Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 2 Preview

October 31, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The field of 288 a week ago became 144 teams still playing. Starting tonight, 11-player teams will compete for District titles and 8-player contenders will aim to celebrate Regional championships.

And this round presents more than a few familiar matchups from either earlier this fall or recent MHSAA Playoffs.

There again are ample opportunities to watch playoff games from the comforts of home if you do not choose to take a seat in the stands. FOX Sports Detroit’s Prep Zone matchups this week are Detroit Catholic Central at West Bloomfield in Division 1, Birmingham Brother Rice at Birmingham Groves in Division 2 and Flint Powers Catholic at Williamston in Division 4. Those all will stream free of charge on and on the FOX Sports app. At least five more games will be viewable on, either live with subscription or free after 72 hours.

Below are a few notes on games of particular intrigue in each division. Games are tonight unless noted. “Drive for Detroit” is powered by MI Student Aid

Division 1

Macomb Dakota (8-2) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (10-0)

The Big Reds beat Dakota 24-17 in Week 5 on the way to the Macomb Area Conference Red title and their first perfect regular season since 1975. After winning another MAC Red rematch last week over Utica Eisenhower, Chippewa Valley will look to remain the only conference team still alive – but must avoid a 2016 scenario, when it beat Dakota during the regular season and lost to the Cougars in the playoffs.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Oxford (8-2) at Lapeer (10-0). SATURDAY East Kentwood (9-1) at Saline (9-1), Dearborn Fordson (9-1) at Detroit Cass Tech (10-0).

Division 2

Warren DeLaSalle (8-2) at Oak Park (9-1)

Oak Park has won at least one playoff games six of the last seven seasons and seems to be inching closer to a trip to Ford Field – but for the second straight season, DeLaSalle stands in the way. The Pilots won last year’s playoff meeting, 14-7 in a Regional Final, on the way to claiming the Division 2 championship. The Knights have won four games by eight or fewer points this fall and should be prepared for another close one.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Midland Dow (6-4) at Midland (7-3), Jenison (7-3) at Muskegon Mona Shores (9-1), Birmingham Brother Rice (7-3) at Birmingham Groves (8-2).

Division 3

Zeeland West (8-2) at Zeeland East (9-1)

East won the teams’ first meeting, 48-34 in Week 8, on the way to clinching the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title. But the Chix as well have a scenario they want to avoid: In 2012, 2013 and 2017, East won the first matchup but West won the playoff rematch. The Dux’ only losses this season were to league champions – East and Grand Rapids Christian.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Cedar Springs (9-1) at Mount Pleasant (10-0), Grand Rapids Christian (8-2) at Muskegon (10-0), Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) at Warren Woods Tower (9-1).

Division 4

Farmington Hills Harrison (7-3) at Detroit Country Day (7-2)

Of course not to slight possible Regional and Semifinal opponents, but Country Day has accomplished the most of late of any team standing between Harrison and finishing its final season at Ford Field. The Yellowjackets have reached the Semifinals four times this decade and finished Division 4 runners-up in 2016 before falling below .500 last fall for the first time since 2005. Country Day opened these playoffs by downing MAC Bronze champ Center Line 42-6.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Paw Paw (8-2) at Edwardsburg (10-0). SATURDAY Escanaba (8-2) at Alma (9-1), North Branch (8-2) vs. St. Clair (8-2) at East China Stadium.

Division 5

Clare (9-1) at Reed City (10-0)

The intrigue here is based in part on Clare’s win last week – 42-28 over Manistee, which like Reed City was perfect during the regular season. The Pioneers’ lone loss came Week 4 to Jack Pine Conference foe Roscommon, and the two ended up sharing the title with Beaverton – all three are still alive in the playoffs. Reed City, meanwhile, has won 42 of its last 46 games, including 34-7 over Clare in last season’s District Final.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lansing Catholic (9-1) at Portland (10-0), Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (8-2) at Jenison, Hopkins (9-1) vs. Kalamazoo United (10-0) at Vicksburg.

Division 6

Calumet (10-0) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (10-0) at Thirlby Field, Saturday

This is another playoff rematch from 2017, when St. Francis opened the postseason with a 28-6 win over the Copper Kings. That Calumet team entered 6-3, while this one makes the trip downstate coming off its first perfect regular season since 1996 and with a school-record 10 wins. The Copper Kings will need another big performance from a defense giving up only 5.3 points per game; St. Francis is scoring nearly 49 on average.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Michigan Center (9-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (9-0), Blissfield (6-4) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (9-1). SATURDAY Ecorse (8-2) at Flint Hamady (10-0).

Division 7

Saugatuck (9-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-0)

This is not only a playoff rematch, but a replay of last season’s Division 7 championship game. These two actually are meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons – P-W has won all four meetings including last season’s Final 21-0, but the Indians gave the Pirates two of their toughest games of the last four seasons in falling by six in 2016 and 10 in 2015. Get the scoreboard ready: Saugatuck’s offense has blown through 500 points for the third time in four seasons, while the Pirates with 537 points already have outscored last year’s championship team.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Loyola (7-3) at Madison Heights Madison (10-0), Centreville (9-1) at Cassopolis (10-0), Cass City (8-2) at New Lothrop (9-1).

Division 8

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (10-0) at Reading (10-0)

These two have thoroughly dominated their competition to this point. It’s tough predicting what’s going to give now that they’ll share the same field. Reigning Division 8 champion Whiteford has won 24 straight games and 37 of its last 38, this season outscoring opponents 54-8 on average. Reading is outscoring its opponents only 52-9 per game – although Pittsford may have given the Bobcats some ideas putting up 48 to Reading’s 65 in last week’s opener.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Iron River West Iron County (8-2) at Ishpeming (10-0), Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-1) at Breckenridge (10-0), Ubly (8-2) at Harbor Beach (9-1).

8-Player Division 1

Morrice (10-0) vs. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-0) at Grandville Middle School, Saturday

The Orioles blazed a trail with their first 9-0 regular season and now will play to reach their first Semifinal since 1996. Just as impressive, if not more so – Morrice hasn’t given up a point since Week 4, a stretch of outscoring their last six opponents by a combined 313-0. The Defenders are playing to reach the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. Counting last week’s win over Webberville, they’ve beaten five playoff teams and reigning champion Central Lake this fall.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Suttons Bay (9-1) at Pickford (10-0). SATURDAY Deckerville (8-2) at AuGres-Sims (10-0), Bellevue (9-1) at Colon (9-1).

8-Player Division 2

Brethren (7-3) at Onekama (8-2)

The West Michigan D League champion Bobcats keep earning respect, adding to the league title last week’s win over intriguing contender Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 42-26. Brethren has its most wins in a season since 1990, and now takes on another team with championship aspirations. Onekama’s two losses came by a combined seven points to Midwest Central Michigan Conference West foes still alive in 8-player Division 1. The Portagers are 17-4 since moving to 8-player last season after three straight making the 11-player playoffs.

Other Regional Finals: FRIDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (6-4) at Rapid River (7-3), Cedarville (6-4) at Posen (8-2). SATURDAY Tekonsha (6-4) vs. Portland St. Patrick (6-4) at Portland High.

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: Clarkston’s punter winds up to send the ball back to Lake Orion during last week’s Division 1 District win. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)