Drive for Detroit: Week 1 in Review

September 3, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Let’s start our first weekly review of MHSAA football action with some of the results you won’t see among our list of most significant from opening weekend:

Kent City’s first opening night win over Ravenna in 15 tries and Beal City’s incredible 61-0 win over rival Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Kalamazoo Central’s 14-13 win over neighbor Loy Norrix and Kinde-North Huron’s 28-14 win over reigning MHSAA 8-player champion Deckerville.

All are big-time results, no doubt. But below I’ve tried to tell you about five more from each region of our state, organized by the winner in each game, that might have bigger impacts as we move immediately forward with most leagues schedules kicking off in three days. 

West Michigan

Zeeland West 44, Detroit Country Day 28

Country Day came into this season with plenty of deserved hype returning most of its star power from last season’s run to the MHSAA Division 4 Final. But Zeeland West has plenty of championship experience too, and its tough running proved too much for the Yellowjackets. Click to read more from the Oakland Press.

Also noted:

East Grand Rapids 24, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 7 – The Pioneers began making up for last season’s first playoff miss since 2000 with a solid win over another perennial power.

Grand Rapids Christian 41, Grand Rapids South Christian 13 – New faces abound, but the reigning Division 3 champion won big over last season’s Division 4 title winner.

Muskegon Oakridge 31, Grand Rapids West Catholic 25 – The Eagles are soaring high to start this fall after finishing 2012 with a 13-6 District Final loss to West Catholic.

Rockford 23, Utica Eisenhower 6 – Given these teams’ histories, no one would be stunned if they met again in 13 weeks in the MHSAA Division 1 Final. 

Greater Detroit

Oak Park 25, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 20

Oak Park entered its opener with the opportunity to show last season’s historic run wasn’t over with 2012’s final horn. Four touchdowns during the second half against the reigning MHSAA Division 3 runner-up proved the Knights will be talked about plenty again in 2013. Read more in the Detroit Free Press.

Also noted: 

Detroit Cass Tech 18, Southfield 14 – Two-time reigning Division 1 champion Cass Tech and quarterback Jayru Campbell edged an improved Bluejays team to start 1-0.

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley 27, Dearborn 20 (2 OT) – Chippewa Valley also beat Dearborn on opening night last season on the way to its first  playoff berth in three seasons; this one could be prove just as important.

Rochester Adams 12, Clarkston 7 – Coming off its first playoff miss since 1996, Adams won for the first time in its last four tries against one of the biggest and best programs in the state.

Lake Orion 35, Oxford 30 – If this was an indication, these two should again be contenders in their respective divisions of the Oakland Activities Association. Lake Orion has held the Double "O" Pigskin Trophy three of four seasons since the series was restarted in 2010; the teams formerly played for the prize from 1962-83. 

Southwest and Border

Battle Creek Harper Creek 27, Mattawan 7

Both of these teams should be contenders in their respective divisions of the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference, and both will run their way to success again this fall. It will be interesting to see in eight weeks just how similar their paths finish after a game that would’ve been much closer if not for some untimely Mattawan turnovers. Click to read more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Also noted: 

Battle Creek Central 15, Benton Harbor 0 – The Bearcats ended their 18-game winless streak with their first shutout since 2007.

Portage Central 55, Sturgis 0 – Sturgis has a Division 1 college prospect in quarterback Chance Stewart, which made this arguably the most impressive defensive performance statewide.

Watervliet 43, Gobles 14 – Simply put, this was a solid nonleague matchup between teams that each won eight games last season. Watervliet has the head start on repeating that feat.

Edwardsburg 34, Otsego 7 – Different teams, same story as above as both are playoff regulars that should again be in the mix by the end of the season. 

Bay and Thumb

Saginaw Swan Valley 27, Saginaw Nouvel 20

Both might end this season at Ford Field after Swan Valley missed by one win a year ago and Nouvel missed by two after winning Division 7 in 2011. But as for the best in Saginaw, it looks like the Vikings at this point after running back Alex Grace ran for more than 200 yards in one of the state’s most intriguing openers. Click to read more from the Saginaw News.

Also noted:

New Lothrop 28, Traverse City St. Francis 7 – The Hornets traveled north for a tough opener and came back with plenty of momentum for the Genesee Area Conference Blue schedule.

Hemlock 19, Frankenmuth 12 – Hemlock, the 2012 Tri-Valley Conference Central champion, held on to beat the 2012 TVC East winner.

Montrose 38, Reese 8 – This looked to be a close game between 10-win teams from a year ago, but Montrose instead avenged last season’s 21-point loss to the Rockets in a bigger way.

