Drive for Detroit: Week 1 in Review

August 31, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Another MHSAA football season began this weekend. Where do we begin ... 

The two longest active winning streaks in Michigan came to an end. Three Detroit Public School League teams beat opponents that finished 2014 playing at Ford Field. And that's just the start. 

See below for five of the most significant results to come from each of eight regions around the state, plus three 8-player games that could mean much as the season unfolds. 

Bay & Thumb

Bad Axe 20, Harbor Beach 6

Bad Axe last beat Harbor Beach in 2009 – and then lost the last five season openers to the Pirates by a combined score of 242-0. But the Hatchets made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001, and now can claim giving Harbor Beach only its second regular-season loss since the start of the 2011 season. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

Also noted:

Algonac 19, Marine City 18 – The Muskrats had one win a year ago and had dropped 15 straight to Marine City, which finished its typical 10-1 in 2014.

Davison 29, Fenton 26 – The Cardinals opened 1-0 for the first time since 2012 and after falling to Fenton 35-0 only a year ago.

Ortonville-Brandon 11, Goodrich 10 – Zach Clements’ 37-yard field goal with two seconds left avenged last season’s 33-7 opening-night loss to the Martians.

Richmond 20, Marysville 12 – The Blue Devils ran their streak to three straight wins over Marysville, last season’s District Final opponent; this time they were inspired by co-coach John Kocher, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. 

Greater Detroit

Macomb Dakota 35, Clarkston 10

Over two weeks, the three longest winning streaks in Michigan football have ended. Ithaca (69) and Ishpeming (33) saw theirs come to a close at last season’s MHSAA Finals, and Clarkston’s 27-game streak was stopped by a Dakota team that nearly broke it last season before it really got rolling when the Wolves won by three on opening night. Running back Kaiser Carleton ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns for the Cougars, who are playing this season for a 15th-straight playoff berth. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Also noted:

Detroit Catholic Central 15, Muskegon 12 – Last season’s 4-5 finish became a little more of a distant memory as the Shamrocks edged the reigning Division 3 runner-up.

Detroit Martin Luther King 12, Warren DeLaSalle 10 – The Crusaders opened a season filled with high expectations by beginning to meet them in downing last fall’s Division 2 champion.

Detroit Renaissance 22, Lansing Sexton 14 – The Phoenix earned its first opening-night win since 2008 against the rebuilt but still reigning Division 4 runners-up Big Reds.

Walled Lake Western 42, Lowell 40 – Western’s massive road win came down to the final minutes and made the Red Arrows 0-1 for the first time since 1993. 


Pewamo-Westphalia 26, Madison Heights Madison 25 (OT)

These two combined for a 19-6 record, two District titles and a Regional championship a year ago, when Madison opened with an 18-6 win over the Pirates. But this one went to P-W when it chose to go for two points instead of one after an overtime touchdown and standout running back Jared Smith finished the game with a conversion. Click for more from the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.

Also noted:

Jackson Lumen Christi 22, Grand Rapids West Catholic 21 – Two squads met after graduating their stars from a year ago and played to a classic that resulted in the end of West Catholic’s 23-game winning streak.

Charlotte 38, Ionia 35 – Another last-second field goal gave the Orioles revenge for last season’s 28-0 first-game loss to the Bulldogs.

Ithaca 42, Clare 14 – The Yellowjackets started a new winning streak by making it two straight on opening night over the reigning Jack Pine Conference champ.

Beal City 28, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 6 – This was much closer than the final score for most of the game, and much closer than 36 and 61-point wins for Beal City over the Irish the last two seasons.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City 38, Mendon 14

Coming off its first MHSAA Semifinal run since 2001, Boyne City faced the test of replacing a number of top contributors and opening against another small-school program that annually reloads. So far, so good as the Ramblers ran for more than 300 yards and scored 38 of the game’s final 45 points after giving up the game’s first score. Click for more from the Petoskey News.

Also noted: 

Big Rapids 17, Cadillac 14 (2 OT) – The Cardinals couldn’t have picked a tougher opponent than Cadillac (20-2 the last two seasons) to begin a bounce-back from its 4-14 finish over the last two years.

Lake City 33, Harrison 32 (OT) – The Trojans enjoyed a dramatic finish coming off their first losing season since 2008 and a 28-0 loss to Harrison in last year’s opener.

Rogers City 14, AuGres-Sims 8 – The Hurons have improved their win total each of the last three seasons and took a nice step toward continuing by avenging last season’s 28-14 loss to the Wolverines.

Gaylord 49, Cheboygan 0 – The Blue Devils finished 5-4 a year ago after going 1-4 over their final five games; consider this another start on their pursuit of a first playoff berth since 2005.

