Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 2 Preview

November 2, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The first week of the 2017 MHSAA Football Playoffs was one of the most memorable in recent memory with a collection of twists and turns, late-game heroics and bracket-shaking upsets.

Welcome to the encore.

This week, we’ve got one of the state’s most heated rivalries, two meetings of undefeated teams, and plenty of matchups fans have been anticipating to decide District titles in 11-player and Regional championships in the 8-player divisions.

We’d love for you to check out one (or more) of the 72 games being played across the state this weekend. We also have eight being broadcast either on Prep Zone by FOX Sports Detroit or The MHSAA playoff scoreboard page is home to results and next week’s games as they’re determined. The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard, and “Drive for Detroit” is sponsored by MI Student Aid.

11-Player Division 1

Canton (9-1) at Belleville (10-0), Friday

The Chiefs eliminated one popular championship contender last week in downing Saline 42-12, and now get an opportunity against another of similar regard in the undefeated Tigers. Belleville has tied its most wins ever, with 10 for the first time since 1995, giving up 8.3 points per game. Canton will counter with an offense averaging 42 points per game; the Chiefs haven’t scored fewer than 35 since losing to Muskegon Mona Shores on opening night. 

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Rochester Adams (9-1) at Utica Eisenhower (10-0), West Bloomfield (8-2) at Waterford Mott (9-1), Rockford (7-3) at Holland West Ottawa (9-1), SATURDAY Clarkston (8-2) at Davison (9-1).

11-Player Division 2

Traverse City Central (7-3) vs. Traverse City West (9-1) at Thirlby Field, Friday

One of the state’s best rivalries will write another chapter on the home field they share. West defeated Central 29-27 in their first meeting this season, in Week 3. Central won both of last year’s meetings, by two during the regular season and one in the playoffs as the teams met in the postseason for the first time. Central’s record doesn’t lend it enough credit; since falling to West the first time the Trojans have taken nonleague losses to playoff teams Portage Central and Birmingham Brother Rice, and then stunned Midland 21-13 on the road last week. West has kept churning too, downing Benton Harbor and bouncing back from a Week 9 loss to Coldwater (both opponents also playoff bound) to beat Midland Dow by 30 in their playoff opener.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Muskegon Mona Shores (9-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (10-0), Livonia Franklin (8-2) at Livonia Churchill (8-2), Flushing (8-2) at Fenton (9-1), Detroit East English (9-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1).

11-Player Division 3

Cedar Springs (7-3) at DeWitt (9-1), Friday

Cedar Springs opened the playoffs last week with arguably the biggest upset win in the state, downing undefeated East Grand Rapids at EGR. The Red Hawks won’t sneak up on anyone else. They’ve set a record with 401 points this season and even put up 44 in a loss to Grand Rapids Christian, but will be challenged by a DeWitt defense giving up only 10.3 points per game. The Panthers also lost to Grand Rapids Christian this year, in Week 1, but avenged that loss with a 42-10 victory over the Eagles in their playoff opener. No opponent has gotten within 24 points of DeWitt since Division 1 playoff qualifier Grand Ledge in Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Stevensville Lakeshore (9-1) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (10-0), Riverview (9-1) at Gibraltar Carlson (9-1), Haslett (8-2) at East Lansing (8-2), Farmington Hills Harrison (7-3) at Warren Woods-Tower (8-2).

11-Player Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-0) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (10-0), Friday

These teams both are averaging nearly 42 points per game behind two of the state’s most powerful rushing attacks. That would seem to point to the other side of the ball; both defenses are giving up a little more than two touchdowns per game. But GRCC’s biggest wins (over Comstock Park and Grand Rapids West Catholic) were in close games where the scores got big, and it could be that kind of back-and-forth offensive display in this one as well with both offenses so loaded.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Three Rivers (8-2) at Edwardsburg (9-1), River Rouge (8-2) at Chelsea (9-1), Alma (8-2) at Escanaba (8-2), SATURDAY Detroit Mumford (7-3) at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (9-1).

