Drive for Detroit: Week 8 Preview

October 12, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This is the way it’s supposed to finish.

With the random ordering or yearly rotating that spits out most league schedules, any week of the regular season might feature the game that ends up deciding those conferences’ championships. But this fall, we’re lucky.

At least 19 games among those listed in our Week 8 preview below have the opportunity to affect league title. Three of our nine featured matchups pit teams that haven’t lost yet with only two games left until the playoffs begin. And undefeated Pickford kicked off the week Thursday with a 47-8 title share-clinching win over Cedarville in the 8-player Bridge Alliance League. 

Continue to follow all the results, league standings and real-time updating of playoff point averages with our MHSAA Score Center, and check out for nine live broadcasts tonight – click here for the schedule. Drive for Detroit is powered by MI Student Aid.

Bay & Thumb

Midland Dow (6-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-2), Friday

At the end of the day, figuratively speaking, the one-time favorites in the Saginaw Valley League Red are playing for the championship after all and for the second straight season. Carman-Ainsworth opened this fall 1-2, but both losses were nonleague – and it will finish the weekend with a share of the title regardless of this outcome. But Dow, which dropped its league opener to Bay City Central by a point on Sept. 1, can also gain a share by avenging last year’s seven-point loss to the Cavaliers that also decided the Red winner.  

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Algonac (6-1) at Richmond (7-0), Lapeer (5-2) at Midland (6-1), Alma (6-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (6-1), Warren Woods Tower (6-1) at Port Huron Northern (6-1).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (5-1) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (6-1) at Detroit Northwestern, Saturday

Although this is just a semifinal in the Detroit Public School League tournament, these two may be the best of the field – although undefeated East English and Detroit Renaissance, the other semifinalists, surely will put up an argument over the next two weeks as well. After two years in the same PSL division, King and Cass Tech were split up again this fall, and both won division titles and remain MHSAA title contenders as well after Cass Tech won Division 1 last year and King Division 2 in 2016 and 2015. Their only losses this season are to out-of-state teams, and together they’ve given up only 60 points over a combined nine games of league play.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Detroit Catholic Central (5-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (5-2), Macomb Dakota (5-2) at Romeo (5-2), Redford Thurston (5-2) at Dearborn Fordson (6-1), SATURDAY Detroit Mumford (5-2) vs. Detroit Central (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern.


Beaverton (7-0) at Harrison (5-2), Friday

Beaverton must dominate the best of Clare County over the next two weeks to do something no Beavers team has done this century. They sit tied with Week 9 opponent Clare for first place in the Jack Pine Conference while pursuing a first league title since 1989. Next week’s tilt with the Pioneers could be one of the state’s most intriguing regular-season finales – but will fall back to just one of many important games if Beaverton can’t get past third-place Harrison first. The Hornets’ only league loss was to Clare in Week 5.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Berrien Springs (6-1) at Olivet (7-0), East Lansing (5-2) at Lansing Sexton (5-2), Morley Stanwood (6-1) at Beal City (4-3), Haslett (5-2) at Williamston (5-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Gaylord St. Mary (7-0) at Harbor Springs (4-3), Friday

The winner tonight claims a share of the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy championship, and host Harbor Springs shouldn’t be considered too much of an underdog despite the disparity in overall records. The Rams finished second in the Legacy last season and have made the playoffs in two straight, and earned that 2016 runner-up finish in part with a 38-24 win over the Snowbirds. That said, St. Mary turned back a good challenge from rival Johannesburg-Lewiston last week and has had only one opponent come within double digits – recently surging Newberry in Week 2.  

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lincoln Alcona (6-1) at Lake City (7-0), Boyne City (7-0) at Elk Rapids (6-1), Traverse City West (7-0) at Gaylord (4-3), Birmingham Brother Rice (4-3) at Traverse City Central (5-2).

