Drive for Detroit: Week 2 Preview

August 29, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Opening week of this high school football season predictably fulfilled anticipation and expectation.

The encore should be pretty good, too.

Up this week is a rematch of last season’s Division 1 championship game, which also is among a number of league openers matching conference title favorites all over Michigan. Reigning Division 3 champ Muskegon won’t be starting league play for a few more weeks, but again might be hosting the most intriguing game statewide as another Detroit-area powerhouse comes to town.

Nearly all of this week’s games will be played Thursday night in advance of the Labor Day holiday. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed, and if you’re not watching in person check out one of eight games live on

“Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid. Games below are Thursday unless noted.

Bay & Thumb

Frankenmuth (1-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (1-0)

Big-time rivals during the 1980s (when they shared a league), Swan Valley and Frankenmuth will meet again for the first time since 2010 and this time as statewide contenders. Swan Valley is the reigning Division 5 runner-up and Frankenmuth was a Division 5 semifinalist a year ago as both fell to champion Grand Rapids West Catholic during the playoff’s final rounds. Both are coming off big wins over bigger competition last week; the Vikings downed Cedar Springs by nine, and the Eagles defeated Bay City Central by 23.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (1-0) at Reese (1-0), Goodrich (1-0) at Ortonville Brandon (1-0), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (1-0) vs. Midland (0-1) at Northwood, St. Clair Shores South Lake (1-0) at Marine City (1-0).

Greater Detroit

West Bloomfield (1-0) at Clarkston (1-0), Friday

This is a rematch of last season’s Division 1 championship game, when these two combined for the second-lowest scoring Final in MHSAA football history – Clarkston winning 3-2. Not telling by the score, West Bloomfield’s offense was loaded with future Division I college players – but the retooled Lakers scored 39 in a win last week over Birmingham Groves, while Clarkston’s defense looked stingy again in downing Grandville 12-9. And don’t forget: These two also both play in the Oakland Activities Association Red, and West Bloomfield won that matchup last season 37-16.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Waterford Our Lady (1-0) at Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (1-0), Oak Park (1-0) at Birmingham Groves (0-1), Livonia Churchill (1-0) at Belleville (1-0), Warren Fitzgerald (1-0) at Auburn Hills Avondale (1-0).


Haslett (1-0) at Lansing Sexton (0-1)

In finishing 8-3 a year ago, Haslett posted its best record since 2006. The Vikings picked up on the same foot last week, opening with a 28-7 win over Coldwater – and they’ll now try to make it two in a row over 2017 playoff teams. Sexton just missed giving new coach Johnel Davis his first win, falling to Gaylord by 23-19. But the Big Reds would love to pick up some steam heading into a new league, the Capital Area Activities Conference White, and it’s already possible to forecast this as a key game if Sexton is to qualify for the playoffs in two months.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Lincoln Alcona (0-1) at Breckenridge (1-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (1-0) at Leslie (1-0), Walled Lake Northern (0-1) at DeWitt (1-0), Ann Arbor Huron (0-1) at Williamston (1-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

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

St. Francis had a lot to enjoy about a 42-3 opening-night win over Marquette last week, while Glen Lake ran into a regular-season superpower in falling to New Lothrop. But a win over the Gladiators would certainly heal the grief of that 32-point defeat. These teams have met in both the regular season and playoffs two of the last three seasons, with St. Francis claiming last year’s regular-season meeting 35-9 – but then the District Final rematch only 13-0.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Tawas (1-0) at Rogers City (1-0), Lakeview (1-0) at Lake City (1-0), Gladstone (1-0) at Gaylord (1-0), Marquette (0-1) at Traverse City Central (1-0).

Southeast & Border

Napoleon (0-1) at Addison (1-0)

Last season’s Cascades Conference race saw Addison beat Napoleon by two, Napoleon beat Michigan Center by three and Michigan Center beat Addison by 12 – and all three share the league title. It wouldn’t be shocking if this matchup played a big part in the chase again. Addison opened last week with a big win over Dearborn Heights Star International and Napoleon fell to Brooklyn Columbia Central – both repeats of 2017 results and not necessarily telling of what to expect.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Jackson Lumen Christi (1-0) at Parma Western (1-0), Hudson (0-1) at Morenci (0-1), Lake Fenton (1-0) at Ida (1-0) FRIDAY Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1-0) at Saline (0-1).

Southwest Corridor

Saugatuck (1-0) at Watervliet (1-0)

Both saw their 2017 seasons end against eventual MHSAA champions, Watervliet in a Division 6 Regional Final to Jackson Lumen Christi and Saugatuck at Ford Field where it fell to Pewamo-Westphalia in the Division 7 Final. Watervliet scored at least 50 points in its first seven games last season, and opened this one with another 50-pointer last week against Lawton. Saugatuck actually was more of a defensive force a year ago – but started this one with a 55-pointer that’s been the expectation most other seasons this decade.  

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Dowagiac (1-0) at Three Rivers (1-0), Portage Northern (1-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (0-1), St. Joseph (0-1) at Niles (1-0), Kalamazoo United (1-0) at Lawton (0-1).

Upper Peninsula

Iron Mountain (1-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (1-0), Friday

Iron Mountain’s one-win finish in 2017 was quite a rarity – the Mountaineers had made the playoffs 16 of the previous 18 years and not had a one-win season on the field since 1990. So it made sense that they equaled last fall’s win total last week with a 12-9 victory over Negaunee. Westwood, meanwhile, is coming off its winningest season ever at 9-2 – and started its campaign last week to show that wasn’t a one-hit wonder with a 42-0 shutout of Houghton.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Negaunee (0-1) at Calumet (1-0) FRIDAY Lake Linden-Hubbell (0-1) at Ishpeming (1-0), Petoskey (0-1) at Escanaba (0-1), Iron River West Iron County (1-0) at Bark River-Harris (0-1).

West Michigan

Detroit Martin Luther King (1-0) at Muskegon (1-0), Friday

When Muskegon opens with back-to-back home games against Warren DeLaSalle and now Martin Luther King, it’s hard to not tout them as the biggest games of many exciting matchups from the west side of the Lower Peninsula. Quarterback Cameron Martinez showed what he’s capable of in last week’s 36-21 win over the reigning Division 2 champion, and expectations will only continue to grow. But King – which fell to DeLaSalle by a point in their Division 2 Semifinal in November – could be an even tougher test coming off a 52-38 win over Illinois powerhouse East St. Louis.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Rockford (0-1) at Lowell (0-1), Lansing Catholic (1-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (0-1), Benton Harbor (1-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-0), Holland West Ottawa (1-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (1-0).


Eben Junction Superior Central (1-0) at Cedarville (0-1)

Superior Central stunned the 8-player community with a 46-24 win over reigning Division 2 champion Crystal Falls Forest Park last week, and the Cougars can start 2-0 for the first time since 2012 by following up against another perennial power. But Cedarville surely is eager to get back on the field as well after putting up 40 in a six-point loss to Stephenson. Don’t be surprised if this turns into an offensive display.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Central Lake (0-1) at Onekama (1-0), Engadine (1-0) at Pickford (1-0), Powers North Central (0-1) at Rapid River (1-0), Bellaire (1-0) at Suttons Bay (1-0).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: A Flint Beecher linebacker readies for the snap during last week’s win over Flint Southwestern at Atwood Stadium. (Photo by John Johnson.)

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.)