Drive for Detroit: Week 7 Preview

October 6, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Tonight could end with at least a few Michigan communities celebrating the best night in their local high school's football history.

Breckenridge is seeking its first league title since its players' grandparents were newborns. Engadine, Corunna and many more could have momentous evenings as well as league titles stand to be decided all over the state. 

All nine highlighted games of this week's Drive for Detroit preview powered by MI Student Aid could decide league races, whether tonight or in the near future. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for a schedule of this weekend's games and to see scores as they're reported. All games listed below are today unless noted. 

Bay & Thumb

Corunna (6-0) at Lake Fenton (6-0)

This Genesee Area Conference Red finale matches the league’s co-leaders. Corunna’s transformation the last two seasons truly deserves note; the Cavaliers didn’t have a winning season from 2006-12 and then fell back to 2-7 in 2014 after a 6-4 finish the year before. But they’re in position to repeat as Red champs after sharing the title last season with Goodrich. Lake Fenton has been much more of a regular contender but still will be playing for its first league title since sharing the Red with Montrose in 2007.

Others that caught my eye: Alma (5-1) at Carrollton (4-2), Saginaw Swan Valley (4-2) at Freeland (6-0), Davison (6-0) at Lapeer (5-1), Saginaw Heritage (3-3) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (4-2).

Greater Detroit

Rochester Adams (5-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-0)

It’s a little complicated, but the Oakland Activities Association White winner also can be partially determined tonight. Thanks to a one-point loss to Oak Park in Week 4, Adams trails Groves just slightly in the standings with the opportunity to secure a share of the league title with a win tonight in what will be its final league game of the fall. Groves also can clinch a share tonight with a win but still has one more league game to play next week and must win that as well to clinch the title outright – unless Oak Park, already with a league defeat to Groves, also loses one of its final two OAA White games. An Adams win tonight could lead to a three-way title share.

Others that caught my eye: Romeo (4-2) at Warren Mott (6-0), Detroit Western International (4-2) at Detroit Mumford (5-1), Detroit Catholic Central (6-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (4-2), Detroit East English (4-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-1) on Saturday.


Merrill (5-1) at Breckenridge (6-0)

Already celebrating its first playoff berth since 1993 – and after going 0-9 (!) last season – Breckenridge can secure a share of its first league title tonight in 70 years, according to a Midland Daily News report. But Merrill – which like Breckenridge joined the Mid-State Activities Conference this season after leaving the Tri-Valley Conference West – can set up a possibility to share the championship as it enters with only an MSAC loss to Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Merrill downed Breckenridge 48-6 a year ago after the Huskies took their 2014 meeting.

Others that caught my eye: Fowler (4-2) at Dansville (4-2), Lansing Sexton (4-2) at East Lansing (4-2), Stockbridge (3-3) at Olivet (4-2), DeWitt (5-1) at St. Johns (3-3).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Clare (5-1) at Roscommon (6-0)

These two are tied for first in the Jack Pine Conference with three games to play – meaning that a loss tonight won’t entirely derail either’s hopes. But the winner should be set up well to at least share the title, although Roscommon still must play Harrison (4-2) and Claire finishes with playoff hopefuls Beaverton (4-2) and Houghton Lake (3-3). The Pioneers are used to this scenario – before falling twice last season, they had won 34 straight Jack Pine games and have dominated the league most of the last two decades. Roscommon, meanwhile, has its most wins already since 2006, when it finished 10-2 and won the conference.

Others that caught my eye: Gaylord St. Mary (5-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-3), Muskegon Catholic Central (6-0) at Manistee (4-2), Charlevoix (5-1) at Onekama (5-1), Saginaw Nouvel (4-2) at Tawas (4-1).

Southeast & Border

Ida (6-0) at Hudson (5-1)

Ida has won all but one of its Lenawee County Athletic Association games over the last two seasons by at least 24 points. The team to come closer, Hillsdale (falling 20-17), is next week’s opponent – but Ida won’t look past rejuvenated Hudson. The Tigers have bounced back from finishing 4-5 last year and still have LCAA title hopes despite falling to Hillsdale 14-6 last week. Hillsdale already has a league loss as well, so an Ida win tonight puts the Bluestreaks in strong position to at least share the championship after winning it outright in 2015.

Others that caught my eye: Petersburg-Summerfield (4-2) at Clinton (4-2), Quincy (5-1) at Concord (5-1), Milan (6-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (3-3), Morenci (4-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (6-0).

Southwest Corridor

Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-0) at Coldwater (4-2)

Harper Creek is having an all-around great fall; the volleyball team is ranked No. 6 in Class B, the boys cross country team was tied for No. 9 in Lower Peninsula Division 2 entering this week, and the football team has doubled its wins from a season ago with an opportunity tonight to clinch a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference championship against last year’s champion. Coldwater has won two straight over the Beavers and won’t go quietly, but Harper Creek has yet to allow a team to get closer than 10 points.

Others that caught my eye: St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (5-1) at Bridgman (4-2), Schoolcraft (6-0) at Gobles (5-1), Portage Central (5-1) at Portage Northern (4-2), Delton Kellogg (4-2) at Watervliet (4-2).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (3-2) at Negaunee (6-0)

A couple of pretty strong Negaunee teams have had their Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference hopes dashed by MHSAA title-contending Ishpeming teams over the last few years. The Hematites have beaten the Miners in three straight, and the 2013 and 2015 victories decided league titles. But Negaunee enters as the favorite this time with wins over five teams still up for playoff berths, and Ishpeming has a little additional pressure; it must win two of its last three games against Negaunee, St. Ignace and Gwinn to guarantee adding to a 14-season playoff streak.

Others that caught my eye: Kingsford (4-2) at Iron Mountain (5-1), Escanaba (5-1) at Gladstone (3-3), Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-0) at Houghton (3-3), Hancock (4-2) at Gwinn (4-2).

West Michigan

Zeeland East (5-1) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-0)

Four teams in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green are at least 5-1 and a fifth is 4-2, making this arguably the strongest league in the state top to bottom this fall. Two of this week’s matchups are highlighted in this space this week, and Unity Christian enters tied with Byron Center for first place but with Hamilton and Zeeland East holding only one league loss. East is a newcomer after playing previously in the O-K Black, but could have the greatest influence on the final finish with Unity on the schedule this week, Byron Center next week and rival Zeeland West in Week 9

Others that caught my eye: Whitehall (4-2) at Ravenna (4-2), Big Rapids (3-3) at Reed City (6-0), Grand Rapids South Christian (3-3) at Wyoming (4-2), Hamilton (5-1) at Zeeland West (4-2).


Cedarville (6-0) at Engadine (6-0)

Engadine is in the midst of a string of successful seasons it hasn’t enjoyed since the mid-1980s, but winning tonight could make this fall the best of the bunch. The Eagles can clinch a share of the Bridge-Alliance League title after returning this fall after a year playing in the Western Eight Conference. Cedarville, of course, is a regular favorite and has only four league losses in five seasons of 8-player football. The Trojans’ closest games this fall have been a pair of 20-point wins, and Engadine hasn’t let anyone get closer than 10.

Others that caught my eye: Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (6-0) at Lawrence (6-0), Webberville (5-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-0), Rapid River (5-1) at Stephenson (5-1).

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: Saginaw Swan Valley (left) and Zeeland East faced off earlier this season; both will attempt to beat league leaders this weekend. (Click to see 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.)