Drive for Detroit: Regional Finals in Review

November 19, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We often celebrate teams making deep playoff runs for the first time as they and their communities reach heights never experienced before.

That experience as the toughest levels of the tournament is invaluable. Just ask the 10 teams that repeated as Regional champions in 11-player last weekend, or 2011 8-player runner-up Rapid River – which will play for the championship again this Friday. 

See below for some of the stories behind how all of those teams advanced to the neutral-site rounds of the MHSAA football tournament. 

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central 34, Temperance Bedford 33

Detroit Catholic Central (10-2) had a couple close calls on the way to Ford Field in both 2011 and 2012, but none this close. The Shamrocks scored with 25 seconds remaining to edge Temperance Bedford, which was attempting to reach its first Semifinal and made its second Regional Final appearance in four seasons (the Kicking Mules just missed the Semifinals in 2010 as well with a two-point loss to Grosse Pointe South). Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.

Also noted:

Flint Carman-Ainsworth 27, Hudsonville 20: The Cavaliers (11-1) hung on to earn their first Semifinal trip in their 28-year history. Hudsonville (8-4) did finish its best season since 2008.

Clarkston 56, Rochester Adams 28: The Wolves (11-1) have taken a step deeper into the postseason each of the past four seasons, with this sending them to the Semifinals for the first time since 2009. Adams finished a strong 8-4, impressive especially after the team went 4-5 in 2012 and lost quarterback/linebacker standout Matt Sokol to a season-ending injury in Week 6.

Detroit Cass Tech 32, Macomb Dakota 17: The Technicians (12-0) ended the season of a previously-undefeated opponent for the second straight week, this time halting Dakota (11-1) during its best season since 2007.

Division 2

Detroit Martin Luther King 6, Wyandotte Roosevelt 0

Both teams had showed plenty of offensive firepower to this point this season, but defense set the tone in the Regional Final. King (10-1) posted its fourth shutout and saved its season with a last-minute stand as Roosevelt (11-1) fell short in its drive to make the Semifinals for the second straight fall. Click to read more from MLive Detroit.  

Also noted:

Muskegon 24, Midland 7: The Big Reds (11-1) have made the Semifinals five times over the last decade including the last two seasons thanks to wins over Midland (10-2).

Portage Central 42, Farmington Hills Harrison 21: The Mustangs (12-0) have asserted themselves among statewide powers this fall and beat another in Harrison (10-2) to reach the Semifinals for the first time since 1977.

Birmingham Brother Rice 41, Detroit U-D Jesuit 14: Brother Rice (12-0) finished a season sweep of Catholic League opponent U-D Jesuit (7-5) to reach the Semifinals for the third straight season.

Division 3

Zeeland West 62, Mount Pleasant 27

The Dux (11-1) appear to be gaining steam at the right time, with 545 yards of offense against the Oilers. Mount Pleasant led into the third quarter before West scored 36 straight points to make the Semfinals for the second time in three seasons. Mount Pleasant, 2-7 only a year ago, finished 10-2. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Stevensville Lakeshore 34, Byron Center 7: Hailing from the same league as Portage Central, Lakeshore (9-3) has battled back from a 4-3 start to make its first Semifinal since 2008. Byron Center (8-4) made Regionals for the first time since 2000.

DeWitt 49, Eaton Rapids 0: Eaton Rapids (7-5) saw its first-ever playoff run end after two wins, but against near-annual semifinalist DeWitt (12-0).

St. Clair 40, Melvindale 14: St. Clair (11-1) added to its best season by earning its first Semifinal berth by beating a Melvindale team (9-3) that should still celebrate making the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Division 4

Lansing Sexton 26, Saginaw Swan Valley 21

Swan Valley junior running back Alex Grace did run for 246 yards to unofficially set the MHSAA single-season rushing record with more than 2,900 (awaiting confirmation). But the Big Reds (12-0) continued to power through their tough slate by taking the lead in the fourth quarter and then ending the Vikings’ final drive with an interception in Sexton territory. Swan Valley finished 11-1. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted:

Comstock Park 36, Cadillac 29: Comstock Park (12-0) advanced to the Semifinals for the third straight season, but first as an undefeated team. Cadillac (11-1) gave up the most points it had all season, but also scored the most on the Panthers of any team so far.

Grand Rapids South Christian 35, Battle Creek Pennfield 17: The reigning MHSAA champ Sailors (11-1) now haven’t lost since August and scored the most points Pennfield (10-2) gave up this season.

Marine City 33, Detroit Country Day 28: The lone Saturday night game of the weekend was a classic, with Marine City (11-1) scoring the go-ahead points with less than a minute remaining to eliminate the reigning MHSAA runner-up Yellowjackets (8-4).

