-50, but Lawrence (8-2) obviously learned quickly from that day’s mistakes – just as it has all season in its first as an 8-player program. St. Philip finished only its second season of 8-player, but with its best record, 10-1, since 1985. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

Peck 31, Carsonville-Port Sanilac 7: Peck (11-0) scored its second-fewest points of the season but also turned in one of its best defensive performances of the fall in holding the Tigers (7-4) to their second-fewest points as well.

Kinde-North Huron 64, Owendale-Gagetown 22: North Huron (8-3) advanced to its first football Semifinal in any division while ending Owendale-Gagetown’s best season since 1979 at 9-2.

Rapid River 50, Engadine 21: Engadine (6-5) got hot at the end of the regular season, but Rapid River (11-0) has one of the most impressive resumes of any team left in any division. 

PHOTO: A trio of Montrose defenders brings down a Saginaw Nouvel ballcarrier during last weekend's District Final win. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)