Drive for Detroit: Playoffs R1 in Review

November 2, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Three reigning champions were eliminated this weekend, six undefeated teams fell, and October came to and end with the MHSAA football playoff field halved to 136 teams still alive for nine titles. 

Divisions 1, 2 and 6 will have new winners this month. And a few teams that looked like contenders also are done after the first round and a series of upsets that made headlines across the state. 

See below for some of the most unexpected and heaviest-hitting results from the first week in all eight 11-player divisions and the 8-player bracket. 

Division 1

Novi 31, West Bloomfield 28

After four straight losing seasons and an 0-3 start this fall, Novi (6-4) made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with an at-large bid – and then dealt undefeated West Bloomfield (9-1) its only loss in arguably the biggest upset in the state this weekend. The teams combined for five touchdowns during the fourth quarter, but West Bloomfield never could completely catch up to the Wildcats. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Also noted:

Rockford 24, Grandville 6 – The Rams (7-3) won the rematch of Ottawa-Kent Conference Red co-champions after also beating Grandville (6-4) in Week 4.

Romeo 28, Clarkston 14 – The Bulldogs (9-1) bounced back from a tough three-point loss to Utica Eisenhower in Week 9 to eliminate the reigning champion Wolves (7-3).

Ann Arbor Pioneer 22, Belleville 7 – Pioneer (7-3) ended a two-game losing streak by handing Belleville (8-2) its first loss since opening night.

Utica Eisenhower 23, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 20 (2 OT) – Eisenhower (7-3) kept surging with its fourth straight win, first in the playoffs since 2012 and second in four weeks over Chippewa Valley (7-3). 

Division 2

Detroit East English 25, Warren DeLaSalle 21

East English (8-2) has made the playoffs all four seasons as a program after emerging from the former Detroit Crockett, which made the playoffs its final 12 seasons and the MHSAA Semifinals twice. So the Bulldogs have had their share of success – but this might be the best win of the new program’s history, as they eliminated the reigning Division 2 champion and after falling to DeLaSalle (6-4) by only seven in last year’s District Final. Click for more from MLive-Detroit.

Also noted:

Muskegon 40, Traverse City Central 14 – The Big Reds (8-2) took the long trip up north and handed Traverse City Central (9-1) its first and only loss, earning a rematch with rival Mona Shores this week.

Byron Center 34, Portage Central 21 – The Bulldogs (8-2) have made three straight playoffs and won two playoff games only two years ago, but it’s still fair to say they were underdogs on the road at Portage Central (8-2).

Birmingham Groves 10, Farmington Hills Harrison 0 – Groves (10-0) reached 10 wins for the first time in program history with its sixth shutout this season, ending Harrison’s at 7-3.  

Jackson 42, Livonia Churchill 35 – After making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, Jackson (8-2) won its first playoff game since 1999 in ending Churchill’s season at 5-5. 

Division 3

East Grand Rapids 27, Grand Rapids Christian 14

After watching a 26-0 lead on Grand Rapids Christian fade in their first matchup this season, in Week 6, the Pioneers (7-3) finished this time against their O-K White rival. East Grand Rapids will play in a District Final for the first time since 2011. Grand Rapids Christian, which beat EGR 39-33 in that first game, ended at 5-5. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Vicksburg 16, Marshall 8 – The Bulldogs (8-2) quietly have built a five-game winning streak, adding to it with a road win at Marshall (7-3).

Trenton 34, New Boston Huron 21 – The Trojans (9-1) equaled their best record since 2003 by avenging last season’s District Final loss to Huron (5-5).

Coldwater 31, Parma Western 7 – Coldwater (10-0), which made the playoffs for the first time three seasons ago, earned its first playoff win by downing Western (6-4), which was playing in its first playoff game.

Redford Thurston 48, Warren Fitzgerald 14 – One of the rare at-large qualifiers with a home game, Thurston (6-4) justified it with a first-round win for the second straight season; Fitzgerald finished its second straight at 6-4. 

Division 4

Benton Harbor 28, Dowagiac 7

We’ve nearly run out of neat ways to crunch the numbers for the Tigers (6-4), who are enjoying their best season and whose six wins this fall are more than they won over the previous eight combined. Benton Harbor’s first playoff game resulted in its first victory – and the chance to next take on annual championship contender Zeeland West. Dowagiac isn’t to be forgotten, however; the Chieftains (6-4) bounced back from finishing 3-6 in 2014. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 35, St. Clair Shores South Lake 14 – The Cranes (9-1) equaled their best record since 2004 and ended the best season for South Lake (8-2) since 2011; the Cavaliers improved from 2-7 a year ago.

Comstock Park 38, Saginaw Swan Valley 35 – Quarterback Pat Naughton threw four touchdown passes and Monterio Smith caught two and ran for a third score as Comstock Park (8-2) came back early and then held off the Vikings (6-4).

Detroit Denby 36, Detroit Collegiate Prep 6 – Denby (6-4) claimed its first playoff win since 2007 by handing the first loss this season to Collegiate Prep (9-1), the Detroit Public School League Division II champion.

Lake Fenton 29, Corunna 27 – Lake Fenton’s most recent loss was by seven to Corunna in Week 8, but the Blue Devils (6-4) went on the road to take the rematch from the Cavaliers (8-2). 

Division 5

Ida 35, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 23

The Bluestreaks built on their first undefeated regular season since 1971 with a second straight playoff win over Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (5-5). Ida (10-0) also set a program record for wins despite giving up the most points in a game this season; the Bluestreaks gave up only 64 total during the first nine weeks. They scored three times during the third quarter to pull away. Click for more from the Monroe Evening News.

