Drive for Detroit: Regionals in Review

November 12, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Four of last season's MHSAA football champions still have opportunities to repeat when the games return to Ford Field in two weeks. 

But Friday and Saturday's Regional Finals laid waste to some of the seemingly safest title predictions from only a few weeks ago.

Few weekends in recent playoff history have done as much damage to the top of The Associated Press' polls. Four top-ranked teams fell in Regional Finals – leaving Rockford, Muskegon, Portland and Muskegon Catholic among those instead celebrating trips to this Saturday's MHSAA Semis. Ithaca in Division 6 is the only No. 1 team from the final polls still alive. 

And then there were the 8-player Semifinals – two classics that set up what looks like another this Friday at Greenville High School. 

Read on for a few lines on all 34 games played in Michigan over the weekend. And click to see this weekend's schedule of 11-player Semifinals

Division 1

Rockford 25, Clarkston 14

The Rams (10-2) advanced to their third Division 1 Semifinal in four seasons by handing Clarkston its first and only loss of the fall. Rockford has won at least 10 games in eight of the last nine seasons, and got this milestone victory after jumping out to a 13-0 lead. Clarkston finished its 10th-straight playoff season at 11-1. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Detroit Catholic Central 28, Plymouth 7 – The Shamrocks (8-4) advanced to their fourth Semifinal in the last six seasons and have given up only 39 points during the playoffs. Plymouth finished 9-3.

Detroit Cass Tech 21, Saline 14 – The reigning champion Technicians (10-2) advanced to their third straight Semifinals, while ending Saline’s best season at 10-2.

Lake Orion 51, Macomb Dakota 35 – The Dragons (11-1) had three of their last night seasons end with playoff losses to Dakota (10-2), most recently in 2007.

Division 2

Muskegon 49, Midland 21

It’s fair to argue that no team has faced a tougher playoff road than the Big Reds (11-1), whose postseason opponents were a combined 24-6. Midland (11-1) was undefeated and considered a slight favorite to win Division 2. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Also noted:

Caledonia 42, Mattawan 28 – The Fighting Scots (9-3) have bounced back in a big way after two straight 4-5 finishes. Mattawan (10-2) finished with its single-season record for wins.

Birmingham Brother Rice 42, Walled Lake Western 12 – The reigning champion Warriors (10-2) are one win from another trip to Ford Field and have won all three playoff games by at least 21 points. Walled Lake Western finished 9-3.

Wyandotte Roosevelt 10, Oak Park 6 – Roosevelt (11-1) finally got back home, and enjoyed celebrating its first Semifinal berth since 2001. But Oak Park (9-3) also can celebrate its best finish.

Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian 31, Stevensville Lakeshore 7

The Eagles (11-1) moved into their first MHSAA Semifinal by handing Lakeshore (11-1) its first and only loss this season. Grand Rapids Christian gained 410 yards, with quarterback Alex VandeVusse throwing for only 254 and two touchdowns this week (he threw for four and ran for four the week before). Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

DeWitt 29, St. Johns 27 – This was another memorable chapter to an intense Capital Area Activities Conference Red rivalry, with DeWitt (10-2) getting the sweep this fall but only after the Redwings (8-4) hung close until the very end.

Battle Creek Harper Creek 26, Tecumseh 24 – After starting this season 0-2, Harper Creek (10-2) has surged into its second straight Semifinal – although not without a good scare from Tecumseh (9-3).

Orchard Lake St. Mary 42, Detroit East English 24 – Reigning champion St. Mary (10-2) is one win from its fourth straight trip to Ford Field. East English, in its first season, finished 9-3.

Division 4

Saginaw Swan Valley 35, Croswell-Lexington 13

The Vikings (10-2) will be making their third Semifinals appearance in seven seasons. But this has been the most impressive run of the three. The Vikings opened by beating first-time playoffs qualifier Saginaw Valley Lutheran, followed by beating a solid Goodrich team by 30, and then this week handed Croswell-Lexington its first and only loss. The Pioneers (11-1) did finish this fall with their most wins for one season. Click to read more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

Comstock Park 62, West Branch Ogemaw Heights 27 – The Panthers (11-1) didn't see a letdown after beating Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the District Final; their 62 points against Ogemaw Heights (8-4) was a season high by more than two touchdowns.

Grand Rapids South Christian 38, Three Rivers 14 – South Christian (9-3) is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2004 after winning five or fewer games each of the last three seasons. Three Rivers can celebrate an 8-4 finish after going just 1-8 in 2011.

Detroit Country Day 47, Grosse Ile 14 – Country Day (10-2) advanced to its ninth Semifinal by containing a Grosse Ile offense that had scored 70 points the week before. The Red Devils finished 10-2 to move to 20-5 over the last two seasons.

Division 5

Portland 45, Flint Powers Catholic 28

This might have been the upset of the 2012 playoffs so far – not because Portland hasn't had success, but because reigning champion Powers has dominated so thoroughly this fall. No team had gotten within 25 points of the Chargers (11-1) since September, but Portland (11-1) took an early lead and ran. The Raiders last made the Semifinals in 1975 – the first season of MHSAA playoffs – and had never won more than nine games in a season before this fall. Click for more from the Flint Journal.

