Drive for Detroit: Week 5 Preview

September 21, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Big things are ahead in Michigan high school football.

Not much will be decided this week as we cruise into the midpoint of the regular season. But teams all over Michigan are setting the foundations to celebrate soon – either as league champions or playoff qualifiers (and AuGres-Sims, 4-0 and playing eight games this season, can become our first this weekend).

Below is our weekly look at the games that appear most intriguing from every region of the state, powered by MI Student Aid. Keep these links handy for the weekend: MHSAA Score Center for scores as they come in (and links to each team’s schedule, league standings and playoff-points average), and, which again will broadcast nine games this weekend – click here for the schedule.

Bay & Thumb

New Lothrop (4-0) at Flint Hamady (3-1), Friday

The Genesee Area Conference Blue was decided last season by New Lothrop’s 51-16 Week 4 win over Hamady, and this matchup could be the eventual clincher again. The Hornets have now won 65 of their last 66 regular-season games going back to the start of 2010, and they haven’t given up a point this fall since downing GAC Red leader Lake Fenton in Week 1. But Hamady has held its last three opponents to single-digit scoring since losing to still-undefeated Cass City on opening night, signaling this might be closer than last year’s meeting.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Byron (3-1) at Lake Fenton (3-1), Midland (3-1) at Bay City Central (3-1), Flint Beecher (2-2) at Saginaw Nouvel (4-0), Harbor Beach (3-1) at Sandusky (2-2).

Greater Detroit

Birmingham Groves (3-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (3-1), Friday

After falling to Oakland Activities Association White co-leader Oak Park last week, Groves has one more chance to mix up the top of the standings as it hopes to repeat as the league champion – this time likely sharing the title. Harrison is the other team currently in first, and longtime coach John Herrington is just two wins from tying retired Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa for most wins (430) in MHSAA football history. A victory tonight for the Hawks could make Week 7 versus Oak Park the first opportunity for Herrington to break the record.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Utica Eisenhower (4-0) at Romeo (3-1), Clinton Township Clintondale (4-0) at Hazel Park (3-1), Marine City (4-0) at Madison Heights Madison (4-0), West Bloomfield (2-2) at Rochester Adams (4-0).


Portland (3-1) at Lansing Catholic (4-0), Friday

The Cougars kept this rivalry game as a potential league title decider by surviving a one-point game against Williamston last week. Portland won the last two Capital Area Activities Conference White titles after handing Lansing Catholic its lone league loss both seasons. Both teams are led by dynamic quarterbacks again – Michael Lynn III for Lansing Catholic and Austin Allison for Portland – and both also are giving up only 15 points per game.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Okemos (4-0) at Grand Ledge (3-1), Montrose (3-1) at Corunna (3-1), Clare (3-1) at Harrison (3-1), Fulton (3-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (3-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Grayling (4-0) at Boyne City (4-0), Friday

The Northern Michigan Football League’s Legends division is again loaded, with three undefeated teams and two more at 3-1 out of seven teams total. This matchup should help break up some of the top pack. These two and two-time reigning champion Traverse City St. Francis are the co-leaders, after St. Francis downed Boyne City in Week 9 last year to secure the title. Grayling’s last league title came in 2013 in the old Lake Michigan Conference and Boyne won the Legends in 2014 – making it hardly surprising they’re among those battling the Gladiators again. Grayling gets St. Francis next week; Boyne City has its shot in Week 9.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Frankfort (3-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-1), Beal City (3-1) at Lake City (4-0), Whittemore-Prescott (2-2) at Lincoln Alcona (3-1), SATURDAY Gaylord (2-2) at Traverse City Central (2-2).

Southeast & Border

Michigan Center (3-1) at Addison (4-0), Friday

Addison’s best start since 2006 has made the Cascades Conference race one of the most intriguing of the first half of the regular season. Last season’s co-champions, Grass Lake and Napoleon, remain in the mix, but Addison’s two-point win over Napoleon last week put the Panthers in first place alone. After six straight sub-.500 seasons, Addison is a win from breaking that streak. Michigan Center, meanwhile, is one of three teams tied for second in the league and only a three-point loss to Napoleon in Week 3 from being tied for first.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Adrian (3-1) at Chelsea (3-1), Quincy (3-1) at Reading (3-1), Homer (3-1) at Springport (2-2), SATURDAY Temperance Bedford (3-1) at Ann Arbor Pioneer (2-2).

Southwest Corridor

Kalamazoo Hackett (4-0) at Watervliet (4-0), Friday

The Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley is another league that has enjoyed a great nonconference run – five teams are 3-1 or 4-0, and the sixth is 2-2. Watervliet has won or shared its league’s championship six straight seasons and is on pace to break 500 points offensively for the third straight year. Hackett’s path has been different – the four wins this fall tie their most in nine of the last 10 seasons. But the Fighting Irish clearly are up to the challenge this year – and both will have to be up to the challenges of Constantine, Coloma, Delton Kellogg and new league foe Schoolcraft over the next five weeks.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY White Pigeon (3-1) at Mendon (4-0), Athens (4-0) at Climax-Scotts (3-1), St. Joseph (3-1) at Mattawan (3-1), Three Rivers (3-1) at Paw Paw (3-1).

Upper Peninsula

Bark River-Harris (3-1) at Norway (4-0), Friday

The Mid-Eastern Conference continues to produce some of the U.P.’s top matchups every week, and this one again could go far in figuring out the eventual champion. Norway is the only one of five teams that hasn’t played a league game; it’s also the only one undefeated and has the highest playoff-point average of the five. Bark River-Harris’ loss came to current M-EC leader Newberry; the Broncos interestingly have wins over teams from multiple states – Wisconsin and Illinois – a rarity on either peninsula.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hancock (3-1) at Calumet (3-1), Gladstone (4-0) at Ishpeming (2-2), Negaunee (1-3) at Gwinn (2-2), Newberry (3-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (0-3).

West Michigan

Grandville (3-1) at East Kentwood (4-0), Friday

The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red easily could be headed for another split title – three teams shared last year, two in 2015 and 2014. And there appear to be four contenders again – these two obviously included. Grandville was one of those three champs a year ago, and minus a painful defeat to Warren DeLaSalle has given up only 27 points over its three wins. The Falcons have been nearly as stellar on that side of the ball, shutting out reigning Division 3 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Week 2 and despite giving up 32 last week to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (which is averaging 30 per game).

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Cedar Springs (3-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (4-0), Coopersvile (3-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (3-1), Grant (3-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (3-1), Montague (4-0) at Whitehall (3-1).


Morrice (4-0) at Flint International Academy (4-0), Friday

Similar to last season, no one has slowed down Deckerville yet. But the winner of this game will have the most meaningful chance. All three are 3-0 in the North Central Thumb League Stars division, Morrice bouncing back from a 4-5 finish last season and Flint International picking right back up after going 6-3 in its first season of 8-player football in 2016. The Flames already have put up 190 points, more than half their total over nine games a year ago. They’ll face a great challenge in a Morrice defense that is giving up 4.5 points per game – a rarity in this high-scoring, wide-open format.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Rudyard (3-1) at Brimley (3-1), North Adams-Jerome (2-2) at Camden-Frontier (4-0), Lawrence (3-1) at Kingston (2-2), Onekama (4-0) at Suttons Bay (3-1).

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: Bark River-Harris, right, will take on Norway in this weekend’s most intriguing game in the Upper Peninsula. (Photo by Jeff Rochefort.)

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.)