Southwest Corridor

Battle Creek Lakeview 12, Portage Northern 6

The stakes weren’t as high this time after the teams met for a District championship last season – when Lakeview was victorious as well, 21-0. But the Spartans were able to further venge a 28-24 loss to Portage Northern on opening night of 2014, stopping the Huskies as they drove to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter. Click for more from the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Also noted:

Stevensville Lakeshore 34, Battle Creek Central 26 – The result was the same, and the game still close, although not decided in as intriguing a way as Lakeshore’s 2-0 win over Central on a safety a year ago.

Cassopolis 35, Niles Brandywine 8 – They’re in different divisions of the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference this season, but the Rangers still no doubt enjoyed avenging last season’s 27-26 loss.

Plainwell 32, Three Rivers 21 – It ended a lot closer than last season’s 34-0 Plainwell win, but remained an important victory over another playoff team from a year ago.

South Haven 30, Sturgis 25 – The Rams are 1-0 after opening night for the first time since 2007. 

Southeast & Border

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 62, Tecumseh 39

The reigning Division 6 champion Falcons opened coach Adam Kipf’s era with a dominating performance reminiscent of predecessor Jack Giarmo’s hard-running teams. SMCC rushed for more than 450 yards to down Tecumseh, a Division 3 playoff qualifier in 2014. Click to read more from the Monroe Evening News.

Also noted: 

Jackson 40, Ann Arbor Huron 7 – The Vikings’ equaled last season’s win total with its most points in a game since Week 8 of 2013 and after scoring only 122 total in 2014.

Saline 37, Rockford 24 – Reigning Division 1 runner-up Saline may indeed be the state’s best team, and this only furthered that argument.

Clinton 20, Manchester 19 – The Redskins made it 28 straight regular-season wins by just edging a Manchester team that finished 8-2 a year ago.

Howell 28, Monroe 14 – The Highlanders haven’t made the playoffs since 2012 but got off to the right start avenging last season’s 21-14 loss to Monroe, a playoff team three of the last four years. 

Upper Peninsula

Bark River-Harris 14, Crystal Falls Forest Park 13

The Broncos burst back into the Upper Peninsula’s elite going 8-3 last season and making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but two of those losses were to Forest Park – including 36-12 in the District Final. Any time these days that the Trojans lose short of Ford Field, it sends a little shockwave through the U.P. – and they haven’t started a season 0-1 since 2004, although they finished that season in the Division 8 championship game. Click for more from the Escanaba Daily Press.

Also noted:

Munising 12, Iron River West Iron County 6 – These teams combined to go 21-3 last season, but this round goes to Munising after West Iron beat the Mustangs in the last two openers.

L’Anse 8, Houghton 6 – The Purple Hornets took a step back last season after two straight playoff appearances, but hope a second-straight two-point win over Houghton points them back in the winning direction.

Ishpeming 14, Iron Mountain 7 – This annual opening-night battle returned to its usual level of competitiveness after Ishpeming had shut out the Mountaineers 106-0 over the last three seasons.

Menominee 49, Marinette, Wis. 21 – Chapter 109 of Michigan’s longest interstate rivalry went to the Maroons, who lead the series 52-50-7. 

West Michigan

Muskegon Oakridge 45, Muskegon Catholic Central 26

Oakridge is coming off a 10th-straight playoff appearance, so its ending of MCC’s 26-game winning streak doesn’t seem like a complete shocker. But the Eagles still should receive plenty of credit for loading up the nonleague slate like perhaps no team in MHSAA history, with two straight games against reigning champions – MCC won Division 8 a year ago and Detroit Loyola, next week’s opponent, won Division 7. Click for more from the Muskegon Chronicle.

Also noted:

East Grand Rapids 28, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 14 – The Pioneers made it three wins in four seasons in one of the state’s most anticipated openers between previous year’s playoff teams.  

Saugatuck 43, Constantine 40 – After just missing the playoffs last season at 5-4, Saugatuck started this fall by edging a powerhouse that hasn’t missed the postseason since 1990.

East Kentwood 35, Farmington Hills Harrison 28 – There’s little better to start the season than an opener between cross-state contenders like this one between teams that went a combined 21-5 last fall, and this result tells plenty of reason why.

Grand Rapids Christian 32, Grand Rapids South Christian 28 – The Eagles survived their closest of a six-game opening night winning streak against the Sailors. 


Kinde-North Huron 54, Carsonville-Port Sanilac 14

Kinde-North Huron fell back to 2-7 last season after two playoff seasons including a run to the MHSAA Semifinals in 2013, and scored only 122 points total in 2014. But this win could be the sign of better times this fall; the Warriors were 1-3 overall against CPS since moving to 8-player, and lost 13-12 to the Tigers a year ago. Click for more from the Huron Daily Tribune.

Also noted:

Rapid River 26, Onaway 12 – Onaway, playing its first game after switching from 11-player, gave the Rockets a rare close regular-season game.

Webberville 40, Dryden 38 – The Spartans scored eight fewer points than against Dryden a year ago, but gave up 48 fewer than in the 2014 86-48 opening-night loss. 

PHOTO: Mason opened with a 56-30 win over Okemos after falling to the rival Chieftains 28-14 a year ago.

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.)