Drive for Detroit: Playoff Week 2 Preview

November 7, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

First-round games, and with them often familiar opponents, are out of the way as we move into District Finals for 11-player and Regional Finals for 8-player teams still alive in the MHSAA Football Playoffs.  

This weekend, in most cases, we’ll get a stronger indication how those that have done well near home match up among contenders on a statewide scale.

Below is again a look at a game in each division that particularly jumps off the page, in many cases because it provides one or both teams an opportunity to show they are built for bigger games and less familiar opponents ahead as we roar toward the end of November.

"Drive for Detroit" is sponsored by MI Student Aid.


Division 1

Belleville (10-0) at Brownstown Woodhaven (10-0)

The Warriors have made the second round of the playoffs three times over the years, and a big performance tonight will not only send them to the third round for the first time but make another statement for a Downriver League that has had plenty of success over the last two decades. Belleville is playing in its third-straight District Final and for its second straight title at this level. Merely coincidentally, both of these teams have won all of their games by double figures except one – both had one-point wins against the second-place finishers in their respective leagues.   

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Plymouth (9-1) at West Bloomfield (9-1), Davison (8-2) at Lapeer (9-1), Detroit Cass Tech (6-4) at Dearborn Fordson (9-1).

Division 2

Midland Dow (7-3) at Muskegon Mona Shores (8-2)

The Sailors got past Midland by seven a week ago and now must also eliminate the other co-champion from the Saginaw Valley League North in neighboring Dow. The Chargers opened last week edging Big North Conference champion Traverse City Central by three. This could shake out as another close but low-scoring District Final, with both teams averaging just over 30 points per game but far fewer against playoff teams this season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (8-2) at Portage Northern (9-1), Fenton (9-1) at Walled Lake Western (9-1), Birmingham Seaholm (7-3) at Brimingham Groves (8-2).

Division 3

Edwardsburg (10-0) at Zeeland West (9-1)

Moving back into Division 3 for these playoffs means a different set of challengers for the reigning Division 4 champion Eddies. Zeeland West is seeking its first District title since 2015 after losing in this round the last two years, and can be considered as close to undefeated without being so as its only loss was by a point to still-unbeaten Byron Center. Running has long been the name of the game for both of these programs, and this could be another low-scoring matchup with West giving up 17 points per game and Edwardsburg just 7.4.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Coldwater (9-1) at Chelsea (10-0). SATURDAY Cedar Springs (9-1) at Muskegon (10-0), Flint Kearsley (8-2) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (9-1).

Division 4

Sparta (9-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-1)

Sparta surely was considered capable of winning last week’s opener against Muskegon Orchard View. But after the Spartans shut out the previously-undefeated Cardinals 35-0, it no doubt opened up a few more eyes as the team also reached nine wins for the first time since 1953 (per Catholic Central annually is a formidable challenge, having made the Semifinals the last three seasons. GRCC’s only loss this fall was to a playoff team from Illinois.  

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Ortonville Brandon (8-2) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (9-1), Marshall (6-4) at Paw Paw (9-1), Romulus Summit Academy North (8-2) at Milan (10-0).

Division 5

Muskegon Oakridge (10-0) at Kingsley (10-0), Saturday

Oakridge is playing in its eighth District Final this decade and has won three of the first seven, with two of the four losses to teams that ended up reaching the MHSAA Finals – including by just three points to last season’s Division 5 champion Hudsonville Unity Christian. Kingsley won its first District title last year since 2005, traveling a different road playing in Division 6. Whichever team emerges from these paths crossing could be a serious contender to keep on rolling all the way to Detroit.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Almont (10-0) at Marine City (10-0), Lansing Catholic (9-1) at Portland (8-2), Clawson (7-3) at Detroit Denby (8-2).

Division 6

Ravenna (8-2) at Montague (8-2)

Three West Michigan Conference teams are still alive – these two joining Oakridge noted above – and Ravenna won the first meeting 17-7 in Week 6. How much has changed in just over a month? The Wildcats since then can boast an 18-14 win over Portland, last season’s Division 5 runner-up. Ravenna, meanwhile, hasn’t given up a point since falling to Oakridge by seven in Week 8.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Constantine (8-2) at Hillsdale (10-0), Warren Michigan Collegiate (9-1) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1). SATURDAY Menominee (7-3) at Calumet (9-1).

Division 7

Beaverton (10-0) at New Lothrop (10-0)

New Lothrop has become one of the scariest contenders in arguably the most competitive division, and not just because it’s the reigning champion. That unexpected underdog role could play well for the Beavers, who have reached 10 wins for the first time and last week gave up their first points – but only six – since Week 5. Beaverton’s 5.8-points-per-game defensive showing overall this season has come against a schedule featuring six playoff opponents, including three playing for District titles this weekend.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lawton (10-0) at Schoolcraft (9-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (7-3) at Cass City (9-1). SATURDAY McBain (6-4) at Traverse City St. Francis (7-3).

Division 8

Cassopolis (10-0) at Reading (9-1)

This matchup has two years of recent history providing some additional build-up. These teams met in a Division 7 District Final in 2017, won by Cassopolis 31-16. Reading marched to the Division 8 title unbeaten last season – but Cassopolis was still in Division 7 and missed making that Final with a three-point Semifinal loss to Madison Heights Madison. Now these two meet again, both in Division 8, both scoring more than 40 points per game and both with incredible defensive numbers – Reading giving up 5.2 points per game and Cassopolis having given up 17 points this entire season.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Beal City (9-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (10-0). SATURDAY Ubly (8-2) at Harbor Beach (10-0), Flint Beecher (6-3) at Fowler (9-1).


Division 1

Martin (10-0) at Colon (10-0), Saturday

This will be the greatest challenge this fall so far for both teams. It’s tough to say Colon has been challenged yet – the Magi have scored 40 points in all but one game and average 52.2 per game, and have given up 38 total with six shutouts. Martin stacks up impressively scoring 38.6 points per game and giving up 10.8, but with a pair of single-digit wins over Bellevue and Climax-Scotts. Those could be interesting indicators for Colon, which beat both by at least 35.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Gaylord St. Mary (5-5) at Suttons Bay (10-0), Kingston (8-2) at Mio (9-1), Morrice (9-1) at Deckerville (10-0).

Division 2

Pickford (9-1) at Powers North Central (10-0)

This rematch has been highly-anticipated since Week 3, when Powers North Central handed Pickford its only loss, 20-14, in what also turned out to be the Jets’ only close game this season. Pickford, last season’s Division 1 runner-up, did end up in Division 2 this time and brings back a team loaded with playoff experience. We’ll see how much difference that might make, although the Jets did gain a valuable boost as well in last week’s win over Crystal Falls Forest Park, its first over the Trojans in the first round in three seasons.

Other Regional Finals FRIDAY Cedarville (6-4) at Hillman (9-1), Onekama (7-3) at Climax-Scotts (8-2). SATURDAY Kinde North Huron (7-3) at Portland St. Patrick (10-0).

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PHOTO: Muskegon Oakridge edged Montague 15-13 in Week 5; both are playing this weekend for District championships. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)