Drive for Detroit: Week 7 Preview

October 5, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Week 7 has a couple of contrasting meanings in the grand scheme of Michigan high school football.

On one hand, we're drawing to a close of the regular season. On the other, we're just reaching the midpoint of the 14-week drive that carries us through the MHSAA Finals.

So here's where we sit. Fifty-one 11-player teams have qualified for the 11-player Playoffs. Another 94 are on the verge, needing one more victory. League titles will be decided all over Michigan again this weekend, and pairs of the best in all of the Upper Peninsula face off in both 11 and 8-player games.

Keep an eye on the statewide scene by following the MHSAA Score Center for scores as they come in tonight and Saturday, and check out for six live broadcasts – click here for the schedule. Drive for Detroit is powered by MI Student Aid.

Sidenote: With a win tonight against Oak Park (5-1) by his Hawks (4-2), Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington would tie retired Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa for the MHSAA record with 430 wins. Stay tuned.

Bay & Thumb

Frankenmuth (6-0) at Millington (6-0), Friday

This is the game, again, in the Tri-Valley Conference East as Frankenmuth has won 22 straight in the league dating to a loss to Millington in 2014. That season was the first of what is now four straight that these two have entered their annual meeting both undefeated. Coincidentally this time, both have scored 246 points this year, with Millington giving up 112 and Frankenmuth 102. And it gets closer still: In a projected Division 5 playoff field, Frankenmuth is third in playoff point average, with Millington next trailing by a mere 1.600. It’s fair to say a league title and possible home District Final are on the line.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Flushing (5-1) at Fenton (6-0), Lapeer (5-1) at Davison (5-1), Ortonville Brandon (4-2) at Linden (5-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (5-1) at Unionville-Sebewaing (4-2).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Central (5-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-1), Friday

Detroit Central is much smaller than even a decade ago when it had more than 1,000 students; the Trail Blazers played in the Division 6 playoffs last season. But they’ve got a chance to take a share of the Detroit Public School League Black division title from King, which has three times as many students these days and is the two-time reigning Division 2 champion. Both have talented offenses, but defense may reign; King has given up six points total over four league games, Central just 25. King is coming off a 27-6 win over previously-undefeated Denby, which handed Central its lone loss, 12-6, in Week 3.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (6-0) at Dearborn Divine Child (5-1), Warren Fitzgerald (5-1) at Madison Heights Madison (6-0), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (5-1) at Waterford Our Lady (4-1), Clarkston (5-1) at Rochester Adams (5-1).


DeWitt (5-1) at Haslett (5-1), Friday

For the first time in a decade, one of this region’s most heated rivalries is relevant again, as the Capital Area Activities Conference Red title is on the line. That’s hardly all. Six of these teams’ first 11 meetings this century were decided by seven or fewer points; only two of the last 10 have been that close, and DeWitt has won 16 straight. But Haslett is 5-1 for the first time since 2007 and already has one more win than all of last season, and DeWitt moves to the CAAC Blue next fall – making this the most significant regular-season meeting these two might enjoy against each other for a while.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Wyoming Godwin Heights (5-1) at Belding (5-1), Lansing Sexton (4-2) at Holt (3-3), Lake Fenton (5-1) at Corunna (3-3), Carrollton (5-1) at Alma (6-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-0), Friday

Despite a couple of nonleague losses, Johannesburg-Lewiston has bounced back nicely from last season’s 4-5 finish, which was its first below .500 since 2007. Although Harbor Springs could figure into the mix – both the Cardinals and St. Mary face the Rams over the final two weeks of the regular season – tonight’s matchup could go a long way in deciding the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legacy champ. St. Mary is enjoying that opportunity after starting 2016 5-0 and finishing it 1-4. But that one win was over Johannesburg-Lewiston and by 28 points, perhaps a bit of a confidence builder with these two now the main contenders.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Elk Rapids (5-1) at Grayling (4-2), Beal City (4-2) at McBain (5-1), Hillman (3-3) at Oscoda (4-2), Cheboygan (3-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (6-0).

