Drive for Detroit: Playoffs R3 in Review

November 16, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

And then, once again, there were 34. 

Two undefeated 8-player finalists emerged from last week's Semifinals, while a number of moments were celebrated from another round of trophy-raising performances by 32 teams in 11-player Regional Finals. 


Powers North Central 70, Cedarville 6 – The first-year 8-player Jets will try to add a first football championship to their boys basketball title from the winter after besting last season’s runner-up, Cedarville (9-3). North Central (12-0) fell just 1.5 points shy of its previous 71.5 points per game average as it continued to dominate on both sides of the field. Click for more from the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News.

Battle Creek St. Philip 52, Deckerville 24 – The Tigers (12-0) also earned their first championship game berth in 8-player, to go with a perfect run to the Class D title in 11-player in 1985. Running back Brayden Darr scored seven touchdowns for the second straight game as St. Philip won its first meeting ever against the 2012 champion Eagles, who finished this fall 10-2. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Division 1

Grand Ledge 36, Rockford 16

Rockford looked like it would be moving on with a 16-3 lead after three quarters. But the Comets unloaded 33 straight points over the final 12 minutes to advance to their first MHSAA Semifinal since the 2000 Division 1 championship run. Grand Ledge never has been 12-0 before now; Rockford completed its 21st straight playoff appearance at 8-4. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted:

Romeo 40, Detroit Catholic Central 29 – Romeo’s first Regional title since 1992 came as the Bulldogs (11-2) set a program record for wins with yet another impressive playoff victory to go with those over Clarkston and Lapeer; DCC finished 9-3, a nice bounce-back from 4-5 in 2014.

Canton 27, Saline 7 – It sounds odd to say a win by Canton (10-2) would count as an upset, but that’s how highly Saline (11-1) has been regarded since making the Division 1 Final a year ago.

Detroit Cass Tech 16, Macomb Dakota 10 – The Technicians (10-2) scored 16 straight points after getting down 10, and neither team scored during the second half as Dakota (9-3) was eliminated by Cass Tech for the second time in three seasons. 

Division 2

Lowell 36, Muskegon 7

This is as impressive a playoff win by Lowell as any since also beating the Big Reds by the same score during the 2011 run to Ford Field. Muskegon (9-3) entered after handing first and only losses, on the road, to both Traverse City Central and Muskegon Mona Shores. But the Red Arrows (11-1) dominated this one from the start and held the Muskegon offense to 151 yards and well below its average of 39 points per game. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Walled Lake Western 35, Midland Dow 14 – Western (12-0) piled up 424 yards of offense in ending the season for Dow (10-2) and moving on to its second Semifinal in five seasons.  

Livonia Franklin 38, Berkley 6 – Franklin (9-3) was only 2-7 a year ago, but has advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and will play its first Semifinal since becoming the first MHSAA Class A champion in 1975, when the playoffs started with Semifinals; Berkley’s 9-3 final record was its best since 2010 and tied the program record for wins.  

Detroit Martin Luther King 26, Detroit East English 12 – For the second time this fall, King (12-0) held off a challenge from Detroit Public School League rival East English (9-3) after also beating the Bulldogs 20-15 during Week 3.

Division 3

Coldwater 20, St. Joseph 6

Another week into the postseason and Coldwater’s wins keep getting more impressive. The undefeated Cardinals’ unprecedented run now includes a first Regional title to go with a program-record 12 wins. Coldwater scored 20 straight points to upend St. Joseph, which saw its best run since 2008 come to an end with a 10-2 record. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Also noted:

East Grand Rapids 35, Mount Pleasant 0 – The Pioneers (9-3) stormed into their first Semifinal since 2011 with a second straight shutout and fourth in six weeks while ending Mount Pleasant’s season also at 9-3.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 56, St. Johns 14 – For the fifth time in six seasons, St. Mary’s (10-1) has at least 10 wins, and for the sixth time in seventh seasons will play in a Semifinal; St. Johns (8-4) ended in the Regional Finals for the second time in four seasons.

Chelsea 35, Allen Park 12 – The Bulldogs (11-1) tied their program record for wins with their first Regional title, and against an Allen Park team (10-2) that has earned its most victories since 2006 and had won nine straight.

Division 4

Zeeland West 28, Hudsonville Unity Christian 21

Probably because statewide expectations are always high, Zeeland West hasn’t gotten a ton of attention as it’s rolled along to a fourth Semifinal appearance in five seasons. But this one was interesting throughout. Unity Christian gave the Dux (12-0) their closest game since Week 4 and finished its longest playoff run at 8-4. West had beaten Unity Christian 52-6 in Week 9. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Ada Forest Hills Eastern 34, Remus Chippewa Hills 7 – The Hawks’ history-making run isn’t all about offense; Forest Hills Eastern (11-1) won its first Regional title with perhaps its best defensive game and has given up only 34 points over three during the playoffs; Chippewa Hills finished its longest playoff run at 9-3.

