Drive for Detroit: Week 1 in Review

August 29, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Upsets and comebacks, broken win streaks and broken hearts mending were among the storylines most prevalent from another highlight-filled first weekend of Michigan high school football.

Two reigning MHSAA champions – Romeo and Ishpeming – fell in their first games after ending last season at Ford Field. Another 2015 champ, Detroit Martin Luther King, returned to the field this fall victorious but without coach Dale Harvel, who died unexpectedly in July. He was with his players however, his name across all of their backs.

Each week during the regular season and playoffs, we’ll look back at the games from every region of our state and 8-player and discuss which results could have the biggest impacts as we move ahead. Games are organized regionally by hometown of the winning team.

And now, our season debut. 

Bay & Thumb

Algonac 7, Marine City 2

Odd score, but it was a pretty impressive defensive display by an Algonac unit that had five shutouts a year ago. Last season’s 19-18 opening-night win over powerhouse Marine City seemed to spur the Muskrats to their best finish ever, and they’ll be hoping for the same momentum after scoring the game’s lone touchdown midway through the third quarter. Click for more from the Port Huron Times Herald.

Also noted:

Byron 29, Montrose 27 – The Eagles ended last season with a 55-18 Pre-District playoff loss to the Rams, but came back for what’s believed to be the school’s first win over Montrose.

Bay City Central 13, Swartz Creek 12 – The Wolves became the 12th team in Michigan high school football history to win 500 games, running their record since 1922 to 500-321-31.

Midland Dow 41, Mount Pleasant 14 – The Chargers ran off 10 straight wins after opening last season with a 14-point loss to the Oilers, and appear ready to keep that run going.

Almont 35, Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary 26 – The Raiders couldn’t have prepped better for next week’s matchup with Algonac than by beating a Seminary team that’s gone a combined 21-4 over the last two seasons.

Greater Detroit

Macomb Dakota 35, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 28

Dakota earned new coach Greg Baur arguably the most impressive win of opening weekend as it downed the two-time reigning Division 3 champion Eaglets. Dakota quarterback Brett Droski connected with receiver Jaylen Hall on two long scores as the Cougars came back from an early deficit. A year ago, Dakota opened by downing then-reigning Division 1 champ Clarkston. Click for more from the Macomb Daily.

Also noted:

Oxford 27, Romeo 26 – Especially after going 3-6 a year ago, knocking off the reigning Division 1 champion was Oxford’s best win in a few seasons (and its second over Romeo in three.)

Dearborn Fordson 40, Canton 35 – The Tractors avenged an opening-night loss to the Chiefs last season by rallying from 21 points down at Wayne State.

Clarkston 28, Lapeer 7 – JT King ran for two of Clarkston’s four rushing touchdowns as it handed Lapeer the first regular-season loss of the Lightning’s now three-season history. 

Utica Eisenhower 28, Plymouth 7 – Eisenhower earned some momentum to take into this week's Macomb Area Conference Red tilt against league favorite Dakota by downing a playoff team from last season.


Ithaca 31, Clare 28

Ithaca hasn’t had a scare during the regular season in a long time – and the Yellowjackets kept their regular-season winning streak alive at 56 straight. Ithaca had beaten Clare by four touchdowns just a year ago, but this time the reigning Division 6 champion had to survive a comeback attempt by the Pioneers. Click to read more from the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun.

Also noted:

East Lansing 42, St. Johns 7 – The Trojans broke a two-year opening-night losing streak to the Redwings as reigning Lower Peninsula Division 1 110 hurdles champion Kentre Patterson showed why he might be the Lansing area’s most exciting player this fall.

Brighton 14, Detroit East English 8 – The Bulldogs took a two-score lead into the fourth quarter and held on in a Michigan Stadium matchup of teams that both won nine games a year ago.

DeWitt 42, Linden 14 – The Panthers ran their opening-night winning streak against the Eagles to three after also beating Linden during the 2012 and 2013 playoffs.

Pewamo-Westphalia 30, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central 20 – Add another couple of hundred yards to Jared Smith’s pursuit of the all-time career rushing record as he leads the reigning Division 7 runner-up Pirates. 

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City West 42, Midland 14

The Titans got a start on reversing last season’s sub-.500 finish by nearly reversing the score of last season’s opening-night 42-11 loss to the Chemics. West stacked up 391 total yards including 271 rushing on 45 carries and jumped out to a 21-0 lead and 35-7 advantage by halftime. The Titans were 4-5 in 2015, while Midland finished 7-3. Click for more from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Also noted:

Cadillac 40, Big Rapids 6 – Cadillac’s first sub-.500 season since 2008 last fall started with a three-point loss to Big Rapids, but the Vikings put up points more like their one-loss teams of 2014 and 2013 in this victory.

Gaylord 41, Boyne City 32 – With Gaylord showing a few more new faces in key places, this result might have been a bit of a surprise – and was an impressive win for the Blue Devils against a Ramblers team that won 10 games a year ago.

Onekama 18, Hillman 0 – The Portagers are coming off two straight playoff appearances, but it’s still strong that they handed Hillman the latter’s first shutout since 2012.

Tawas 35, Lincoln Alcona 30 – Alcona bounced back from an down season in 2014 to return to the playoffs a year ago, and Tawas looks like a possibility to copy with a big win coming off last year’s 2-7 finish.

