Drive for Detroit: Week 8 Preview

October 13, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

The MHSAA football playoff picture should become much clearer by the time the cooled-off dirt and grass settle at the end of this weekend.

So far, 115 teams have earned automatic berths for the 256-team 11-player postseason field. A total of 91 teams can earn automatic berths this weekend, although, in at least a few cases, hopefuls will face off.

We look at some of those matchups and many more below in the Week 8 edition of Drive for Detroit, powered by MI Student Aid. Remember to follow the MHSAA Score Center for up-to-date scores, standings and playoff point rankings as results come in. All games below are Friday unless noted.

Bay & Thumb

Richmond (6-1) at Algonac (7-0)

The only loss between these two this season was by Richmond on opening night to Marysville, which can win the Macomb Area Conference Gold title outright tonight. And the only regular-season loss Algonac suffered during its miraculous turnaround last fall from 1-8 in 2014 to 10-2 was 15-14 to Richmond in the final game of the Blue Water Area Conference schedule. That defeat created a shared title between the two; the winner of this rematch will take the BWAC championship outright.

Others that caught my eye: Ubly (7-0) at Harbor Beach (4-3), Midland (4-3) at Lapeer (5-2), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-2) at Midland Dow (7-0), Pinconning (5-2) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (5-2).

Greater Detroit

Warren Mott (6-1) at Utica Eisenhower (7-0)

Mott’s unexpected 31-8 loss to Romeo last week took a bit of wind out of this anticipated matchup – but it could return if Mott does win to force a shared Macomb Area Conference Red championship with Eisenhower and possibly Romeo as well. Mott has lost all five meetings with Eisenhower over the last six seasons, but knows winning well with six straight playoff berths. The Eagles, meanwhile, clinched their 17th playoff berth over the last 18 seasons with their best start since 2004 – and haven’t allowed more than 14 points in a game despite playing in one of the most respected leagues in the state.

Others that caught my eye: Berkley (5-2) at Bloomfield Hills (7-0), Dearborn (6-1) at Dearborn Fordson (7-0), Clarkston (5-2) at Lake Orion (5-2), Harper Woods Chandler Park (5-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (6-1).


Brighton (6-1) at Howell (5-2)

This rivalry game between old Kensington Valley Conference neighbors hasn’t carried much in league title significance during their near-decade in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West – but tonight’s game can either cement an outright championship for Brighton or give Howell a share. The Highlanders own a 5-3 advantage in those KLAA West meetings and also beat Brighton in a 2010 rematch in the playoffs, but the Bulldogs have navigated the league a little more carefully this fall with a four-point win over Pinckney (which beat Howell) and a one-pointer over Grand Blanc.

Others that caught my eye: Wyoming Kelloggsville (6-1) at Belding (5-2), Menominee (7-0) at DeWitt (6-1), Grand Ledge (6-1) at East Lansing (5-2), Pewamo-Westphalia (7-0) at Fowler (5-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Frankfort (7-0) at Charlevoix (6-1)

Frankfort has two league games remaining but can clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders championship with a win tonight. Charlevoix and Maple City Glen Lake both have a loss in the league, so the Rayders could really shake things up. Their only loss this season was to Glen Lake, by 42, in Week 5; Frankfort beat Glen Lake by five a week later. Charlevoix and Frankfort both were undefeated in the league when they played each other last year, and the Panthers won 20-0 to claim the title outright.

Others that caught my eye: Cadillac (5-2) at Manistee (4-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-4) at East Jordan (4-3), Hillman (4-3) at Whittemore-Prescott (4-3), Kalkaska (6-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (7-0) on Saturday.

Southeast & Border

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0) at Sand Creek (7-0)

Six of eight teams in the Tri-County Conference are at least 4-3 and can still clinch automatic playoff berths, but the title race has finally been whittled down to Whiteford and Sand Creek. Whiteford has had its share of success over the years and this season qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight, but has never gone undefeated in the league dating back to its first year, 1975. Sand Creek had a perfect TCC run in 2011 but then won a combined eight games over the next four seasons – a total they can equal just this season with another win tonight.

Others that caught my eye: Hillsdale (4-3) at Ida (6-1), Battle Creek Pennfield (4-3) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-2), Adrian Madison (4-3) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-3), Dundee (3-4) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (5-2).

Southwest Corridor

Three Rivers (6-1) at Edwardsburg (7-0)

It seems like the Eddies have had only one or two games of consequence during a four-year undefeated run in the Wolverine Conference, but this will be one of those games. This meeting could look a lot more like Edwardsburg’s 42-40 win in 2014 than its 65-21 defeat of Three Rivers a year ago. The Eddies can clinch a share of the league title with a 27th straight conference win. But a Three Rivers victory could create a three-team tie for first (along with Vicksburg) with a week to play. The Wildcats’ lone loss was the Plainwell on opening night.

Others that caught my eye: Marshall (4-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-1), Berrien Springs (4-2) at Buchanan (4-2), Kalamazoo Central (4-3) at Portage Central (6-1), Springport (6-1) at Quincy (5-2).

Upper Peninsula

Felch North Dickinson (5-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (7-0), Saturday

North Dickinson is reportedly taking its long history of success to 8-player next season, and there would be little better way to finish in 11 than by knocking newcomer Lake Linden-Hubbell off its roost atop the Mid-Eastern Conference. The Lakes are working toward a second straight perfect regular season and haven’t allowed an opponent closer than 14 points since opening night. But the Nordics, on the verge of securing their first winning season and playoff berth in three years, could move into first place in the league with a victory and set up an opportunity to share the title for the first time since winning five straight from 2009-13.

Others that caught my eye: Norway (6-1) at Gwinn (5-2), Hancock (4-3) at Iron River West Iron County (4-3), St. Ignace (6-1) at Ishpeming (3-3), Gladstone (3-4) at Kingford (5-2)

West Michigan

Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0)

This rivalry will play out for the first time since 2009 because these teams are now together in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue – and tied for first with two league games to play. The winner claims a share of the league title, which would be a repeat performance for both – West Catholic won the last two Blue titles, and GRCC came over after winning the O-K Green last fall. The Falcons have given up a total of 14 points over four league games, but haven’t yet faced third-place Allendale, which put 20 on a GRCC defense that otherwise hasn’t given up more than 15 in a game.

Others that caught my eye: Rockford (5-2) at East Kentwood (4-3), Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-1) at Hamilton (5-2), Muskegon Mona Shores (4-3) at Muskegon (6-1), Byron Center (6-1) at Zeeland East (6-1).


Fife Lake Forest Area (6-1) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (7-0)

The inaugural Midwest Central 8-Player Conference championship comes down to this game as both teams are undefeated in league play heading into the finale. Tri-unity has been stellar giving up only 36 points in winning more games this fall than the last four seasons combined. Fife Lake Forest Area has a similar story with six wins for the first time since 2008. The Warriors made the move to 8-player this fall after winning 11 games total over the last five seasons.

Others that caught my eye: Morrice (4-3) at Webberville (5-2), Pickford (6-1) at Cedarville (6-1).

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. 

PHOTOS: A Clarkston ball carrier prepares to collide with a Lapeer defender during their Week 1 game this season at the University of Michigan. (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.)