Also noted:

Menominee 28, Clare 21 – New Menominee coach Joe Noha played for and served as an assistant to recently-retired Ken Hofer, and has taken their program back to the Semifinals for the ninth time. The Maroons moved to 11-1, while Clare finished a seventh-straight playoff season 9-3.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 21, Newaygo 7 – West Catholic (9-3) has returned to the Semifinals for the third straight season despite starting 1-3. Newaygo also can celebrate a comeback story, finishing 9-3 after going 4-23 over the last three seasons.

Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 16, River Rouge 6 – In its fourth Regional appearance, Gabriel Richard (11-1) set a school record for wins while ending the best season ever for River Rouge (11-1).

Division 6

Constantine 49, Hillsdale 35

The Falcons (10-2) have to love the preparation they get playing in the Kalamazoo Valley Association. They've made the Semifinals four straight seasons after joining the league five years ago, and now are playing for their second-straight Finals berth. Hillsdale was off to its best run since 2006 and finished 11-1. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Also noted:

Shelby 26, Negaunee 22 – Shelby has watched a number of its league mates make long playoff runs in the past, but the Tigers (10-2) are in their first Semifinal after ending the best run by the Miners (10-2) since 2004.

Ithaca 31, Montrose 0 – Make that 40 straight wins and counting for the Yellowjackets (12-0), who are known for offense but tallied their seventh shutout in stopping the Rams (10-2).

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 28, Grass Lake 21 – A great turnaround by the Falcons (10-2) continued as the 2010 and 2009 MHSAA runners-up continued to rebound from last season’s 4-5 finish. Grass Lake finished 10-2 to up its two-year record to 21-3.

Division 7

Flint Beecher 19, Saginaw Nouvel 15

This followed right behind Portland over Powers in games that made the state take special notice this weekend, but this time the Flint team came out on top. The Buccaneers, under former Michigan State and NFL receiver Courtney Hawkins, advanced to their first MHSAA Semifinal by upending reigning champion Nouvel (9-3). Beecher (8-4) has made the playoffs six straight seasons, but had played in a Regional Final only once – in 1980. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

Ishpeming 28, Lake City 12 – The Hematites (11-1) made their fifth Semifinal and second in three seasons, and have allowed only 24 points in three playoff games. Lake City finished its best season at 10-2.  

Pewamo-Westphalia 26, Decatur 21 – This group of Pirates (9-3) is much different than the one that made it to last season’s Final at Ford Field, but the results are coming up the same. Decatur finished 9-3, its best since 2008.

Detroit Loyola 32, Britton Deerfield 0 – The last two seasons have been the best two in the short history of Loyola (12-0), which will make its first Semifinal appearance after finishing 11-1 but falling in the Regional last season. Britton Deerfield finished 8-4.

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central 28, Mendon 6

Although the Crusaders (9-3) are considered a statewide power, this was their first Regional title since 2009. But they’re certainly the favorites now for their first MHSAA title since 2008. Mendon (11-1) had won 25 straight games including last season’s Final and had scored fewer than 27 points only one other time this fall – in a 15-12 win over reigning Division 7 runner-up P-W.  Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Also noted:

St. Ignace 26, Felch North Dickinson 20 – The Saints (12-0) are in the Semifinals for the sixth time and second straight, but had to outlast another previously-unbeaten team; North Dickinson finished 10-1.

Beal City 49, Johannesburg-Lewiston 16 – Beal City (12-0) is back in the Semifinals for the first time since its last championship season in 2009. Johannesburg-Lewiston’s last two seasons have been ended by the Aggies; this time the Cardinals finished 9-3.

Harbor Beach 17, Waterford Our Lady 10 – The Pirates are 11-1 for the second straight season, but this time are back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2007. Our Lady rebounded from last season’s 4-5 to finish 9-3.  

8-Player (Semifinals)

Bellaire 20, Rapid River 16

Bellaire (9-3) finished only fourth in the Bridge Alliance Conference this fall, but took out league and 2011 MHSAA runner-up Rapid River to reach the second 8-player Final in MHSAA history. Bellaire opened this season 0-2 but also beat the Rockets (9-3) on Oct. 19. Click to read more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Deckerville 36, Portland St. Patrick 30 (2 OT)

The Eagles (11-1) withstood a 22-point comeback by St. Patrick that pushed this game to overtime, but got the game-winning stop in the second extra period. Both of these programs played 8-player this fall for the first time, and Deckerville earned its first MHSAA Final berth after also playing in a Semifinal in 2000. Portland St. Patrick, which did win an 11-player championship in 1992, finished this fall 11-1. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

PHOTO: Rockford senior running back Sam Reinke (46) stretches for the goalline during the Rams' Division 1 Semifinal victory Saturday at Clarkston. (Click to see more, plus photos from Birmingham Brother Rice/Walled Lake Western at 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.)