11-Player Division 5

Clare (9-1) at Reed City (9-1), Friday

Reed City quietly has one of the most consistently successful programs in Michigan. One more win and the Coyotes will have 10 for the sixth time in seven seasons, and even as their 18-game regular-season winning streak ended on opening night against Montague – Reed City hasn’t lost since. Clare is similarly consistent, especially in Jack Pine Conference play, and also hasn’t lost since opening night (to Ithaca) to reach nine wins for the first time since 2012. Both have similarly sizable wins against playoff qualifier Remus Chippewa Hills – Clare’s last week to avenge a 2016 playoff loss – indicating this might be a tightly contested matchup.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Menominee (7-3) at Kingsford (8-1), Carrollton (7-3) at Saginaw Swan Valley (9-1), Lansing Catholic (8-2) at Portland (9-1), Marine City (8-2) at Frankenmuth (10-0).

11-Player Division 6

Kent City (10-0) at Montague (10-0), Friday

Few teams this season have as impressive a resume as Montague, which in addition to handing the lone losses to Reed City and Muskegon Catholic Central has six shutouts over its 10 games. The Wildcats now also have a chance to avenge last year’s one-point playoff opener loss to Kent City, which has built a likewise impressive body of work this fall. The 10 wins are a program record, and a District title would be the Eagles’ first in this sport.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Michigan City (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (8-1), Detroit Central (8-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-0), Houghton Lake (7-3) at Millington (9-1), SATURDAY Maple City Glen Lake (7-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (9-1).

11-Player Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (9-1) at New Lothrop (10-0), Friday

The Hornets are hoping their annual regular-season success pays off this fall with a first MHSAA Finals trip since 2006. The Hornets are a combined 86-6 since the start of 2010 and only one of those losses came during the regular season – they’ve reached the Semifinals three times this decade but just missed taking that next step again. A game like the Week 1 win over Lake Fenton surely was meant to prepare the Hornets for matchups like this one with the reigning Division 7 champion Pirates, who despite graduating the second-leading rusher in MHSAA history is riding a nine-game winning streak and scoring 43 points per game versus last year’s 46.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Reading (8-2) at Cassopolis (9-1), Riverview Gabriel Richard (9-1) at Madison Heights Madison (10-0), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (9-1) at Cass City (9-1), SATURDAY Ishpeming Westwood (9-1) at Lake City (10-0).

11-Player Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central (8-1) at Mendon (10-0), Saturday

This might be the most anticipated small-school matchup in Michigan so far this season – the reigning four-time Division 8 champion against an 11-time MHSAA title winner now revived. The Hornets ran for 415 yards in last week’s 28-12 win over St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, and that ability to hold onto the ball will be necessary against a Crusaders attack led by dynamic dual threat quarterback Cameron Martinez (see 2H feature Tuesday).

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Norway (9-1) at Iron River West Iron County (9-1), Harbor Beach (9-1) at Saginaw Nouvel (10-0), Climax-Scotts (8-2) at Pittsford (9-1), SATURDAY Frankfort (7-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (10-0).

8-Player Division 1

Morrice (9-1) at Deckerville (9-1), Friday

Morrice broke Deckerville’s 16-game regular-season winning streak with a 33-32 Week 5 win that announced the Orioles as MHSAA championship contenders – even though they were then beaten by Kingsford a week later. Morrice avenged that loss last week and now must avoid falling by the same fate to the reigning Finals runner-up Eagles, who have amped up the offense by scoring 250 of their 496 points this season over the last four weeks.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Cedarville (8-2) at Stephenson (8-2), Suttons Bay (7-3) at Central Lake (10-0), Lawrence (5-5) at Bellevue (9-1).

8-Player Division 2

Onekama (9-1) at Pickford (10-0), Saturday

Perhaps the most impressive part of Pickford’s dominance this season has come on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers are giving up only 9.6 points per game, which just doesn’t happen much in the wide-open 8-player game – and is half as many points as they gave up while reaching the Semifinals a year ago. Enter Onekama, averaging 51 points per game – only a few behind Pickford’s 56 and against a similarly competitive slate.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Engadine (8-2) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (7-2), Bay City All Saints (7-3) at Kinde-North Huron (9-1), SATURDAY Flint International Academy (8-2) at Portland St. Patrick (9-1).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: Clare, here against Ithaca in Week 1, will play for a District title tonight against Reed City. (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.)