Division 5

Livonia Clarenceville 21, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 20

There’s no question Clarenceville knows how to pull out the close ones, with now four wins by seven or fewer points this fall and two by 10 or fewer over the last two weeks. The Trojans (11-0) scored on a trick play with under 20 seconds left to edge ahead of Monroe St. Mary (10-2), a Regional champion in 2012. Click to read more from the Detroit News.

Also noted:

Menominee 49, Standish-Sterling 27: Make that 159-47, Menominee (12-0) over its three playoff opponents combined this month. Standish-Sterling (9-2), however, did finish with its best record since 2008.

Muskegon Oakridge 31, Millington 12: Oakridge (11-1) has won seven Regional titles, but this is the first since its MHSAA championship season of 2008. Millington (9-3) finished its longest run since 2010.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 35, Olivet 14: That 1-4 start is fading from memory as West Catholic (8-4) heads to its fourth straight Semifinal. Olivet (10-2) capped its best run since 2010, when it fell to West Catholic in the MHSAA championship game. 

Division 6

Montrose 42, Madison Heights Madison 13

The highly-anticipated matchup to earn the right to face Ithaca didn’t end up that close, with Montrose (12-0) leading by enough during the third quarter to switch on the running clock. The Rams do now get to face Ithaca for the fourth straight season in the playoffs, but this time in Montrose’s first Semifinal since 2002. Madison finished 11-1, its fourth one-loss season over the last eight. Click to read more from the Flint Journal.

Also noted:

Ithaca 62, Negaunee 34: The Ithaca (12-0) win streak moved to 54 straight, but not before Negaunee (10-2) scored the most points the Yellowjackets had given up since 2010.

Shelby 33, Schoolcraft 7: Make that five straight seasons Shelby (11-1) has now increased its win total, and two straight it will play in a Semifinal. Schoolcraft (10-2) ended with double-digit wins for the second straight fall. 

Clinton 47, Constantine 28: Clinton (12-0) eliminated the reigning MHSAA runner-up Falcons (7-5) to earn a first Semifinal berth since 1990 and its second overall.

Division 7

Harbor Beach 31, Pewamo-Westphalia 14

So far, Division 7 hasn’t posed much more of a challenge than Division 8 did last season for the reigning D8 champion Pirates (11-1). This Regional Final against P-W (10-2) was much closer than Harbor Beach’s first two playoff games this run, but quarterback/linebacker Eli Kraft continued to shine with two touchdowns on offense and a third scored while playing on the other side of the ball. Click to read more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 28, Lake City 13: The Hematites’ 19th straight win put them at 12-0 this fall and removed a familiar and tough obstacle – Lake City (10-2) fell to Ishpeming by a nearly identical score in 2012.

Homer 26, Decatur 15: The Trojans (11-1) tied a school record for wins in advancing to their first Semifinal; Decatur (8-4) ended its season in the Regional Final for the second straight.

Detroit Loyola 50, Southfield Christian 7: The Bulldogs (12-0) improved to 36-2 over the last three seasons by scoring 50 points for the 10th time during that run. Southfield Christian did cap its best season of its eight-year history at 10-2.

Division 8

Crystal Falls Forest Park 24, Felch North Dickinson 20

Look back over the illustrious history of Forest Park football, and close playoff wins are more common than one might expect. The Trojans (12-0) know how to win down the stretch and pulled off another nail-biter to make their eighth Semifinal over the last decade. North Dickinson (8-3) came back from an early deficit but was stopped twice seeking a late go-ahead score. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

Also noted:

Beal City 55, St. Ignace 0: Beal City (12-0) has scored 691 points, good already for second-most in MHSAA history; the Saints (9-3) made the Regional Final for the third straight season.

Muskegon Catholic 28, Mendon 12: This now-annual playoff battle of southwest powers went Muskegon Catholic’s way for the second straight season, with the Crusaders (10-2) scoring more points than Mendon (11-1) had previously given up all fall.

New Lothrop 58, Ottawa Lake Whiteford 22: The Hornets (11-0) advanced to their third Semifinal in eight seasons with their sixth game scoring more than 50 points this fall; Whiteford (9-3) capped its longest playoff run since 2000.

8-Player Semifinals

Rapid River 40, Kinde-North Huron 8

The 2011 MHSAA runner-up Rockets (12-0) earned another chance to claim the championship thanks in part to 359 yards rushing by quarterback Jake Pearson. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more while Rapid River didn't give up North Huron’s lone score until the fourth quarter. North Huron did tie its school record for wins in finishing 8-4. Click to read more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Peck 73, Lawrence 34

Peck advanced to its first MHSAA championship game by stopping one of the hottest teams in any division and did so in an even more impressive manner than when they met earlier this season. The Pirates (12-0) had defeated Lawrence 61-38 in Week 4 and put up a season-high point total to fend off the Tigers (8-3) this time. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell breaks away from a Macomb Dakota defender during the Technicians’ Regional Final win. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)