Southeast & Border

Grass Lake 32, Stockbridge 18

Grass Lake is seeking its 12th straight playoff appearance this fall, so it’s not like the Warriors haven’t won their share of big games over the years. But they still made quite a defensive stand, holding down a Stockbridge offense that has scored more than 400 points each of the last two seasons and is returning its quarterback and a top receiver this fall. Click for more from the Jackson Citizen-Patriot.

Also noted:

Clinton 48, Manchester 12 – The 115th meeting between these two was not nearly as close as the 114th, which also was won by Clinton, but by only a point.

Morenci 34, Pittsford 7 – If one game is an indication, the Bulldogs are coming in on a roll again with a second straight opening-night win over a Pittsford team coming off the playoffs.

Adrian Lenawee Christian 35, Britton Deerfield 34 – Returning after the best finish in 2015 of its eight-year history, Lenawee Christian hung on to get off to another good start.

Tecumseh 15, Harper Woods Chandler Park 14 – The Indians got a much-needed opening win heading into one of the most loaded schedules from this corner of the state.

Southwest Corridor

Benton Harbor 28, Marshall 7

The good times continue to roll for Benton Harbor. Last season was history-making as the Tigers secured their first playoff berth, but this win over Marshall actually made Benton Harbor 1-0 for the first time since 2011 – and came against a playoff team from a year ago. Click for more from the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.

Also noted:

Gobles 14, Delton Kellogg 13 (OT) – The Tigers made it two straight one-point opening-night wins in a row over Delton, this one secured with a two-point conversion in overtime.

Coldwater 33, Jackson 22 – These two both have come back from one-win seasons to make the playoffs over the last few years, but the Cardinals are still a little ahead of the Vikings as both surge forward.

Vicksburg 17, Dowagiac 7 – In a Wolverine Conference where teams play nine league games, this one right out of the gate could be a decider or at least influence the final championship result.

Stevensville Lakeshore 30, Battle Creek Central 13 – This win could prove especially important as Lakeshore goes for its 19th straight playoff appearance but faces what will likely be one of the strongest league schedules in Michigan, again.

Upper Peninsula

Iron Mountain 35, Ishpeming 24

After absorbing two losses – opening night and playoffs – to Ishpeming a year ago, Iron Mountain started the climb back against its longtime Week 1 foe by breaking the Hematites’ 27-game regular-season winning streak that dated back to 2012. The Mountaineers hadn’t beaten Ishpeming since opening night 2011, and Ishpeming – the reigning Division 7 champion – didn't lose at all in 13 tries in 2015. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Also noted: 

Menominee 31, Marinette, Wis. 14 – The 110th meeting in the longest interstate rivalry involving a Michigan team moved the Maroons’ all-time edge to 53-50-7 in the series.

Sault Ste. Marie 13, Cheboygan 7 (OT) – Sault Ste. Marie is 1-0 after opening night for the first time since 2007 with its third win over the last four tries against Cheboygan.

Gwinn 36, Gladstone 16 – The Modeltowners won on opening night for only the third time over the last decade and with their most points in a game since Week 7 of 2014.

Lake Linden-Hubbell 28, Hancock 26 – The Lakes didn’t come close to having a regular-season scare going 9-0 in 2015, but stopped a two-point conversion late to survive this one. 

West Michigan

Grand Rapids Catholic Central 27, East Grand Rapids 6

GRCC debuted Cougar stadium by breaking a three-year losing streak to opening-night rival East Grand Rapids. The Cougars scored twice on defense and a third time after an interception to put away the Pioneers, who like GRCC also won nine games last season. Click for more from the Grand Rapids Press.

Also noted:

Muskegon 51, Ann Arbor Pioneer 14 – Muskegon quarterback Kalil Pimpleton might be the player most people statewide want to see; he ran for two scores, threw two touchdown passes and caught one at Michigan Stadium.

Caledonia 55, Fenton 52 – The Scots gained the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter after the teams were tied at halftime at Grand Valley State University.

Hudsonville 21, Grand Ledge 14 – Holding off a Comets team that went 12-1 a year ago was a great way for the Eagles to start off a new season.

East Kentwood 31, Farmington Hills Harrison 24 – The Falcons added a second-straight seven-point opening-night win over Harrison, this time at Michigan Stadium. 


Crystal Falls Forest Park 64, Rapid River 22

No team that’s made the switch from 11 to 8-player has brought as much championship success as three-time MHSAA title winner Forest Park did in making the move this fall. Its debut against annual power Rapid River could be a scary sign for opponents of what’s to come. Click for more from the Iron Mountain Daily News.

Also noted:

Pickford 56, Bellaire 6 – The Panthers did make the playoffs last season in their first of 8-player, but with a 37-26 loss to Bellaire, a regular contender in the Bridge Alliance race.

Camden-Frontier 86, Elyria Open Door Christian, Ohio 8 – The Redskins won for the first time since Week 8 of 2013, giving them immediate satisfaction in their first game of 8-player football. 

PHOTO: Detroit Martin Luther King players wear jerseys showing the last name of late coach Dale Harvel during their Week 1 win over Southfield Arts & Technology. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Public School League.)

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.)