Drive for Detroit: Week 6 Preview

September 28, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Starting tonight, the playoff field begins to take shape.

Last week, AuGres-Sims – 5-0 but playing only eight games this regular season – clinched the first playoff berth of the 2017 MHSAA Playoffs. This weekend, 63 more teams can qualify for the 11-player tournament.

Below are the games of most intrigue in every region of the state, not counting 21 games played Thursday night. Go to the MHSAA Score Center to find those and for scores as they come in tonight and Saturday (and for links to each team’s schedule, league standings and playoff points average). Check out for six live broadcasts – click here for the schedule.

Bay & Thumb

Almont (4-1) at Richmond (5-0), Friday

The Blue Water Area Conference appears to be a two-team race with Richmond and Algonac tied at 4-0 in league play. But Almont can make it a three-team race again by avenging last season’s 34-21 loss to the Blue Devils. Almont already fell to Algonac in Week 2 28-7; Richmond gets its turn against the Muskrats in Week 8.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Corunna (3-2) at Goodrich (4-1), St. Clair Shores Lake Shore (3-2) at Port Huron Northern (4-1), Unionville-Sebewaing (3-2) at Reese (3-2), SATURDAY Bay City Central (3-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-2).

Greater Detroit

Belleville (5-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-0), Friday

Not only are these teams tied for first in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red, but Belleville has the second-highest playoff points average among teams projected to be in Division 1, and Fordson’s average is tied for fourth-highest. Fordson won the WWAC Blue last season and has given up no more than 14 points in a game this fall. The Tigers came into the Red from the Blue with Fordson after finishing second to the Tractors in that league last season – the result of a 34-25 loss in their meeting. The Tigers are riding a streak of three straight shutouts and after giving up only six points in Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Martin Luther King (4-1) at Detroit Denby (4-0), Canton (4-1) at Livonia Stevenson (4-1), Southfield Arts & Technology (3-2) at Rochester Adams (4-1), Dearborn Divine Child (5-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (4-1)


Freeland (4-1) at Alma (5-0), Friday

The Falcons’ 24-game regular-season win streak came to an end in Week 4, and Alma will now try to end Freeland’s Tri-Valley Conference Central title streak at two in a row after finishing second in the league last year because of a 12-6 loss when these teams last met. The Panthers have the highest playoff point average among teams projected to play in Division 4 and sit tied for first in the Central with Saginaw Swan Valley, which downed Freeland two weeks ago.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (5-0) at Belding (4-1), Laingsburg (4-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1), Lansing Sexton (3-2) at Okemos (4-1), Olivet (5-0) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Frankfort (4-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (2-2), Friday

After finishing Division 6 runner-up last season, Glen Lake loaded up the schedule for this fall – and its losses are to undefeated Traverse City St. Francis and Watervliet. The Lakers came back from an open Week 4 to shut out Charlevoix last week, and they remain the biggest obstacle to Frankfort winning a third straight Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders division title. The Panthers claimed last year’s championship thanks to a 26-21 win over Glen Lake. They also have only eight regular-season games, with an open date in Week 9, and this looks like the toughest test left before a potentially promising playoff run. 

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lincoln Alcona (4-1) at Oscoda (4-1), Benton Harbor (2-3) at Traverse City West (5-0), AuGres-Sims (5-0) at Whittemore-Prescott (2-3), SATURDAY Grayling (4-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (5-0).

Southeast & Border

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (5-0) at Morenci (3-2), Friday

Whiteford hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2015 and has yet to be challenged since finishing runner-up in Division 8 last season. The Bobcats have outscored their opponents 281-52 and handed Petersburg-Summerfield its only loss in their Tri-County Conference opener. Morenci joins Whiteford as undefeated in the league and with a deceptive overall record – those losses came the first two weeks by a combined three points against Pittsford and Hudson teams that together are 9-1. The Bulldogs have lost twice to Whiteford the last two seasons and beat Whiteford twice in 2014, meaning this could be only chapter one of two again for these rivals. 

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Climax-Scotts (4-1) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-1), Tecumseh (3-2) at Pinckney (4-1), Clinton (3-2) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-1), Adrian (3-2) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (3-2).

Southwest Corridor

Plainwell (4-1) at Edwardsburg (5-0), Friday

As noted earlier this season, Edwardsburg hasn’t lost a Wolverine B Conference game since 2012 (and now has 29 straight regular-season wins overall). But three teams have only one loss in the league this fall and are ready to pounce – and the Eddies face those three teams over the next three weeks. First up is Plainwell, followed by Three Rivers and then Vicksburg in Week 8. The Trojans have beaten Vicksburg and lost to Three Rivers so far, but given up only 33 points since falling to the Wildcats on opening night. Edwardsburg has given up only 34 points this season – and scored 290.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Parchment (4-1) at Berrien Springs (4-1), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-1) at Coldwater (4-1), Schoolcraft (4-1) at Constantine (3-2), Paw Paw (3-2) at Vicksburg (4-1).

Upper Peninsula

Escanaba (4-1) at Menominee (4-1), Friday

This will be the 121st meeting between the Great Northern Conference rivals, and Menominee holds a 66-51-3 edge in the longtime rivalry. The Maroons swung the advantage their way with 18 straight wins over the Eskymos, including by 28-14 last year in the game that ended up deciding the league title. This will be Menominee’s first game against an in-state opponent after five versus Wisconsin teams to start the fall. It may be the Maroons’ toughest remaining before the playoffs; Escanaba’s lone loss was to much-improved Petoskey in Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hurley, Wis. (4-2) at Hancock (4-1), Calumet (3-2) at Iron River West Iron County (4-1), Negaunee (2-3) at Ishpeming (2-3), Norway (5-0) at Munising (3-2).

West Michigan

East Grand Rapids (5-0) at Grand Rapids Christian (5-0), Friday

The west side of the Lower Peninsula is loaded with outstanding matchups this weekend. But this one rises to the top as a rematch of last season’s decider in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold in addition to featuring one of the best rivalries in the Grand Rapids area. Christian and EGR rank third and fourth, respectively, in playoff point average among teams projected to play in Division 3. Christian also started 5-0 last year before falling to the Pioneers 28-7 in Week 6, and this time East Grand Rapids has been more dominating with two straight shutouts while giving up only 42 points total so far.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Wyoming Kelloggsville (5-0) at Wyoming Godwin Heights (5-0), Remus Chippewa Hills (4-1) at Reed City (4-1), Rockford (3-2) at Grandville (4-1), Morley Stanwood (5-0) at Kent City (5-0).


Deckerville (5-0) at Morrice (5-0), Friday

From a numbers standpoint, these North Central Thumb League Stars contenders are nearly even; both are 4-0 in league play, Deckerville outscoring its opponents 214-40 this season and Morrice by a 223-46 margin. But the Eagles are the team to beat in at least the Lower Peninsula until proven otherwise, with 16 straight regular-season wins and after finishing 8-player runner-up a year ago – when they also beat Morrice 46-6. That said, the Orioles handed Flint International Academy its first loss last week and should make this game much more even as well.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Camden-Frontier (5-0) at Bellevue (5-0), Flint International Academy (4-1) at Lawrence (3-2), Ontonagon (3-1) at Stephenson (5-0), SATURDAY Suttons Bay (3-2) at Central Lake (5-0).

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PHOTO: Alma defenders wrap up a Birch Run ball carrier during a 21-10 win on opening night. (Click for 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.)