Drive for Detroit: Semifinals in Review

November 25, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We finally have answers to some of the questions that have been asked all season. 

Four 2012 MHSAA champions earned the opportunity Saturday to play for titles again this weekend. Five teams that finished runners-up at Ford Field last season will get another chance to finish the job. 

We'll have two Finals rematches, in Divisions 2 and 7. And Clarkston and Clinton will play in the season's final games for the first time. 

Read on for a few details from all 16 Semifinals, plus coverage of each from our statewide media. 

Division 1

Clarkston 61, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 26

Clarkston (12-1) has earned its first MHSAA championship game berth in its fourth Semifinal try, thanks in part to 355 yards and six touchdowns rushing from senior running back Ian Eriksen. Flint Carman-Ainsworth finished its best season ever in its first Semifinal and with a final record of 11-2. Click to read more from MLive Detroit.

Detroit Catholic Central 28, Detroit Cass Tech 0

The rematch of the last two Division 1 Finals went the opposite way this time as DCC (11-2) cruised against the two-time reigning champion Technicians. The loss ended an 18-game winning streak for Cass Tech (12-1), which hadn’t been shut out since 2009. Click to read more from the Oakland Press.

Division 2

Muskegon 41, Portage Central 35

Big Reds quarterback Deshaun Thrower was the hero again, scoring with just under a minute remaining to put his team back in the Division 2 Final after Muskegon (12-1) finished runner-up a year ago. Portage Central (12-1) capped its best season since making the Semifinals in 1977 with its best record ever. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Birmingham Brother Rice 43, Detroit Martin Luther King 20

Brother Rice has set a school record for points with 450 this season. But its defense was equally key in getting the Warriors (13-0) back to Ford Field as it seeks to win a third straight MHSAA title. King (10-2) had averaged 33 points per game this season and scored fewer than 20 only three times. Click to read more from the Detroit News.

Division 3

Zeeland West 42, Stevensville Lakeshore 7

The Dux’ offense continued to rumble in carrying West back to Ford Field for the second time in three seasons – the Dux will be attempting to add to their Division 4 title won in 2011. But the defense has to be applauded as well after holding Lakeshore (9-4) to its season low points; in fact, it was only the second time West (12-1) held an opponent to fewer than 13 this fall. Click to read more from the Holland Sentinel.

DeWitt 21, St. Clair 20

The Panthers (13-0) are headed back to the MHSAA Finals for the first time since 2004 after ending St. Clair’s longest run in program history. St. Clair (11-2) drove to DeWitt’s 5-yard line during the final minutes but could get no closer to a go-ahead score. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Division 4

Grand Rapids South Christian 20, Comstock Park 6

The reigning champion Sailors (12-1) booked a return trip to Detroit by dispatching of Comstock Park (12-1) in a Semifinal for the second straight season. South Christian scored twice in the fourth quarter to earn the final advantage. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Marine City 12, Lansing Sexton 7

Marine City (12-1) is headed to the Finals for the third time in seven years after ending Sexton’s best season. Defense reigned as both held the other to their respective season low points totals. The Big Reds finished 12-1. Click to read more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Division 5

Menominee 59, Muskegon Oakridge 28

The Maroons (13-0) are one win from their fourth MHSAA title and first since the retirement of legendary coach Ken Hofer two seasons ago. Menominee gave up its most points this season to Oakridge (11-2), but jumped to a 49-0 halftime lead and never looked too far back. Click to read more from the Eagle Herald Extra.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 35, Livonia Clarenceville 0

It’s been brought up plenty over the last month, but West Catholic’s season has come nearly full circle – the Falcons (9-4) are back in the Division 5 Final for the second straight season after losing to Portland by three in last year’s championship game and then barely squeaking into the playoffs this fall. Clarenceville (12-1) did complete its best season since 2001. Click to read more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 6

Ithaca 21, Montrose 20

Never during Ithaca’s 55-game winning streak has an opponent come so close to ending it – in fact, the Rams (12-1) were the first to come within 10 points of the Yellowjackets since the 2011 Regional Final. Ithaca (13-0) also stopped a last-minute drive into its territory to earn a chance to play for a fourth straight MHSAA title. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Clinton 49, Shelby 3

Clinton will play for an MHSAA championship for the first time after winning in its first Semifinal appearance since 1990. The Redskins (13-0) scored 35 points during the first half to set the tone and keep the best season in program history going one more week. Shelby (11-2) also was seeking its first championship game berth. Click to read more from the Adrian Daily Telegram.

Division 7

Ishpeming 44, Harbor Beach 10

Ishpeming (13-0) earned the opportunity to repeat as Division 7 champion by eliminating the reigning winner in Division 8. The Hematites' defense continued to shine – it’s now given up a combined 23 points in four playoff games this fall – while Harbor Beach (11-2) scored its fewest points since the 2011 Regional Final. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

Detroit Loyola 52, Homer 7

Loyola (13-0) earned a Finals rematch against Ishpeming with another incredible offensive performance – the Bulldogs have outscored their playoff opponents by a combined 205-14. The Semifinal appearance was a first for Homer (11-1). Click to read more from MLive Detroit.

Division 8

Beal City 34, Crystal Falls Forest Park 18

Forest Park (12-1) did hold Beal City to a season low in points and scored the second most of any opponent. That’s how good the Aggies (13-0) have been this fall, and they’ll get a chance to finish the run after falling to Harbor Beach in last year’s Division 8 Final. Click to read more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Muskegon Catholic Central 45, New Lothrop 14

The Crusaders (11-2) are headed to the Finals for the first time since 2008 and in search of their ninth MHSAA championship. New Lothrop (12-1) was the second straight previously-undefeated team to have its season ended by Muskegon Catholic Central. Click to read more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

PHOTO: DeWitt defenders swarm a St. Clair ball carrier during the Panthers’ 21-20 Division 3 Semifinal win Saturday at Goodrich High School. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stehouwer.)

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.)