Drive for Detroit: Playoff R2 Preview

November 3, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It's predictable perhaps – and yet still intriguing – how the MHSAA Football Playoffs just a week into the five-week run.

Of 38 teams selected for at-large bids to the 256-team 11-player field, only seven remain. 

Of 36 undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, including six in 8-player, 34 are still alive.

At least for now. Two matchups of undefeated opponents are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview – powered by MI Student Aid. See those below, and remember to tune in to for all of this weekend's matchups, scores and next week's matchups as they're determined. All games below are Friday unless noted.

Division 1

Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (10-0)

It’s been four years since these M-15 powers faced off. Clarkston has enjoyed the success since that last matchup, winning Division 1 back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and now stands in the way of Davison extending its first 10-win season since 2006. Junior Tariq Reid has run for 2,003 yards and 36 touchdowns this fall, and no doubt will be called upon heavily as the Cardinals go for their first District title since 2008.

Others that caught my eye: Rockford (7-3) at Grandville (9-1), Detroit Cass Tech (10-0) at Dearborn (9-1), Macomb Dakota (7-3) at Utica Eisenhower (10-0).

Division 2

Traverse City Central (9-1) at Lowell (10-0)

This could be a history-making evening for Traverse City Central, which is looking to advance to the Regional round for the first time since old Traverse City High did so in 1991. The Trojans vanquished for good rival Traverse City West by a point last week but now face another team that has survived close games as well; reigning Division 2 champion Lowell pulled off a couple of impressive comebacks this fall on the way to a fourth straight season with at least 10 wins.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (9-1), Grosse Pointe North (8-2) at Grosse Pointe South (7-3), Oak Park (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) on Saturday.

Division 3

East Grand Rapids (8-2) at Muskegon (9-1)

The west side of the state has earned its football reputation from high-powered matchups like this one could be; these are two of the storied programs in state history, although both also are hungry to add to their legacies. East Grand Rapids is seeking its first MHSAA championship since 2010 and Muskegon is playing to contend for its first since 2008. The Big Reds won their recent meetings in 2014 and 2015, and have yet to be challenged much aside from a Week 2 loss to Lincolnshire, Ill. East Grand Rapids has won seven straight since opening 1-2 with losses to Grand Rapids Catholic Central and later Lowell.

Others that caught my eye: Romulus (9-1) at Allen Park (10-0), Grand Rapids Christian (9-1) at Byron Center (9-1), Coldwater (8-2) at Chelsea (10-0).

Division 4

Marysville (10-0) at Detroit Country Day (10-0), Saturday

Country Day is surging as it seeks its first MHSAA title since 1999; the Yellowjackets have played arguably their three toughest opponents of the season the last three weeks, and handed Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood a decisive 35-7 defeat to open the playoffs. But a defense giving up only eight points per game will face its toughest challenge from a Marysville offense led by 1,000-yard rushers Danta Chrcek (1,595) and Phillip Griffor (1,073). The Vikings are playing for their first 11-win season since 1992.

Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville Unity Christian (8-2) at Benton Harbor (10-0), Lansing Sexton (7-3) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (9-1), Detroit Mumford (8-2) at River Rouge (9-1).

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-2) at Portland (10-0)

It’s hard to not see this as one of the key games in the entire Division 5 bracket. Reigning champion West Catholic opened with a big road win 42-20 last week over Lansing Catholic and now gets the Cougars’ main league rival in Portland, which beat Lansing Catholic by only a point way back in Week 4. The deciding matchup tonight could be the Raiders’ powerful run game and its ability to hold onto the ball (and keep the Falcons' offense off the field) against a West Catholic defense that has given up more than seven points only once since Week 3. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on

Others that caught my eye: Remus Chippewa Hills (9-1) at Reed City (10-0), Frankenmuth (9-1) at Freeland (10-0), Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) at Ithaca (10-0) on Saturday.

Division 6

Jackson Lumen Christi (8-2) at Schoolcraft (10-0), Saturday

This could show Schoolcraft’s stature as a contender for its first MHSAA championship since 2001. The Eagles have rumbled to nearly 47 points per game and beat rival Constantine twice in the last three weeks, but can show their stuff on a grander level against one of the state’s best-known powerhouse programs. Lumen Christi hasn’t lost since Week 3 and after opening 1-2 with defeats to West Catholic and Battle Creek Harper Creek. A win this week could be a key confidence boost for the Titans too as they pursue a first Finals trip since 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Maple City Glen Lake (8-2) at Roscommon (9-1), Calumet (9-1) at Negaunee (10-0), Napoleon (8-2) at Grass Lake (9-1).

Division 7

Saugatuck (10-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0), Saturday

A matchup of offensive stars Jared Smith and Blake Dunn make this one of the state’s most intriguing matchups in any division, regardless of the fact it’s also a rematch of last season’s District Final. Smith is up to 2,108 yards rushing this season on just 166 carries – for a 12.7 yards per carry average – and will go down as one of the top running backs in state history after setting an MHSAA record for single-season yardage as a junior with more than 3,000 as the Pirates finished Division 7 runners-up. Dunn has run for only 1,916 yards this season – 16.1 per carry – and thrown for 729 more.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Loyola (8-2) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (10-0), Flint Hamady (8-2) at New Lothrop (9-1), Unionville-Sebewaing (9-1) at Ubly (10-0).

Division 8

Mendon (8-2) at Climax-Scotts (10-0)

Climax-Scotts finally broke a four-year playoff losing streak to Mendon last season with an 8-6 first-round win, and should be confident heading into a possible repeat, this time for a District title. The Panthers haven’t been challenged much, aside from a 20-point win over Pittsford in Week 6. Mendon has had to do a little more work under first-year coach and alum Robert Kretschman, but is riding a six-game winning streak and three-win improvement from a year ago. (Watch this game tonight on the PrepZone on

Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (7-3) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (8-2), Newberry (8-2) at St. Ignace (9-1), Lincoln Alcona (9-1) at Frankfort (10-0).


Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-1) at Powers North Central (10-0)

Forest Park in Week 2 gave North Central its closest game in two seasons of 8-player football, which means this rematch could go a couple different ways. The Jets, who won that night 60-42 and have scored 56 or more points in every game, may need quarterback Jason Whitens to add significantly to his 36 touchdown passes on only 91 completions this fall if the offenses come out firing again. Or Forest Park and senior running back Dan Nocerini (2,181 yards/39 TDs rushing) could work to keep Whitens off the field and the score a little lower this second time around.

Other Regional Finals: Pickford (9-1) at Engadine (10-0), New Haven Merritt (10-0) at Deckerville (9-0), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-0) at Portland St. Patrick (10-0) on Saturday. 

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau 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, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Lowell downed Greenville in a Division 2 playoff opener last week. (Click to see more from

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.)