Drive for Detroit: Playoff R1 in Review

October 31, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Arguably the greatest comeback season in MHSAA football history came to an end during the first round of the playoffs this weekend. 

But although Breckenridge's turnaround celebration is over, courtesy of Saginaw Nouvel, there are plenty of others that extended rebound runs for at least another week. 

Redford Union, Adrian, Kent City and Norway are just a few which have experienced similar climbs this fall. Read about their latest steps and many more from the first week as we look at some of the most intriguing results from all nine divisions. 

Division 1

Rockford 24, Hudsonville 7

The Rams (7-3) avenged their Week 9 loss to Hudsonville that cost Rockford the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title outright and awarded the Eagles (8-2) a share. Rockford now plays Grandville – the third team to earn a share of the league title with the Week 9 result – in a District Final this week. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

West Bloomfield 31, Bloomfield Hills 14 – The Lakers (6-4) just made the playoffs with an at-large bid but ended a dream season for Bloomfield Hills (9-1), which was undefeated during the regular season after going 1-8 in 2015.

Southfield Arts & Technology 24, Warren Mott 23 – The first-year Warriors (7-3) have added a first playoff win to a shared Oakland Activities Association Red title, while ending Mott’s best season in the last three at 7-3.

Clarkston 45, Lapeer 21 – The Wolves beat Lapeer 28-7 in Week 1 at Michigan Stadium and ended up responsible for two of three losses for the Lightning (7-3) this fall. 

Detroit Cass Tech 35, Dearborn Fordson 7 – These teams had one loss between them coming in, but Cass Tech (10-0) will play for a seventh straight District title after handing Fordson (8-2) its second loss in three weeks. 

Division 2

Traverse City Central 13, Traverse City West 12

A pair of field goals and the go-ahead extra point by Central kicker Gabe Pickett were difference makers as West wasn’t able to succeed in similar circumstances in the first playoff matchup ever between these rivals. The Trojans (9-1) scored their lone touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to add this victory to a 10-8 win over West (6-4) in Week 3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Also noted:

Fenton 49, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 19 – The Flint Metro League champ Tigers (8-2) won this matchup of title winners over the Saginaw Valley League Blue champ Cavaliers (6-4).

Oak Park 26, Detroit U-D Jesuit 17 – The Knights (7-3) bounced back from a Week 9 loss to hand the Cubs (6-3) their second defeat in three weeks.

Pinckney 28, Walled Lake Northern 17 – The Pirates (8-2) downed Northern (6-4) for the second straight week, this time to guarantee their best record since 1989.

Birmingham Brother Rice 35, Warren Cousino 16 – The Warriors (7-3) won their fourth straight and second in three weeks over a league champion, but the Patriots (8-2) can celebrate their best record since 2007 to go with the Macomb Area Conference Blue title.

Division 3

Redford Union 41, Warren Fitzgerald 34

This continues to be a banner season for Redford Union (7-3), which has its most wins since 2005, made its first playoff appearance since 2006, and now has its first playoff win in program history. Union scored the winning points with less than two minutes to play to add to its first winning season since 2007. Fitzgerald finished 8-2, its best record since 2008, and with its only other loss by two points to Madison Heights Madison in Week 7. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Also noted:

Coldwater 35, Battle Creek Harper Creek 14 – Harper Creek (7-3) may have won a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title, but in the end third-place league finisher Coldwater (8-2) took two games off the Beavers and will play for a District title.

Mason 35, Fowlerville 28 – What was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs (9-1) has turned into its most successful since 2011, while Fowlerville (7-3) enjoyed its best record since 2009.

Romulus 40, Trenton 14 – The Eagles (9-1) have made the playoffs three straight seasons, but this was their first playoff win since 1999; Trenton ended its third straight playoff season at 6-4.

Grand Rapids Christian 35, Zeeland West 32 – This was the kind of finish expected from traditional west side powers, with the Eagles (9-1) winning a ninth game for the first time since 2012 and West (7-3) suffering its earliest season end since not qualifying for the postseason in 2009.  

Division 4

Marysville 46, St. Clair Shores South Lake 38

The Vikings (10-0) are enjoying their first double-digit wins season since 2000, but will continue to face also-undefeated Detroit Country Day this weekend only because they survived the pesky Cavaliers. South Lake (7-3), which claimed a share of the MAC Silver title this fall, stayed close throughout – but the MAC Gold champions hung on to earn a second District title game berth in three seasons. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Also noted:

Escanaba 48, Whitehall 27 – The Eskymos (8-2) earned their first playoff win, since 2011 to give them eight total for the first time since 2009, while leaving Whitehall at 6-4 for the second straight season.  

Allendale 35, Wyoming Kelloggsville 19 – The Falcons (8-2) have enjoyed a momentous two weeks, first earning a share of the O-K Blue title with a Week 9 win and this weekend downing O-K Silver champion Kelloggsville (8-2).

Flint Powers Catholic 20, Lake Fenton 19 – Powers (6-4) scored during the final seconds to move on to a third straight District Final and end Genesee Area Conference Red champion Lake Fenton’s season at 8-2, its best record since 2013.

Adrian 27, Grosse Ile 20 (OT) – The Maples (6-4) have enjoyed one of the state’s best rebound seasons as well, with this playoff victory adding to their first winning season since 2011;  Grosse Ile also bounced back from 4-5 a year ago to finish 8-2, their best since 2012. 

