Drive for Detroit: Week 2 Preview

August 31, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

After an opening weekend highlighted by showcases in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, Michigan high school football fans should look west, north and really far north for the most colossal matchups of Week 2.

Arguably the top teams in the Lansing and Grand Rapids areas and all of 8-player football will face off as the most intriguing games of this week’s Drive for Detroit, powered by MI Student Aid. A number of leagues also begin play, with matchups in at least three conferences likely playing a part in which favorite eventually is crowned champion.

Check out our previews below – and visit the Score Center tonight and all weekend for scores as they are reported and links to updated schedules and standings.

Bay & Thumb

Almont (1-0) at Algonac (1-0)

The water should be boiling for this Blue Water Area Conference opener. Rewind to Week 6 of last season, when upstart Algonac broke reigning league champ Almont’s 16-game BWAC winning streak with a 21-7 victory. Algonac went on share the league title with Richmond (with Almont a win short of also sharing), then beat Almont again, 13-0, in their Division 5 District Final. Both earned impressive victories last week, Algonac over Marine City and Almont over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary.

Others that caught my eye: Chesaning (1-0) at Freeland (1-0), Midland Dow (1-0) at Bay City Central (1-0), Harbor Beach (1-0) at Beaverton (1-0), Flint Powers Catholic (0-1) at Saginaw Heritage (1-0).

Greater Detroit

Allen Park (1-0) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (1-0)

Allen Park shared the Downriver League championship last season by winning its final seven regular-season games after falling to Roosevelt 23-14 in Week 2. The Bears, meanwhile, ended up missing out on any share of the league title by going on to lose two games by a combined four points. Roosevelt has won seven of eight meetings against Allen Park – including once in the playoffs – since the two became league foes in 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Walled Lake Western (1-0) at Canton (0-1), Utica Eisenhower (1-0) at Macomb Dakota (1-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (1-0) at Romeo (0-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (0-1) at Detroit Loyola (1-0) on Friday.


DeWitt (1-0) at Grand Ledge (0-1)

Lansing-area fans have been anticipating this matchup not just since schedules were announced for this season, but for many years. These two have been the most successful programs in the Capital Area Activities Conference for most over the last two decades and nearly are neighbors, although Grand Ledge has about 700 more students. The Comets made the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago; DeWitt’s most recent of five MHSAA Finals appearances came in 2013. Both are led by standout quarterbacks – DeWitt by Will Nagel and the Comets by Nolan Bird – although playmakers JD Ross and Antonio Rush, respectively, could be the difference-makers for those teams on offense. DeWitt dominated at Linden last week, while Grand Ledge fell a score short at Hudsonville.

Others that caught my eye: Lansing Catholic (1-0) at Lansing Everett (0-1), Dansville (1-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (1-0), Hillsdale (1-0) at Portland (1-0), Davison (1-0) at Mount Pleasant (0-1) on Friday.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Maple City Glen Lake (1-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (1-0) on Friday

St. Francis is fresh off a trip to the Upper Peninsula and a 40-14 win over frequent playoff team Marquette. Glen Lake certainly is a more familiar opponent – the teams were in the same division of the Northern Michigan Football Conference during the league’s first two seasons, although they are in different divisions this fall. Glen Lake made headway in its two matchups with St. Francis last season, coming off a 41-7 Week 7 loss to fall only 21-3 in a Division 6 playoff opener. A four-touchdown win over Kingsley last week should be a good sign of things to come for the Lakers.

Others that caught my eye: Charlevoix (1-0) at Boyne City (0-1), Lincoln Alcona (0-1) at Hillman (0-1), Whittemore-Prescott (1-0) at Tawas (1-0), Central Lake (1-0) at Frankfort (1-0).

Southwest Corridor

Edwardsburg (1-0) at Vicksburg (1-0)

Although Edwardsburg won this matchup 58-25 a year ago, the fact remains that Vicksburg is still the only team to hand the Eddies a regular-season loss over the last three seasons – winning 16-14 in 2014. That’s enough to make this intriguing. But add in a solid 17-7 win for the Bulldogs over Dowagiac last week, and it appears they’re up to the task of challenging the Wolverine Conference frontrunners again.

Others that caught my eye: Marshall (0-1) at Coldwater (1-0), Schoolcraft (1-0) at Watervliet (1-0), Niles (1-0) at Mattawan (0-1), Kalamazoo Central (0-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (1-0).

Southeast & Border

Morenci (1-0) at Hudson (1-0)

An early key moment in Morenci’s turnaround over the last three seasons was a 2014 win over the rival Tigers, who had mostly dominated their annual game over the previous decade and a half. Morenci made it two straight on Hudson by winning 26-20 last year and is coming off a solid 34-7 win over 2015 playoff qualifier Pittsford. The Tigers are coming off their first sub-.500 finish last year since 2006 and have plenty to prove – and also to benefit from by winning this one with an increasingly tough Lenawee County Athletic Association schedule ahead.

Others that caught my eye: New Haven (1-0) at Ida (1-0), Milan (1-0) at Flat Rock (1-0) on Friday, New Boston Huron (1-0) at Carleton Airport (1-0) on Friday, Ypsilanti Community (0-0) at Monroe (0-1) on Friday.

West Michigan

Lowell (1-0) at Rockford (0-1) on Friday

After three seasons off, these Grand Rapids-area powers will face off again; Lowell won both the 2011 and 2012 meetings when the teams first brought this matchup back after nearly four decades. Aside from these being two of the best-known programs in the state, last week’s events should draw a few more statewide eyes west. Lowell, the reigning Division 2 runner-up thanks to a last-play touchdown in the 2015 Final by Detroit Martin Luther King, blazed out of the gates with a 36-19 win over Warren DeLaSalle. Rockford, meanwhile, was forced to forfeit to Saline last week because an illness sidelined a good portion of the team. The Rams made the Division 1 Regional Finals last fall.

Others that caught my eye: Benton Harbor (1-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-0), at Hudsonville; St. Ignace (1-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (1-0), Zeeland West (1-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0), Caledonia (1-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (1-0) on Friday

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (1-0) at Calumet (1-0)

Calumet is one of the most consistently solid teams on either peninsula, with seven or more wins nine of the last 11 seasons. And the Copper Kings broke through one of their toughest annual obstacles at the end of last fall, downing Negaunee 24-14 in a Division 6 playoff opener after losing all five of the teams’ recent meetings. Still, the Miners’ 7-3 finish last fall was similarly solid but a little deceptive – those three losses came over the final four weeks and by a combined 17 points. This could be a statement win for a team looking to take those next small steps back to elite.        

Others that caught my eye: Petoskey (0-1) at Escanaba (1-0), Gwinn (1-0) at Iron Mountain (1-0), Bessemer Gogebic (1-0) at Bark River-Harris (1-0) on Friday, Newberry (1-0) at Munising (0-1) on Friday.


Powers North Central (1-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (1-0) on Friday

Forest Park, 11-player until this fall, has taken a deep dive immediately into 8-player football, opening up last week against annual power Rapid River (and winning 64-22) and now hosting reigning champion Powers North Central. The Jets opened last week just as explosively as they played all of last season, putting up 60 on Luck, Wis. This one could be telling in how the Western Eight Conference standings eventually shake out – and also indicate where Forest Park sits in relation to the 8-player elite.

Others that caught my eye: Posen (1-0) at Cedarville (1-0), Lawrence (1-0) at Morrice (1-0).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Kalamazoo Central, here on offense against St. Joseph last week at Michigan Stadium, will face Stevensville Lakeshore seeking its first win this season. (Click to see more from

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.)