Saginaw Arthur Hill 24, Goodrich 14 – Arthur Hill has struggled since it last playoff berth in 2008, but appears on the rebound with this reversal of a 41-6 loss to Goodrich in 2012. 


Ithaca 57, Williamston 13

This wasn’t really close, but was significant nonetheless. The win was Ithaca’s 43rd straight, tying the record for longest victory streak in MHSAA history in which all games were won during the playoff era. This week, the Yellowjackets face rival St. Charles with a chance to move up the list again. Click to read more from the Lansing State Journal.

Also noted: 

Jackson Northwest 35, Hillsdale 20 – Only a record performance by Ithaca could trump what might be Northwest’s best football win since the mid-2000s. Hillsdale is coming off an 11-win season, and Northwest has won one game in each of the last three years.

Lansing Sexton 21, Chelsea 14 – Beating a team with 14 straight playoff berths will no doubt help the Big Reds return to the postseason after missing last season.

Pewamo-Westphalia 20, Lansing Catholic 7 – This reversed a 24-point loss to the Cougars last season as the Pirates began their quest for a third straight MHSAA Semifinals run.

Eaton Rapids 44, Leslie 0 – New Greyhounds coach Mike Smith, most known from his success at Holt, started his Eaton Rapids rebuilding effort with the team’s biggest win since 1996. 

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee 36, Manistique 30

Negaunee had to be on its game for a tough Mid-Peninsula Conference opener against another playoff team from 2012. But the Miners held on through a late Manistique run and scored last to open league play and the season 1-0. Big plays were key, as Negaunee scored on an 80-yard kickoff return and 66-yard run. The Miners continued claim of the Oscar Wassberg Trophy, named for the former coach of both teams. Click to read more from the Marquette Mining Journal.

Also noted:

Cedarville 42, Posen 40 – The Trojans didn’t feel much of a challenge until Week 8 last season, but survived this one to kick off its 8-player season.

Ishpeming 36, Iron Mountain 0 – The reigning MHSAA Division 7 champion kept rolling with a win over another playoff team from last season.

Bessemer 28, Hancock 26 (OT) – The last three games between these two have been decided by a touchdown or less, but all in favor of the Bessemer-led co-op.

Marquette 31, Traverse City Central 23 – Marquette should get a solid boost at playoff selection time from this win as it goes for a fourth straight postseason berth. 

Lower Up North

Reed City 39, Big Rapids 26

As stated earlier last week, this game eventually decided last season’s Central State Activities Association title in favor of Reed City. This was the fourth straight opening-night win for the Coyotes over rival Big Rapids. This game is played for the Pioneer Trophy. Click to read more from the Cadillac News.

Also noted: 

Alpena 15, Escanaba 7 – Alpena has won only one game in each of the last two seasons and was outscored by Escanaba by a combined 72-0 over 2011 and 2012.

Hillman 55, Gaylord St. Mary 54 – These teams combined for only 41 points when they met to open 2012. This time, they qualified for the MHSAA record book.  

Charlevoix 20, St. Ignace 0 – Coming off one win in 2012, and against a team that was 24-2 combined over the last two seasons, Charlevoix pulled off one of the biggest upsets statewide.

Maple City Glen Lake 27, Boyne City 13 – Glen Lake continued rolling off last season’s best finish in more than a decade by beating again the team it defeated to open the 2012 playoffs.

Trophy Games

Each week the MHSAA highlights trophy games played across the state. A few were mentioned above, with these the rest we knew about heading into the weekend. 

  • Bull Bowl – This is one of our newest trophies, established in 2011 for the opener between Fremont and Sparta. The Spartans gained a 2-1 advantage in the series last week. Final: Sparta 6, Fremont 0.
  • Battle of 127 Trophy – Hudson and Addison have met for a number of years for this trophy sponsored by a local insurance company and local automotive group. Final: Hudson 46, Addison 0.
  • Battle for The Paddle – Neighbors Sanford Meridian and Bullock Creek have met on opening night for the last dozen seasons. Bullock Creek owns a 7-5 advantage during that time. Final: Meridian 26, Bullock Creek 22.
  • State Bank Traveling Trophy – Linden and Fenton have played for this prize dating to 1976, including on opening night the last two seasons. Final: Fenton 39, Linden 27.
  • Little Brown Jug – Two games were played for these last week: Napoleon and Brooklyn Columbia Central continuing a series begun in 1967, and Manton and Mesick. Finals: Manton 29, Mesick 0; Columbia Central 26, Napoleon 18.
  • Border Battle Cheese Trophy – Hurley (Wis.) made it eight straight opening-night wins over rival Ironwood. Final: Hurley 47, Ironwood 7. 

PHOTO: Grand Ledge made this stop, but fell a few short in a 16-14 opening-night loss at home against East Kentwood. 

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.)