Also noted:

Buchanan 34, Hillsdale 31 – The Bucks' first perfect regular season since 1988 has turned into its first 10-0 start ever after its third win in a month decided by three points or fewer, this time against a Hillsdale team (6-4) in its 15th straight playoffs.

Almont 10, Marine City 3 – The Raiders (8-2) have bounced back nicely from back-to-back losses in Weeks 7 and 8, this time downing Marine City (6-4) in the playoffs for the second straight season.

Dearborn Heights Robichaud 50, Brooklyn Columbia Central 37 – Robichaud (8-2) reached 50 points for the second time this season to get its first playoff win since 2012, while Columbia Central ended at 8-2 after three straight losing seasons.

Kingsford 25, Harrison 0 – The Flivvers bounced back from a sub-.500 record last season and then a loss in Week 9 to claim a playoff win for the first time since 2012 and with their first shutout of this fall – which also was the first time Harrison (7-3) was shut out since Week 1 of 2013. 

Division 6

Clinton 14, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 10

Clinton (10-0) was one of two undefeated teams that had road games this weekend, and the Redskins responded by eliminating the reigning champion. Monroe St. Mary (8-2) had dominated most of its competition this fall, aside from a Week 9 loss to Division 5 contender Lansing Catholic. But Clinton drove 93 yards for the go-ahead score on the legs of Matt Sexton, who gained 100 yards total on the winning possession. Click for more from the Monroe Evening News.

Also noted:

Calumet 24, Negaunee 14 – The Copper Kings (8-2) earned their first win over Negaunee since 1955 and after five losses over the last four seasons to the Miners (7-3).

Sanford Meridian 44, Millington 38 – The Mustangs (10-0) also set a program record for wins and earned the opportunity to face another undefeated team, Ithaca, this week while ending Millington’s 12th straight playoff season at 8-2.

Laingsburg 23, Burton Bendle 15 – The Wolfpack (7-3) moved past six wins for the first time since 2009 by edging a Bendle team that went from 3-6 a year ago to 8-2 this fall.

Constantine 31, Schoolcraft 28 (OT) – In arguably the other biggest stunner of the first week of the playoffs, at-large qualifier Constantine (6-4) went on the road and downed rival Schoolcraft (9-1), handing the Eagles their first loss after falling to them 42-24 only two weeks ago. 

Division 7

Saugatuck 42, Hesperia 7

These two played the only playoff game between undefeated teams during the first week, with the Indians (10-0) earning their first postseason victory since the 2010 run to the Division 8 Final. Hesperia made one of the most impressive turnarounds in MHSAA football history this fall, going from 1-8 last season to 9-1 before falling Friday. Click for more from the Holland Sentinel.

Also noted:

McBain 34, Whittemore-Prescott 22 – Highland Conference co-champ McBain (7-3) won this battle of league winners, edging the first-place Cardinals (5-5) from the North Star League Big Dipper.

Cass City 34, Ubly 6 – The Red Hawks (8-2) have their most wins in a decade after ending the best season for Ubly (7-3) since 2011.

Flint Beecher 30, Flint Hamady 28 – The Buccaneers (7-2) took the lead for good in the fourth quarter in their first matchup with Hamady (7-3) since a District Final in 2012.

Riverview Gabriel Richard 30, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 27 – A 42-yard field goal by Zach Loewengruber on the game’s final play gave Gabriel Richard (7-3) its first playoff win and ended Liggett’s season at 6-4. 

Division 8

Climax-Scotts 8, Mendon 6

Climax Scotts (10-0) held on for its first win over Mendon (5-5) since 1977, after 30 straight losses. Climax-Scotts scored on the first possession of the game and made a two-point conversion, and stopped Mendon’s conversion attempt after its lone score. The Panthers have made the playoffs 13 straight seasons, and now will try for a second Regional Final in eight tries; Mendon had eliminated them from the playoffs the past four seasons. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Also noted:

Crystal Falls Forest Park 24, Lake Linden-Hubbell 0 – The Trojans (6-3) must have figured out a few things between falling to Lake Linden-Hubbell 34-28 only a week earlier and then handing the Lakes (9-1) their first and only loss.

Bark River-Harris 22, Munising 6 – Three weeks after falling to Munising by seven, Bark River-Harris (8-2) advanced to a District Final for the second straight season by downing the reigning Division 8 runner-up Mustangs (7-3).

Johannesburg-Lewiston 35, Hillman 8 – The Cardinals (9-1) won their ninth game for the third time in four seasons by downing North Star League Little Dipper champion Tigers (6-4), and now get another shot at Ski Valley Conference winner St. Ignace after finishing a win behind the Saints in the league standings.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 20, Petersburg-Summerfield 14 – Revenge surely was sweet for Whiteford (8-2), which fell to Petersburg-Summerfield (7-3) by 20 in their Week 4 Tri-County Conference matchup.


Rapid River 36, Engadine 29

A Week 5 loss to Engadine started a string of three losses in four games for Rapid River (7-3), but the Rockets have avenged the first defeat and earned the opportunity to avenge a second against Powers North Central. Engadine (7-3) was held to fewer than 40 points for the first time since Week 3. Click for more from RRN Sports.

Also noted:

Cedarville 48, Owendale-Gagetown 28 – The reigning 8-player runner-up Trojans (8-2) have won four straight and delivered O-G (9-1) its first and only loss.

Lawrence 54, Waldron 52 – The Spartans (8-2) played the reigning champion impressively close, but Lawrence (8-2) emerged with another opportunity against rival Battle Creek St. Philip this week after falling to St. Philip two weeks ago.

PHOTO: Midland Dow, in green, faced rival Midland for the second straight week and won for the second straight as well, 42-7. (Click for 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.)