Southeast & Border

Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-0) at Clinton (5-2), Friday

With four league opponents still alive for playoff bids, Whiteford wasn’t going to get much of a break this season coming off last year’s Division 8 runner-up finish. But the Bobcats have handled every challenge with complete success, beating all seven opponents this season by at least 32 points. Clinton was the last team to hand Whiteford a league loss, in Week 9 of 2015, and the Redskins are tied for second in the TCC and riding a three-game winning streak. A win tonight will guarantee Whiteford a share of the league title, but a victory could eventually mean one for Clinton too with a winless opponent coming up in Week 9.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Michigan Center (6-1) at Grass Lake (4-3), Ida (6-1) at Hillsdale (3-4), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-4) at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (6-1), Ann Arbor Pioneer (3-4) at Adrian (3-4).

Southwest Corridor

Mendon (7-0) at Cassopolis (7-0), Friday

The first season of the Southwest 10 Conference has seen some parity, with five of 10 teams between 3-4 and 5-2. But these two are clearly at the top with a two-win edge on the rest and nearly identical numbers to tout that dominance. Cassopolis has given up 28 points; Mendon has given up 21. Cassopolis has scored 344; Mendon is right behind with 327. Both came from the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red, won by Cassopolis last year as a result of a 33-14 Week 2 downing of the Hornets – the Rangers’ second straight in this emerging rivalry.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Vicksburg (6-1) at Edwardsburg (6-1), Pittsford (6-1) at Climax-Scotts (6-1), Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-0) at Marshall (4-3), Watervliet (7-0) at Schoolcraft (5-2).

Upper Peninsula

Iron River West Iron County (6-1) at Hancock (6-1), Friday

The Wykons can clinch a share of their third Western Peninsula Athletic Conference title in five seasons and are just a two-point opening-night loss to Bark River-Harris from perfection this fall. Hancock is a little unfamiliar with this spot but also is a two-point loss from perfection in 2016. A win tonight would line the Bulldogs up to claim a shared league title next week and add another highlight to a rejuvenation that has seen a second straight winning season after a decade with only one, plus the clinching of their first playoff berth this fall since 2006.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Kingsford (5-1) at Menominee (5-2), Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-3) at Norway (6-1), Marquette (3-4) at Negaunee (4-3), Bessemer Gogebic (3-4) at Calumet (4-3).

West Michigan

Muskegon (7-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-0), Friday

The west side of the state is loaded with annually important rivalry games, and this Muskegon matchup has bulled its way into consideration among the best of them. Mona Shores won the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2014 and 2015 with wins over the Big Reds, but Muskegon has taken the last three meetings starting with a rematch win in the District Final three weeks after that 2015 loss. Few teams in the state this season have dominated like Muskegon, which sits with a playoff average of 100.571 – ninth highest among all teams. Mona Shores, however, sits atop a projected Division 2 at 109.714 – second-highest in Michigan with a chance to jump even higher.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (6-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (7-0) at Cedar Springs (5-2), Belding (6-1) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (7-0), East Kentwood (5-2) at Rockford (4-3).


Onekama (7-0) at Central Lake (7-0), Friday

The Midwest Central Michigan Conference is half filled with first-year 8-player teams and is putting forth at least two that could be MHSAA title contenders. If the season ended after last week, Onekama would be entering the 8-Player Division 2 playoffs with the highest playoff point average in the division and home games until the Final. Central Lake would be ranked third in 8-Player Division 1 by playoff point average – not too shabby, considering especially that Central Lake was 2-7 in 11-player in 2016 (while Onekama made the playoffs but as part of a co-operative program with Bear Lake). With both teams winning every game this season by at least 24 points, it’s deserved and lucky this league finale also will decide the league championship.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Deckerville (6-1) at Peck (4-3), Mayville (4-3) at Bay City All Saints (6-1), Webberville (5-2) at Camden-Frontier (7-0), SATURDAY Marion (6-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-1).

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PHOTO: Warren DeLaSalle, on offense, faced Birmingham Brother Rice in Week 4 and won 36-14. The Pilots will play this week for the Detroit Catholic League Central title. (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.)