Division 5

Almont 28, Richmond 27

The upset of the week statewide arguably came in this Blue Water Area Conference rematch, as the Raiders avenged a 34-21 Week 6 loss to the champion Blue Devils. Almont (7-3) has advanced to a District Final three years in a row and now will face Algonac, the BWAC runner-up which beat the Raiders 14-7 in Week 2. Richmond (8-2) hadn’t lost since falling to Marysville on opening night. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Also noted:

Remus Chippewa Hills 32, Clare 27 – The Warriors (9-1) made their third straight District Final (and earned a rematch with rival Reed City) by edging the Jack Pine Conference champion Pioneers (8-2).

Grand Rapids West Catholic 28, Lansing Catholic 6 – The reigning Division 5 champion Falcons (8-2) are on the road to start this playoffs, but didn’t seem to mind traveling to down Lansing Catholic (8-2) for the fourth straight postseason.

Dowagiac 28, Buchanan 25 – The Chieftains (7-3) guaranteed their best record since 2013 and will play for their first District title since 2011 after handing Buchanan (5-4) its second loss in three weeks.

Southfield Bradford 38, Brooklyn Columbia Central 33 – In their first playoff game ever, the Bulldogs (8-2) earned their first postseason win as well, ending the Golden Eagles’ second straight playoff run at 7-3. 

Division 6

Kent City 20, Montague 19

The Eagles’ turnaround season just keeps getting better as well. They’ve gone from 1-8 in 2015 to 8-2 with their first playoff berth and win since 2001 after also clinching a shared Central State Activities Association Silver championship. Montague (7-3) ended its season with three losses by a combined 12 points after finishing second in the West Michigan Conference. Click for more from the Local Sports Journal.

Also noted:

Calumet 42, Boyne City 8 – The Copper Kings (9-1) added a ninth win for the first time since 2009 by holding Boyne City (6-4) to only 159 yards.

Montrose 52, Laingsburg 21 – The Rams (7-3) secured their most wins since 2013 by earning their fourth straight while handing Laingsburg (8-2) only its second defeat.

Napoleon 25, Michigan Center 24 – The Pirates stayed alive in their first playoff run since 2005 by edging Michigan Center (6-4) for their first playoff win since 2000.

Detroit Central Collegiate 12, Byron 7 – The Trail Blazers have bounced back from a 1-4 start to move to 6-4 for the fourth time in five seasons; Byron finished its fifth playoff season over the last six at 7-3. 

Division 7

Gobles 50, Lawton 12

Count Gobles among the handful that have battled back from a regular-season loss to claim a playoff rematch. The Tigers (8-2) had fallen to Lawton 31-21 in Week 5 and actually had dropped four straight to the Blue Devils (8-2). Gobles now will play for its first District title since 2005.

Also noted:

Iron Mountain 46, Gwinn 32 – The Mountaineers (8-2) continued their best season since 2011 by ending the best for Gwinn (6-4) since 1999.

Unionville-Sebewaing 18, Cass City 14 – The Patriots have built from 1-8 in 2014 to 5-5 last fall and now 9-1 after defeating Cass City (6-4) for the second time this season by four or fewer points.

Concord 21, Springport 14 – A Week 6 loss to Springport cost Concord (8-2) the outright Big 8 Conference title, but this avenging ended the Spartans’ best season since 2011 at 7-3.

Detroit Loyola 45, Madison Heights Madison 12 – The Bulldogs (8-2) firmed up further their status as favorite on their side of the Division 7 bracket by eliminating the MAC Silver co-champ Eagles (6-4). 

Division 8

Saginaw Nouvel 21, Breckenridge 6

The greatest turnaround in MHSAA playoff era history came to an end with Nouvel’s ousting of Breckenridge, which finished 9-1 and was undefeated during the regular season after not winning a game in 2015. No team dating to at least the first playoff season of 1975 had accomplished a winless-to-undefeated turnaround. The Panthers (7-3) held the Huskies to their fewest points this fall. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

Royal Oak Shrine 21, Fowler 14 – Shrine (8-2) earned a chance at its first District title since 2008 by handing Fowler (6-4) its first playoff-opening loss since 2010.

Clarkston Everest Collegiate 22, Waterford Our Lady 21 – Everest (8-2) set a program record for wins by avenging a three-point Week 6 loss to Our Lady (6-4).

Newberry 16, Gaylord St. Mary 14 – The Indians (8-2) held on for their first playoff win since 2004, ending St Mary’s first playoff season since 2009 at 6-4.

Norway 15, Iron River West Iron County 14 – The Knights (8-2) continued to put last year’s 2-7 into distant memory with their first playoff win since 2006.


Engadine 38, Cedarville 30 (OT)

Their Week 7 meeting – a 52-42 Engadine win – was one of the top 8-player games statewide this season. So it made sense they’d follow with a classic. Engadine moved to 10-0 for the first time as an 11 or 8-player program after trailing by 14 points during the fourth quarter, and the Eagles also are now 3-1 against Cedarville (6-4) in playoff games over the last six seasons. Click for more from 9&10 News.

Also noted:

Portland St. Patrick 34, Camden-Frontier 28 – The Shamrocks (10-0) have won only two games by single digits this season, and becoming the latest opponent to make that push was not a bad way for Camden-Frontier (8-2) to end its first season of 8-player.

New Haven Merritt 52, Owendale-Gagetown 14 – Merritt (10-0) continued the best season of its five-year history with its first playoff win; the Mustangs handed Owendale-Gagetown (8-2) both of its losses this fall.

PHOTO: Pinckney defenders close in on a Walled Lake Northern ball carrier during Friday's Pirates win. (Photo by John Johnson.) 

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.)