Drive for Detroit: Semifinals in Review

November 19, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Here's what we got from Saturday's MHSAA 11-player Semifinals:

Four reigning champions headed back to Ford Field. Two rematches of 2011 championship games. And three teams – welcome Grand Rapids Christian, Portland and Detroit Loyola – that earned the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving weekend for the first time. 

There's plenty more to come on all of that later this week (tune in Thursday for some holiday reading). Below are links to coverage from all 16 Semifinals, plus ours from the second-ever 8-player Final, a Deckerville triumph over Bellaire. 

Division 1

Detroit Cass Tech 34, Lake Orion 27

The Technicians (11-2) are headed back to Ford Field to defend their 2011 championship thanks in part to two touchdown passes by sophomore Jayru Campbell, the star of that Final, and a late go-ahead score by sophomore Mike Weber. Lake Orion, in its third Semifinal in five seasons, finished 11-2. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit Catholic Central 35, Rockford 6

Despite expectations it might be, this didn't turn out to be as close as DCC’s three-point win over the Rams (10-3) that sent the Shamrocks to last season’s Final. This time, DCC (9-4) led by two scores going into halftime and didn't allow another point. Click to read more from MLive Detroit.

Division 2

Birmingham Brother Rice 31, Wyandotte Roosevelt 3

Not that the Warriors haven't been cruising all season, but Brother Rice (11-2) always seems to hit another gear in the playoffs and now will play for a second-straight MHSAA championship. Roosevelt (11-2) finished its first Semifinal run since 2001 with its best record ever. Click to read more from the Detroit News.

Muskegon 34, Caledonia 21

Believe it or not, the Big Reds (12-1) haven’t been to a championship game since 2008. But they’re headed back for the fourth time in nine seasons after a couple of late defensive stops doomed the Fighting Scots (9-4). Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian 52, DeWitt 28

Grand Rapids Christian (12-1) got off to an incredible start and never looked back, scoring on six of their first seven possessions to earn their first championship game berth. DeWitt, making its eighth Semifinal appearance in 12 seasons, finished 10-3. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 28, Battle Creek Harper Creek 7

St. Mary’s (11-2) is headed back to Ford Field for the fourth straight season and hopes to win its second straight MHSAA title after beating Harper Creek (10-3) in the Semifinals for the second straight season. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 4

Grand Rapids South Christian 21, Comstock Park 7

South Christian (10-3) is headed back to the Finals for the fifth time, but first since winning Division 4 in 2002, after keeping Comstock Park (11-2) scoreless until the final minute. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press

Detroit Country Day 38, Saginaw Swan Valley 0

Country Day (11-2) earned its third trip to the MHSAA Finals in six seasons in dominating fashion. Yellowjackets running back Richard Wilson scored four times while his teammates contained the strong running attack of the Vikings (10-3). Click to read more from the Oakland Press.

Division 5

Grand Rapids West Catholic 20, Menominee 17

The Falcons (10-3) can earn their second championship in three seasons after scoring a late touchdown to edge Menominee at the Superior Dome. The Maroons (11-2) led late in the third quarter and again in the fourth before falling. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Portland 28, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 23

The Raiders (12-1) waited a long time to return to the Semifinals – their only other appearance was in 1975, the first year of MHSAA playoffs. But now they’ll continue on to their first championship game after coming back from an 11-point deficit to Gabriel Richard (11-2). Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 6

Constantine 36, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 14

Constantine is headed back to Ford Field after finishing runner-up last season, thanks to its best defensive performance of the playoffs. Constantine (11-2) limited St. Mary (10-3) to its fewest points of the season. Click to read more from the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Ithaca 31, Shelby 14

Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith may have thrown three interceptions, but he also was part of four touchdowns (one run, three pass) as the Yellowjackets (13-0) earned their third-straight Final berth. Shelby (10-3) finished with 10 wins for the first time and made its first Semifinal appearance. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 7

Ishpeming 8, Pewamo-Westphalia 7

A made two-point conversion plus a number of defensive stops including two deep in its own territory were the difference as Ishpeming (12-1) earned a trip to Ford Field for the second time in three seasons. P-W, last season’s Division 7 runner-up, finished 9-4. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

Detroit Loyola 54, Flint Beecher 6

Loyola’s Keymonn’e Gabriel scored three more touchdowns plus four two-point conversions to carry the Bulldogs (13-0) to their first MHSAA Final and give him 314 points this season – the second most in MHSAA history for one fall. Beecher, which made its first Semifinal appearance, finished 8-5. Click to read more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 8

Beal City 25, St. Ignace 7

Six days after its volleyball team played for an MHSAA championship, Beal City’s football team will do the same after moving to 13-0 to tie its record for wins in a season and get back to Ford Field for the first time since 2009. St. Ignace ended 12-1 for the second straight season. Click to read more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Harbor Beach 32, Muskegon Catholic Central 27

The Pirates (12-1) earned their first trip to an MHSAA football championship game since 1991 and tied a school record for wins. Perennial power Muskegon Catholic Central finished 9-4. Click to read more from the Blue Water Sports Network.


Deckerville 14, Bellaire 12

The Eagles capped their first season in 8-Player football with their first MHSAA championship, thanks in part to a two-point conversion run stop with less than a minute to play. Click for our Second Half coverage.

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech running back Mike Weber stretches for the go-ahead touchdown in the Technicians' Semifinal win Saturday at Troy Athens. (Click to see more 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.)