Drive for Detroit: Week 6 Preview

September 29, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Don't think of tonight as the end of another warm September. Instead, consider it the start to a momentous final month of another Michigan high school football regular season. 

Nine games this weekend feature teams with perfect records facing off. Add in that 72 teams statewide can clinch the first automatic playoff berths awarded this fall, and most fans won’t have to drive far to find a game with significant implications.

Check out our preview below of the best games in every corner of the state, powered by MI Student Aid. For the weekend's full schedule, check out the MHSAA Score Center. All games below are Friday unless noted.

Bay & Thumb

Holly (4-1) at Fenton (3-2)

Fenton loaded the front of its schedule with Caledonia and Temperance Bedford and came away with an 0-2 start, but bounced back nicely in pursuit of a sixth straight Flint Metro League title. The Tigers are tied for first with Holly, which also bounced back from an opening-night loss to competitive Berkley and is seeking its first win over Fenton since 2011. Regardless of tonight’s result, Fenton may still hold one more upper hand in the league race – it already has beaten Ortonville Brandon (4-1), Holly’s opponent in Week 9.

Others that caught my eye: Midland (3-2) at Davison (5-0), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-2) at Bay City Central (3-2), Corunna (5-0) at Montrose (3-2), Marine City (1-4) at St. Clair (3-2).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Martin Luther King (5-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (5-0), Saturday

These Detroit Public School League rivals have lined up for some colossal tilts over the years – see last season’s 31-28 and 27-25 King wins in their first meeting and then PSL championship game. But this might be the most hyped matchup of the series to date. Cass Tech, last season’s MHSAA Division 1 runner-up, has outscored its opponents by a combined 268-45 while giving up scores to only Oak Park and Detroit East English. Then there’s King, which has outscored its opponents 243-6, giving up its only points to Detroit Central in Week 2. This matchup with likely decide the PSL East Division 1 champion; regardless, they’ll likely meet again in the PSL tournament final in Week 9. And regardless of that as well, both could end their seasons playing again at Ford Field in MHSAA Finals for the second year in a row.

Others that caught my eye: Trenton (5-0) at Allen Park (5-0), Redford Union (4-1) at Dearborn Fordson (5-0), Birmingham Groves (5-0) at Farmington Hills Harrison (3-2), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-2) at Birmingham Brother Rice (3-2) on Saturday.


Pewamo-Westphalia (5-0) at Laingsburg (5-0)

Few think defense first when it comes to the Pirates, last season’s Division 7 runner-up. But they haven’t given up a point this season since Week 1 to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and haven’t given up more than seven in Central Michigan Athletic Conference play since 2014. Laingsburg ended up winning a District title last year after falling to P-W 50-7 in Week 7 and could be best-suited among league opponents to know how to get on the board this week. But the Wolfpack still must slow down P-W star running back Jared Smith as he attempts to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the season tonight despite carrying the ball only 73 times heading into this game.

Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (4-1) at Ithaca (5-0), Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-0) at Olivet (4-1), Durand (4-1) at New Lothrop (5-0), Williamston (3-2) at Fowlerville (3-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Maple City Glen Lake (4-1) at Frankfort (5-0)

Teams without a league loss face off this weekend in all three divisions of the Northern Michigan Football League, but this Leaders matchup is the most intriguing, arguably, based on past history and the past few weeks. Glen Lake and Frankfort have played each other yearly going back at least to the late 1950s, with their meetings often the best of the season in the old Northwest Conference. Glen Lake set up the intrigue this time by handing Charlevoix its first loss this season last week, and big, 49-7. Frankfort won the Leaders last fall, but lost 10-6 to Glen Lake, which played in the Legends division in 2015.

Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (4-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-0), Kalkaska (5-0) at Boyne City (3-2), East Jordan (4-1) at Charlevoix (4-1), Traverse City St. Francis (5-0) at Grayling (3-2).

