Drive for Detroit: Semifinals in Review

November 21, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

After nearly four months, this drive for Detroit is nearly complete. 

Sixteen teams remain for this weekend's eight MHSAA 11-Player Finals at Ford Field in Detroit. Below is a glance at how all 16 earned their end-of-season trips, with a number of them frequent visitors to the season's final days.

Division 1

Detroit Catholic Central 17, Romeo 0

The Shamrocks eliminated the reigning Division 1 champion in a matchup of last season’s Regional Final, a 40-29 Romeo win. Detroit Catholic Central (13-0) is on course for its best defensive season since 2011 and a win away from its first undefeated season since 2009. For Romeo (9-4), the loss ends a two-season run that saw the Bulldogs play in their second and third Semifinals ever (and first since 1992) while earning their first MHSAA team title and finishing a combined 22-5. Click for more from the Observer & Eccentric.

Detroit Cass Tech 32, Utica Eisenhower 28

Cass Tech standout receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rodney Hall with only 24 seconds to play to push the Technicians (13-0) ahead of Eisenhower and soon after back into the Division 1 Final for the second straight season and fourth time this decade. The reigning runner-up in this division won its second straight nail-biter after downing Saline by one in the Regional Final, handing Eisenhower (12-1) its first loss after doing the same to the Hornets the week before. Click for more from the Detroit Free Press.

Division 2

Walled Lake Western 37, Lowell 34

The Red Arrows (12-1), last season’s Division 2 runners-up, found themselves in a comeback quest for the second week in a row but couldn’t come all the way back in this rematch of a 2015 Semifinal. Walled Lake Western (12-1) led 31-14 at halftime and held Lowell off for the final 7:46 to advance to its first championship game since 1999. The Warriors had lost to Lowell 49-34 in the meeting a year ago. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Detroit Martin Luther King 14, Birmingham Groves 7

King earned a chance to repeat as Division 2 champion with a defensive stand after heading into halftime up 14-0. The Crusaders (11-2) hadn’t scored fewer than 18 points since Week 1 of 2015, but were able to ride out the final two quarters relying on a defense that has given up only 35 points over four playoff games. Groves finished its first Semifinal run 11-2, setting a program record for wins for the second straight season after finishing 10-1 in 2015. Click for more from the Detroit News.

Division 3

Muskegon 19, Edwardsburg 8

This defensive standoff saw both teams easily score their fewest points this season – but Muskegon advance to its fourth championship game in five years while keeping Edwardsburg from advancing to the MHSAA Finals for the first time. The Big Reds (12-1) increased their school record points total to 653 and locked down an Eddies team that hadn’t scored fewer than 30. Edwardsburg finished 12-1, setting a program record for victories in one season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 49, Dearborn Divine Child 7

St. Mary’s will play for its third straight Division 3 championship and in its seventh MHSAA Final over the last eight seasons. Divine Child (10-3) was one of the surprises of the playoffs and finished with its most wins since 1985, but couldn’t come back after the Eaglets scored three times during the first quarter and three more times during the second. Click for more from the Oakland Press.

Division 4

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 31, Hudsonville Unity Christian 3

The Cougars (12-1) will play for a championship for the first time since 2010 after ending Unity Christian’s longest playoff run with another impressive defensive performance. GRCC has given up 10 points total over four playoff games and with Grand Rapids West Catholic in Division 5 gives the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue two finalists this weekend. Unity Christian finished 10-3, two wins better than any season since the program began in 2003. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Detroit Country Day 20, River Rouge 14

After two straight Semifinal misses, Country Day will play in its second championship game in five seasons after eliminating last year’s Division 5 runner-up. River Rouge (11-2) held the Yellowjackets to their fewest points since opening night, but also scored its fewest since a 2014 Regional Final loss. Country Day (13-0) didn’t score during the second half, but Rouge didn't find the end zone again after scoring on its first possession of the third quarter. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 5

Menominee 23, Frankenmuth 20

Sam Larsen’s 1-yard touchdown blast up the middle with 9:27 to play stood as the winning points in a back-and-forth contest at the Superior Dome. Playing in its seventh Semifinal over the last 11 seasons, Menominee (12-1) earned its fourth championship game of this run and first since 2013. Frankenmuth (11-2) gave the Maroons their second-closest game of this season – the other was a loss to DeWitt in Week 8 – and tied its school record for wins with the most since the program’s last Semifinal run in 1997. Click for more from the Marinette (Wis.) Eagle Herald.

Grand Rapids West Catholic 17, Algonac 0

Reigning Division 5 champion West Catholic (11-2) completed an impressive even if not altogether unexpected run through three road games and a neutral-site semi to return to Ford Field. Defense has been the story for the Falcons this season, and they added a shutout after holding their first three playoff opponents to a combined 20 points. Algonac, in its first Semifinal appearance, held West Catholic to the latter’s second fewest points this season. But the Muskrats (11-2) failed to get on the board for the first time since Week 3 of 2014. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Division 6

Maple City Glen Lake 34, Leroy Pine River 20

Glen Lake’s earned it first trip to the Finals in football since 1996 on the success of a run game that was able to navigate the snowy conditions at Thirlby Field in Traverse City. Pine River (9-4), playing in its first Semifinal, had given up only 33 points total over the first three playoff games. Glen Lake (11-2), with the win, tied for its most in a season also since that 1996 run. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Jackson Lumen Christi 27, Millington 7

Lumen Christi (11-2) is headed back to Ford Field for its first championship game since 2009 thanks in part to a second-straight single-digit performance by its defense. After holding Napoleon to only six points in the Regional Final, the Titans kept Millington to its fewest this fall (Millington also had scored only seven against Frankenmuth in Week 5). The Semifinal was the first for the Cardinals (11-1) since back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia 34, Ubly 16

The Pirates (13-0) will return to the Division 7 Final after finishing runner-up a year ago. And they booked the trip by downing an undefeated team for the third straight week, handing Ubly (12-1) a first loss after doing the same to Traverse City St. Francis in the Regional Final and Saugatuck in the District championship game. After missing 100 yards rushing last week for the first time in three seasons, Pirates running back Jared Smith came back with 119 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Click for more from the Lansing State Journal.

Detroit Loyola 54, Cassopolis 22

Loyola will play in its fourth championship game in five seasons seeking to add to its 2014 title after continuing a playoff run that has seen the Bulldogs beat four league title winners and all by at least 23 points. Cassopolis (11-2), champion of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red, was playing in its first Semifinal and set a program record this fall for victories. But the usually defense-strong Rangers couldn’t stop a Loyola attack that scored its second-most points this season. Click for more from State Champs! Sports Network.

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central 35, St. Ignace 0

The Crusaders (13-0) will play for a fourth straight Division 8 championship after improving on a Week 2 win over the Saints. MCC had beaten St. Ignace 21-6 in that first meeting, and led this one 21-0 by the end of its first possession of the second half. The shutout was the Crusaders’ third straight, and they’ve given up only seven points total over four playoff games. MCC also defeated the Saints (11-2) in a Semifinal last season. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.  

Ottawa Lake Whiteford 40, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 21

Whiteford (13-0) has been building for years toward what will be its first championship game , and broke through after also playing but falling in a Semifinal a year ago. Jesse Kiefer ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns as the team piled up 526 yards of total offense, and the defense held mostly tight despite 152 yards rushing and two scores by MLS’s Casey Williams on only eight carries. The Cardinals finished 10-3 after reaching their second Semifinal in three seasons. Click for more from the Saginaw News.

PHOTO: Walled Lake Western's Cody White breaks through the line against Lowell in their Division 2 Semifinal on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of State Champs! Sports Network.)

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.)