Southeast & Border

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

The Tigers are looking to run through the Lenawee County Athletic Association schedule undefeated for the fifth time in nine seasons, but 2015 league champion Ida is standing in the way after both teams also shared last season’s title – Ida fell to Hudson by a point (and Hudson fell to Hillsdale). After a pair of impressive nonleague wins, the Tigers have won every LCAA game so far by at least 22. The Bluestreaks took an eight-point loss to Brooklyn Columbia Central two weeks ago and surely won’t mind sharing the title again as a result of handing Hudson its first defeat tonight.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Ann Arbor Pioneer (3-3) at Saline (5-1), Athens (5-1) at Pittsford (5-1), Parma Western (4-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-1), Grass Lake (4-2) at Addison (5-1).

Southwest Corridor

Edwardsburg (6-0) at Three Rivers (5-1), Friday

Edwardsburg’s 34-game Wolverine B Conference winning streak just keeps growing, but a few challengers are lined up. Three Rivers fell to the Eddies 38-0 just a year ago, but already has avenged its other 2016 league loss this season, flipping a 29-point defeat to Plainwell into a 20-point win on opening night. Granted, the Wildcats followed that with a 14-point loss to Dowagiac, which fell to the Eddies by eight two weeks later in giving them their first significant league challenge in two years. But if nothing else, this should be closer than a year ago – and Vicksburg (5-1) will be waiting for Edwardsburg in Week 8.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Coldwater (4-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-0), Schoolcraft (5-1) at Coloma (4-2), Cassopolis (6-0) at Hartford (5-1), Decatur (4-2) at Mendon (6-0).

Upper Peninsula

Gladstone (6-0) at Escanaba (5-1), Friday

It’s an interesting coincidence that the season these two are considered arguably the best teams in the Upper Peninsula is also the first time they aren’t in the same league since the mid-1980s, but that hardly lessens the significance of this matchup. The Eskymos are laying claim to the top spot after doubling up annual top U.P. team Menominee last week. Gladstone is staring down its best season since at least 2008 – and it can only get better with this opportunity against its old Great Northern Conference foe.

Others that caught my eye: FIRDAY Newberry (3-2) at Norway (6-0), Calumet (3-3) at L'Anse (4-2), Charlevoix (2-4) at Munising (3-3), Bark River-Harris (3-3) at Bessemer Gogebic (2-4).

West Michigan

Rockford (4-2) at Holland West Ottawa (5-1)

Pick a league, any league, on the west side and it seems like there is a game that will determine a league champion either this week or eventually. These are the best from the elite Ottawa-Kent Conference Red; Rockford is 3-0 in the league and West Ottawa is 4-0. The Panthers especially have to be thinking historically; they haven’t beaten the Rams since 2002. But West Ottawa also has more wins this fall than the last two seasons combined and has yet to give up more than seven points in a league game – an impressive enough feat to make this look like a much closer matchup than last year’s 51-14 Rockford win.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lowell (4-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (6-0), Comstock Park (4-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-0), Wyoming Kelloggsville (6-0) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (5-1), Muskegon Oakridge (5-1) at Montague (6-0).


Stephenson (6-0) at Rapid River (6-0)

Similar to Powers North Central and Crystal Falls Forest Park in 2016, these two have an argument that they are the best in all of 8-player football even as relative neighbors. But only one (most likely) will finish as champion of the Western Eight Conference – although at this point, both could have a chance to finish as MHSAA champions as they project to play in different playoff divisions. Stephenson has two straight wins over the Rockets and hasn’t allowed an opponent closer than 24 points this season. Rapid River certainly has more experience in close games – with three wins by eight or fewer – and that could pay off.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Engadine (4-2) at Cedarville (6-0), Marion (5-1) at Manistee Catholic Central (2-3), Kingston (4-2) at Morrice (6-0), Pickford (6-0) at Onaway (3-3).

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: DeWitt, here against Grand Ledge in Week 2, will try to win its 17th straight over rival Haslett. (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.)