Drive for Detroit: Playoff R3 Preview

November 10, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The best have risen to the occasion this MHSAA Football Playoffs. But this weekend's 11-player Regional Finals and 8-player Semifinals are guaranteed to be the final stop for a handful of teams that haven't experienced a loss this fall.

Of 20 teams still undefeated, 12 will face each other in six games over five divisions, with two matchups coming in Division 8.

Most of those matchups are among games highlighted in this week's "Drive for Detroit" preview powered by MI Student Aid. Read on for details on one game from each 11-player division and both 8-player matchups, and remember to visit for the full schedule, scores this weekend as they come in and next week's matchups as they're determined.

Also, tune in for eight games this weekend, four tonight and four Saturday, either on or Click for that schedule

All games below are Friday unless noted.

Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) at Saline (11-0)

This will be the third playoff collision in five seasons for these powers; Saline won the most recent, a 2014 Semifinal. The Hornets’ last three wins were over teams that finished a combined 25-7, and last week they hung on for a 37-31 victory over Canton despite giving up more than two touchdowns for the first time since Week 3. Cass Tech’s last three wins were over teams a combined 26-2, and its defense has been even more stifling allowing only a touchdown apiece to Dearborn and Dearborn Fordson the last two weeks and 8.8 points per game total this season.

Other Regional Finals: Romeo (8-3) at Clarkston (9-2), Southfield Arts & Technology (8-3) at Utica Eisenhower (11-0), Grandville (10-1) at Detroit Catholic Central (11-0) on Saturday.

Division 2

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (9-2) at Lowell (11-0)

Lowell doesn’t lose often; the Red Arrows haven’t had more than three defeats in a season since 1999. So Forest Hills Central had to be smarting for a while after letting a 17-point fourth-quarter lead disappear in its 41-37 loss to Lowell in Week 7. Lowell has cruised through back-to-back 42-17 wins the last two weeks over Greenville and Traverse City Central as it seeks to return to Ford Field for the second straight year, but no doubt expects a closer game with the Rangers seeking their first Regional title since 1995.

Other Regional Finals: Grosse Pointe South (8-3) at Birmingham Groves (10-1), Fenton (9-2) at Walled Lake Western (10-1) on Saturday, Temperance Bedford (9-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-2) on Saturday.

Division 3

Edwardsburg (11-0) at Chelsea (11-0)

The Eddies are 66-11 over the last seven seasons and 32-3 over the last three but are coming into a Regional Final undefeated for the first time during this run. It’s hard to not point at an incredible defensive average of giving up only 5.2 points per game with five shutouts. But it’s also hard to imagine Chelsea being held scoreless; that would be a first since a 2014 Regional Final loss. The Bulldogs also can equal last season’s school record for wins by earning this one.

Other Regional Finals: Byron Center (10-1) at Muskegon (10-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (7-4) at DeWitt (10-1), Dearborn Divine Child (9-2) at Allen Park (11-0).

Division 4

Lake Odessa Lakewood (10-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (9-2) at Jenison

It was fair to predict last week that neither of these teams would still be playing today, but they’ve certainly earned the opportunity. Lakewood downed Lansing Sexton by eight to advance and Unity Christian got past undefeated Benton Harbor in overtime, and both now can win a Regional title for the first time. Both also have set program records for wins this fall, and Lakewood’s Pre-District victory was its first ever in the playoffs.

Other Regional Finals: Adrian (7-4) at River Rouge (10-1), Escanaba (9-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1) on Saturday, Corunna (9-2) at Detroit Country Day (11-0) on Saturday.

Division 5

Menominee (10-1) at Reed City (11-0), Saturday

The Coyotes have been poised for a run like this for a while, with four 10-1 finishes over the last five seasons but this only the second Regional Final appearance in program history. A sterling average of 8.3 points given up per game was hurt only a little by Remus Chippewa Hills’ 28 last week. But Reed City’s defense has arguably its toughest challenge in the Maroons. Menominee has cleared 10 wins for the fifth straight season and saved its usually eye-popping offensive numbers for the last month – it has scored at least 50 points three of the last five weeks and put up 61 on Grayling in the District Final.

Other Regional Finals: Ida (10-1) at Algonac (10-1), Frankenmuth (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0) on Saturday, Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2) at Berrien Springs (8-2) on Saturday.

Division 6

Detroit Central Collegiate (7-4) at Millington (10-1)

We’re used to seeing Detroit Public School League leaders Cass Tech and Martin Luther King this deep into the playoffs, and at times the former Crockett-now-East English as well. But Detroit Central has come back from a 1-4 start to reach a Regional Final for the first time since 2010. Millington, meanwhile, has 10 wins for the first time since 2011 and is looking for its first Regional title since 2010. The Cardinals will aim to continue a stifling defensive effort that has given up only 8.3 points per game.

Other Regional Finals: Maple City Glen Lake (9-2) at Calumet (10-1) on Saturday, Leroy Pine River (8-3) at Ravenna (9-2) on Saturday, Napoleon (9-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-2) on Saturday.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (11-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (11-0), Saturday

This is familiar territory for both programs: St. Francis will play in its fourth Regional Final in six seasons, while P-W will play in its sixth straight this decade. We've talked about record-setting running back Jared Smith this week (click for more), but the Pirates will take advantage of a variety of offensive weapons to try to break through a Gladiators defense giving up only 5.6 points per game. 

Other Regional Finals: Concord (9-2) vs. Cassopolis (10-1) at Decatur, Detroit Loyola (9-2) at Hudson (10-1), Ubly (11-0) vs. New Lothrop (10-1) at Chesaning on Saturday.

Division 8

Frankfort (11-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (11-0), Saturday

Frankfort gets another chance to take down perennial power MCC after falling to the Crusaders 22-12 in the Regional Final in 2015. But this is a stronger Panthers team that has scored nearly 100 more points but also knows how to win close, as it has done twice including last week against Lincoln Alcona. Frankfort will need all of its expertise against the reigning three-time Division 8 champion, which is also putting up even better numbers than a year ago and hasn't let an opponent within two touchdowns this fall. 

Other Regional Finals: Climax-Scotts (11-0) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-0), Norway (9-2) at St. Ignace (10-1) on Saturday, Royal Oak Shrine (9-2) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (9-2) on Saturday.


Pickford (10-1) at Powers North Central (11-0)

Pickford, in its second season of 8-player, has reached the Semifinals for the first time since 1991. The Panthers last week avenged their only loss this season by edging Engadine in a Regional Final, and now will attempt to hand reigning champion North Central its first loss also in two seasons of 8-player. This Jets team is reminiscent of last year's champion and also the back-to-back Class D boys basketball champions, mostly because it is led by senior quarterback Jason Whitens. He's thrown for 2,170 yards and 40 touchdowns and run for 15 more scores.

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (11-0) at Deckerville (10-0), Saturday

Tri-unity's first playoff run is now only one more win from the championship game, and the Defenders have made it by following senior quarterback Brayden Sherrod (2,104 yards/37 touchdowns rushing, 1,610 yards/21 TDs passing.) Deckerville has owned the line of scrimmage and dominated as a result, running for nearly 3,000 yards and holding its opponents to 323 and only 44 points – 150 fewer points than at this point when it won the MHSAA title in 2012.

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: Menominee and DeWitt met in Week 8 (the Panthers won 48-14) and both will play in Regional Finals this weekend. (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.)