Flint Powers Catholic 28, Richmond 7 – Aside from Richmond’s lone score, it was playoffs as usual for the Chargers (10-2), who have now outscored three opponents by a combined 110-7; Richmond finished 10-2 for the second straight season after also winning a second straight District title.

Detroit Country Day 20, Milan 13 – This had to qualify as a major scare for the Yellowjackets (11-1), whose only close losses were to a pair of larger opponents from the Detroit Catholic League Central; Milan can celebrate a nice turnaround finishing 9-3 after going 4-5 a year ago.  

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic 24, Menominee 14

For the sixth straight season, West Catholic (10-2) ended Menominee’s with a loss – this time the Maroons’ only loss of 2015. West Catholic scored only 24 points –  but held Menominee (11-1) to its fewest since beating the Maroons in the 2013 Division 5 Final. Menominee was averaging 44 points per game heading into the weekend. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Lansing Catholic 25, Freeland 22 – The Cougars (11-1) also handed Freeland (11-1) its first and only loss with a fourth-quarter comeback that featured a defensive touchdown and earned Lansing Catholic a rematch of last season’s championship game, against West Catholic.

Ida 43, Buchanan 20 – The Bluestreaks (12-0) continued their best season, handing Buchanan (11-1) its first and only loss, and impressing against a Bucks defense that hadn’t given up more than 38 points and had given up more than 20 only twice.

River Rouge 51, Algonac 25 – Did you know River Rouge has won at least 10 games three of the last four seasons? The unheralded Panthers won their first Regional title and have outscored three playoff opponents 167-25, with Algonac (10-2) scoring the only points as it finished its best season ever.

Division 6

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 35, Constantine 34 (OT)

NorthPointe Christian (12-0) set a program record for wins and advanced to the Semifinals for the second straight year in ending arguably the most surprising playoff run regardless of division. Constantine had reached the postseason with an at-large bid and then eliminated previously-undefeated Schoolcraft and one-loss Watervliet. But NorthPointe stopped Constantine (7-5) on a 2-point conversion try after both teams scored in overtime. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Ithaca 34, Laingsburg 10 – The reigning runner-up Yellowjackets (12-0) ended the longest run ever for Laingsburg (8-4), with quarterback Jake Smith throwing two touchdown passes and running for two scores.  

Traverse City St. Francis 12, Boyne City 0 – The Gladiators (12-0) upended their rival for the second time this season to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2011; Boyne City ended its second straight season of double-digit wins at 10-2.

Clinton 49, Jackson Lumen Christi 20 – The Redskins (12-0) arguably have been the most impressive team in the playoffs, adding Lumen Christi (8-4) to a list of defeated opponents including Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and Madison Heights Madison. 

Division 7

New Lothrop 34, Sandusky 15

New Lothrop drew even with its 2011 team that also started 12-0 to advance to the Semifinals, earning its third Regional title over the last five seasons. The Hornets scored all of their points during the first half in handing the first and only loss to Sandusky, which finished its best season ever at 11-1 and did hold New Lothrop to its season low in points. Click for more from the Owosso Argus-Press.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 40, McBain 2 – The Hematites (11-0) won a fourth straight Regional title scoring their most points since September and with a defense that stopped McBain’s best season since 2011 at 8-4.

Pewamo-Westphalia 40, Cassopolis 3 – The Pirates (12-0) earned a berth in the Semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons, and junior running back Jared Smith set an MHSAA record with his 50th rushing touchdown and moved into second for yards in a season with 2,901 total; Cassopolis finished its best season since 2007 at 9-2.

Detroit Loyola 50, Dansville 0 – Loyola’s offense gets the attention, and with good reason, but the Bulldogs (10-2) held Dansville (10-2) to 25 total yards in ending the Aggies’ longest playoff run. 

Division 8

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 48, Climax-Scotts 14

This was the upset of the Regional round, but not as huge as it might appear on paper. Climax-Scotts (11-1) was a league champion and undefeated, and had beaten playoff regulars Pittsford and Mendon the first two weeks of the postseason. But Whiteford (10-2) is one of two Tri-County Conference teams in the Semifinals joining Division 6 Clinton and set a program record for wins in a season with this one. Click for more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Also noted:

St. Ignace 22, Crystal Falls Forest Park 8 – The Saints (11-1) jumped to a two-score lead and hung on for their second Regional title in four seasons while ending Forest Park’s last run as an 11-player team (at least for the time being, as it will move to 8-player next year) at 7-4.

Muskegon Catholic Central 22, Frankfort 12 – MCC (10-2) held on for its closest playoff win since 2012 against a Frankfort team that posted its best finish since 2009, at 9-3, and led by five going into the fourth quarter.   

Waterford Our Lady 32, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 6 – The Lakers (12-0) have added a first Regional title since 2006 to their long history of accomplishments, while the Cardinals (10-2) ended their best two-season run after making the Semifinals a year ago.  

PHOTO: Grand Ledge players hoist their Division 1 Regional title trophy Friday after defeating Rockford. (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.)