Drive for Detroit: Week 9 Preview

October 20, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The sun is setting on another Michigan high school football regular season. 

But the lights haven't gone off yet for 180 teams holding out hope of playing their way into this season's playoff field.

Heading into Thursday night, 160 teams in 11-player could either qualify automatically with a win this weekend or set themselves up for a possible at-large bid. And 20 8-player teams, give or take a few, still look to be alive for one of 16 spots in that field.

A number of games including Detroit Public School League and Big 8/Cascades Conference crossovers were played Thursday. See the MHSAA Score Center for those scores and the schedule for tonight and Saturday. Be sure to tune in to Fox Sports Detroit at 7 p.m. Sunday for the announcement of this season's playoff brackets in all nine divisions. Click for more details on the Selection Sunday Show.

And see below for the final regular-season Drive for Detroit preview, powered by MI Student Aid, with some emphasis placed on games that could help decide the playoff field. All games are tonight unless noted.

Bay & Thumb

Frankenmuth (8-0) at Freeland (8-0)

This is a repeat of last year’s Week 9 scenario, when these Tri-Valley Conference champions – Frankenmuth from the East and Freeland from the Central – met in the final regular season game. Freeland won big, 42-7, and then won 35-12 when they met again two weeks later for a Division 5 District title. The numbers indicate a closer game between the two this time; Freeland’s defense remains stellar giving up only 8.6 points per game, but Frankenmuth’s is giving up only 5.4 and could be the key to reversing last season’s results.  

Others that caught my eye: Lapeer (6-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-2), Flint Powers Catholic (5-3) at Davison (8-0), Fenton (6-2) at Linden (6-2), Midland Dow (7-1) at Midland (4-4).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Cass Tech (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Ford Field

As anticipated, these two will meet for the PSL Division 1 championship after also facing each other in division play three weeks ago. Cass Tech won that game 31-18, being held to its fewest points of the season but also locking down a King offense that has scored fewer than 39 only one other time. The Crusaders already got a taste of a rematch last week, when they played Detroit East English for the second straight and escaped with a two-point win after downing the Bulldogs by 38 the week before. King will hope for a similar tightening up of the score in this second meeting with the Technicians. 

Others that caught my eye: Lake Orion (5-3) at Bloomfield Hills (8-0), Detroit Denby (7-1) vs. Detroit Mumford (7-1) at Ford Field, Oak Park (6-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (5-3), Detroit Catholic Central (8-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-3) on Saturday at Ford Field


Walled Lake Western (7-1) at Brighton (7-1)

This Lakes championship game features the winners of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West (Brighton) and North (Western) in their first meeting since 1997. The Warriors are undefeated aside from having to forfeit an opening-night victory and have beaten three teams already qualified for the playoffs and two more that could get in at-large. Brighton has four wins against teams that are in or close, but did lose Week 2 to Northville – which lost to Western in Week 3.

Others that caught my eye: Grandville Calvin Christian (5-3) at Belding (5-3), Laingsburg (7-1) at Durand (5-3), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-4) at Lansing Catholic (7-1), Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (6-2) at New Lothrop (8-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Boyne City (6-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)

Boyne City’s rough start to this season is barely a memory two months later as it has a chance to finish this comeback with a Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends-clinching victory against reigning champion St. Francis. The Ramblers will have a little vengeance in mind after St. Francis' 32-13 win in their 2015 meeting decided the league title. But the Gladiators are riding high; St. Francis downed playoff-bound Kalkaska 49-0 last week, has given up 15 points over its last four games and no more than 14 in any game this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (7-1) at Cadillac (6-2), Kalkaska (6-2) at Grayling (5-3), Clare (7-1) at Houghton Lake (5-3), Frankfort (8-0) at Onekama (6-2).

Southeast & Border

Birmingham Groves (8-0) at Saline (8-0)

Trying to pick an angle on this one is tough; it’s just a great matchup. Both teams went 9-0 last season, so the winner going undefeated won’t be something new. Both also rank among the highest in any division for playoff-point average, so the winner of this one could be looking at a nice playoff road – but the loser will be in good shape as well. Both are keyed by strong defenses: Saline has given up 12.7 points per game but only 31 points over their last four. Groves, meanwhile, has given up only 34 points over the last seven games and no more than eight since Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: Morenci (5-3) at Adrian Madison (4-4), Dearborn (7-1) at Ann Arbor Skyline (4-4), Sand Creek (7-1) at Petersburg-Summerfield (5-3), Grass Lake (7-1) at Springport (7-1).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Central (7-1) at St. Joseph (6-2)

Portage Central no doubt has been looking forward to this one; the Mustangs were cruising along to an outright Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title and perfect regular season last year when St. Joseph busted both with a 22-6 Week 9 win. The teams ended up sharing the league title, and the Bears are in the same position of trying to force another share after losing to Stevensville Lakeshore in Week 4. Portage Central’s only loss this fall was on the road to one-loss Traverse City Central.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (6-2) at Coldwater (6-2), Lawton (7-1) at Decatur (4-4), Portland (8-0) at Marshall (4-4), DeWitt (7-1) at Portage Northern (5-3).

Upper Peninsula

Newberry (7-1) at St. Ignace (7-1)

The Indians could add a major highlight to their best season since 2004 by avenging last year’s 50-20 playoff loss to the Saints. St. Ignace went on to the Division 8 Semifinals and this fall locked up an eighth-straight league title in its first season in the NMFL Legends division. Newberry can gain a share of the Mid-Eastern Conference title, but only if first-place and undefeated Lake Linden-Hubbell falls this weekend to Munising.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (6-2) at Norway (7-1), Kingsford (6-2) at Escanaba (6-2), Bark River-Harris (3-5) at Felch North Dickinson (5-3), Hancock (4-4) at Houghton (3-5).

West Michigan

Rockford (6-2) at Hudsonville (7-1)

For most of this season, it didn’t look like this game would mean as much as it does once again. Rockford has rattled off six straight wins after a rough start and holds a one-win advantage on both Grandville and Hudsonville in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red. Hudsonville fell to Grandville in Week 4 but can create a three-way tie for the title if it can avenge last year’s pair of losses to the Rams – 28-27 in Week 9 and then 21-13 in their District Final.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-1) at Allendale (6-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-1) at Byron Center (7-1), Zeeland East (6-2) at Zeeland West (6-2), East Grand Rapids (6-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (5-3).


Powers North Central (8-0) at Stephenson (7-1) 

The Jets have turned away all challengers in their quest to repeat as MHSAA champions. North Central has yet to lose a game in two seasons of 8-player football, and it’s scored at least 56 points in every game this fall and 76 or more four of the last five weeks. Enter Stephenson, which saw North Central twice last season and this fall has lost only to Crystal Falls Forest Park – the team to give North Central its toughest challenge so far.

Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (5-1) at Waldron (4-4), New Haven Merritt (8-0) at Flint International Academy (6-2).

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: Whitehall and Ravenna took the field under a picturesque sunset Oct. 7. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)