Drive for Detroit: Week 3 Preview

September 8, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If Week 2 of the Michigan high school football season was loaded with matchups anticipated statewide, this week is just about the opposite – these games matter just as much, but it will likely take a few weeks to find out how they will impact the rest of this fall.

A pair of reigning MHSAA champions and a pair of neighbors who share a stadium are among highlighted matchups in this week’s Drive for Detroit preview, powered by MI Student Aid

But many of the other intriguing games feature teams off to quick starts for the first time in a while and still working to prove they’ll be in the mix at the end after showing that potential during the season's first two weeks.

Bay & Thumb

Lake Fenton (2-0) at Flint Beecher (2-0)

Although neither of these teams was among co-champions of the Genesee Area Conference Red last season, they’re annually among teams to beat in that league – and so far that looks to be the case again this fall. Beecher – which downed Lake Fenton 27-26 a year ago – has outscored its first two opponents by a combined 59-0. The Blue Devils’ early stretch has been tougher, but last week’s 18-14 win over 2015 playoff qualifier Olivet makes their start arguably more impressive as well.

Others that caught my eye: Ortonville Brandon (2-0) at Fenton (0-2), Detroit Loyola (1-1) at Marine City (0-2), Harbor Beach (1-1) at Reese (2-0), Croswell-Lexington (2-0) at Richmond (1-1).

Greater Detroit

Northville (2-0) at Walled Lake Western (2-0)

Last week’s 33-30 win over Canton gave Western 15 straight regular-season victories, and quarterback Cody White is one of the most discussed players across the state – he threw for 122 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 119 and two against the Chiefs. But Northville also was perfect during the regular season in 2015 and is coming off two similarly impressive wins over Dearborn and Brighton to kick off this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Southfield Arts & Technology (1-1) at Birmingham Groves (2-0), Dearborn Fordson (2-0) at Belleville (1-1), Detroit East English (1-1) at Detroit Central Collegiate (1-1), Oxford (1-1) at Clarkston (1-1).


Fowlerville (2-0) at Portland (2-0)

Most seasons, Williamston/Lansing Catholic would be the game to see, or one of them, in the Capital Area Activities Conference White. But Fowlerville’s best start since 2009 is providing a spark of anticipation for a program that won a lot during the 1990s and 2000s – and quarterback Nick Semke (166 yards/4 TDs rushing, 201 yards/2 TDs passing) is another reason to be interested. All of that said, Portland is coming off a 40-0 win over annual playoff team Hillsdale and riding its typical tough running attack, led by one of the Lansing area’s best in Logan Lefke.

Others that caught my eye: Williamston (1-1) at Lansing Catholic (2-0), Lake Odessa Lakewood (2-0) at Perry (1-1), Mason (2-0) at St. Johns (0-2), Laingsburg (2-0) at Dansville (1-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City West (2-0) vs. Traverse City Central (2-0) at Thirlby Field

These rivals will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the split of old Traverse City High with a Patriot Game (see story on Second Half) and one of the most anticipated matchups in this rivalry since it began in 1997. West is off to its first 2-0 start since 2004, having stunned Midland on opening night by 28 points and come back with another 28-point win over Grand Haven. Central, which has beaten West in two straight, didn’t lose a regular-season game last season and outscored Bay City Western and Marquette by a combined 86-20 over the first two weeks.

Others that caught my eye: Cheboygan (1-1) at Boyne City (0-2), Rogers City (1-1) at Lincoln Alcona (1-1), Oscoda (1-1) at Whittemore-Prescott (2-0, East Jordan (2-0) at Central Lake (1-1).

Southeast & Border

Adrian Madison (2-0) at Clinton (2-0)

Reigning Division 6 runner-up Clinton is a powerhouse, with a combined record of 45-4 over the last four seasons and two comfortable wins this fall to extend its regular-season winning streak to 38. But Madison has earned the opportunity to hope; the Trojans gave Clinton arguably the latter’s best regular-season game last season before falling 37-21 and are off to their first 2-0 start since 2013. Madison hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, and not finished above .500 since that fall, but starts the Tri-County Conference schedule having reversed a one-point 2015 loss to Onsted with a one-point win last week.

Others that caught my eye: Brooklyn Columbia Central (2-0) at Hudson (2-0), Hillsdale (1-1) at Dundee (1-1), East Lansing (1-1) at Jackson (1-1), Grosse Ile (2-0) at New Boston Huron (2-0).

Southwest Corridor

Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at Portage Central (2-0)

The narrative here hasn’t changed much over the last few seasons; one of these two has won the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West championship every year over the last four. Portage Central beat Lakeshore 7-6 last season and has won 16 of its last 17 regular-season games since losing to the Lancers by three in 2014. Both have romped to start this fall, Central outscoring its opponents 77-8 and Lakeshore 82-34.

Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (1-1) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (2-0), Portage Northern (1-1) at St. Joseph (2-0), Dowagiac (1-1) at Three Rivers (1-1), Kalamazoo Central (0-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-2).

Upper Peninsula

Bark River-Harris (2-0) at Newberry (2-0)

Bark River-Harris has enjoyed a rejuvenation going a combined 16-6 over the last two seasons and sharing the Mid-Eastern Conference title in 2015. Is Newberry next to make a jump? The Indians have been building with two playoffs appearances after a series of sub.-500 seasons and opened this fall with 30+ point wins over Harbor Springs and Munising. Either way, this should be entertaining – the teams scored 90 points between them as the Broncos won 56-34 last year.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (2-0) at Iron River West Iron County (1-1), Gaylord (1-1) at Escanaba (2-0), Johannesburg-Lewiston (1-1) at St. Ignace (1-1), Gladstone (1-1) at Negaunee (2-0).

West Michigan

Zeeland West (2-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0)

It’s a rare treat when two reigning MHSAA champions match up, and there will be plenty of star power when reigning Division 4 winner Zeeland West faces the returning Division 5 champion Falcons. It’s been new coach, same story for West Catholic, which opened by avenging last year’s loss to Jackson Lumen Christi and has won 13 straight. Zeeland West has won 40 of its last 41 games and started this fall beating a pair that went a combined 16-5 a year ago.

Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville (2-0) at East Kentwood (2-0), Lowell (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (1-1), Grand Rapids Christian (2-0) at Wyoming (2-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (1-1) at Rockford (0-2).


Waldron (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0) on Saturday

The Spartans posted their best finish, 8-2, as an 8-player team last fall after breaking a four-game losing streak to the Shamrocks with a 32-24 victory in Week 3. The offense that put up 46 points per game in 2015 is still rolling and scored 90 over the last two weeks. But St. Patrick has put up a combined 104 points in its first two games and no doubt has been circling this one as it looks to return to MHSAA title contention.

Others that caught my eye: Rapid River (1-1) at Webberville (2-0), Engadine (2-0) at Pickford (2-0).

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: A Hudsonville receiver pulls in a catch and begins to break away from Holt defenders during the Eagles’ Week 2 victory. (Photo by Jeremy Sampson.)

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.)