Southeast & Border

Grosse Ile (5-0) at Milan (5-0)

While Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central has made the most noise out of the Huron League over the last few seasons, these two are regulars in the mix as well. Both have a pair of 10-win seasons this decade and could be on their ways to a third – with this meeting likely deciding the league title as both have two-win leads on the rest of the conference. Milan, last year’s league runner-up, beat Grosse Ile 44-7 in 2015 and still must see St. Mary next week and then Carleton Airport to finish the Huron slate. The Red Devils, meanwhile, have one more win already than all of last season, shut out St. Mary last week, and after tonight finish the league schedule with Airport and Riverview (which are a combined 2-8).

Others that caught my eye: Chelsea (5-0) at Adrian (3-2), Clinton (4-1) at Sand Creek (5-0), Hudson (5-0) at Hillsdale (3-2), Concord (5-0) at Springport (4-1).

Southwest Corridor

Schoolcraft (5-0) at Lawton (5-0)

Lawton also got the highlighted spot from this region last week, against Gobles as both hoped for the opportunity to face Schoolcraft to decide the Southwestern Athletic Conference Central title. Lawton won 31-21 and gets first shot at the Eagles after falling to them 47-0 last season despite also entering that game 5-0. Schoolcraft quietly has built a 16-game regular-season winning streak and hasn’t allowed a SAC Central opponent to get within 21 points since joining the league a year ago.

Others that caught my eye: South Haven (3-2) at Edwardsburg (5-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-1) at St. Joseph (4-1), Portage Northern (3-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (4-1), Paw Paw (3-2) at Three Rivers (4-1).

Upper Peninsula

Menominee (5-0) at Escanaba (5-0)

The best in the Great Northern U.P. Conference face off to likely decide the championship, although the winner will need another win next week to clinch at least a share of the title. It’s been a while since Escanaba was in this conversation; a win tonight would give the Eskymos their most in a season since 2011. Breaking a 17-game losing streak to Menominee and qualifying for the playoffs too would make a win tonight that much sweeter – the Maroons, in fact, haven’t lost a league game since 2012 and have won 36 straight regular-season games total.  

Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (5-0) at Norway (5-0), Iron River West Iron County (3-2) at Calumet (4-1), Hurley, Wis. (5-1) at Hancock (3-2), Bark River-Harris (2-3) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-0) on Saturday.

West Michigan

Grandville (5-0) at Rockford (3-2)

It’s hard to give this game top billing over Reed City/Chippewa Hills (see below), but it’s explainable given the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red still has six of seven teams in contention for automatic playoff berths and these two arguably are the best. Grandville is enjoying its most successful run since 2006 – when it still lost to Rockford 28-0 to finish second in the league – and has outscored five opponents by a total of 231-31 after downing contenders Hudsonville 36-6 and East Kentwood 46-3 the last two weeks, respectively. Rockford has fought back gallantly from an 0-2 start that included a forfeit because of a team sickness Week 1. Extending a 21-season playoff streak – and more – looks a lot more possible now.

Others that caught my eye: Reed City (5-0) at Remus Chippewa Hills (5-0), Grand Rapids Christian (5-0) at East Grand Rapids (3-2), Cedar Springs (3-2) at Lowell (5-0), Whitehall (4-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (4-1).


New Haven Merritt (5-0) at Owendale-Gagetown (5-0)

These are the top teams in the Mid-Michigan 8-Man Football League, Merritt in the Inland division and Owendale-Gagetown in the Coastal. They are also two of the top teams statewide; Merritt has the fourth highest playoff-point average in 8-player, and Owendale-Gagetown’s is tied for eighth highest. All of this could change this weekend, however; the Bulldogs are 8-0 against Merritt since the Mustangs started their program five years ago. Owendale-Gagetown won last year’s meetings 72-42 and 54-30 – but Merritt, following two straight playoff appearances, is off to its best start ever.

Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (4-0) at Lawrence (5-0), Battle Creek St. Philip (4-1) at Webberville (4-1).

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: Detroit Martin Luther King (yellow jerseys) and Detroit Cass Tech will renew their rivalry Saturday after last facing off in last season’s PSL Final at Ford Field. (Photo courtesy of the 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.)