Drive for Detroit: Week 9 Preview

October 19, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Maybe because it still feels like summer some days downstate, but it seems like we’ve gotten to Week 9 of the football season more quickly this fall.

So let’s get right into it. Playoff fields will be announced at 7 p.m. Sunday on FOX Sports Detroit PLUS. But there is still much to be decided. There are 80 automatic playoff bids still available in 11-player – this observer’s guess is that 55 will be filled by weekend’s conclusion – and a handful of league titles remain up for grabs.

Our “Drive for Detroit” preview below might look like it’s not hitting on some of the best games in your area this weekend, but that’s by design – today’s report, powered by MI Student Aid, is focused on those final league-deciding battles, some key rivalries, but for the most part picks out games that could have the most bearing on who continues on into next week.

There were 20 games statewide Thursday, and those results like all this weekend can be found on the MHSAA Score Center. Click to monitor records and playoff points for all 614 football teams in Michigan this weekend as the field of 288 continues to take its final shape. Click for more information on the “Sunday Selection Show” and a list of games that will be broadcast live tonight on

Bay & Thumb

Clare (7-1) at Beaverton (8-0), Friday

This has been Beaverton’s season, starting with wins over Breckenridge and Harbor Beach – the only losses for those teams as both have gone on to win league titles – and continuing through a dominant run over the first six games of the Jack Pine Conference schedule. The Beavers tonight can clinch their first league championship since 1989, but the greatest obstacle of all stands in the way. Clare also is 6-0 in the league, having lost only to still-undefeated Ithaca on opening night, and has won or shared nine of the last 10 Jack Pine titles. The winner tonight claims the whole thing.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Williamston (5-3) at Lake Fenton (7-1), Midland (7-1) at Midland Dow (7-1), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (5-3) at Lapeer (5-3), Croswell-Lexington (5-3) at Goodrich (7-1).

Greater Detroit

Detroit East English (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Ford Field, Friday

This Detroit Public School League A Final might be the most important game between King and East English since East English was formed out of the former Crockett and Finney high schools in 2012. King is a regular in this league finale but usually faces Detroit Cass Tech, which instead it defeated in last week’s semifinal 17-7. After falling to East English in their first meeting ever in 2012, the Crusaders have won the last seven games between the two – including taking two from the Bulldogs in back-to-back weeks in 2016 by a combined 10 points.  

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Madison Heights Lamphere (5-3) at Madison Heights Madison (8-0), Canton (7-1) at Livonia Churchill (7-1), SATURDAY Dearborn Divine Child (7-1) vs. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (7-1) at Ford Field, Warren DeLaSalle (6-2) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (5-3) at Ford Field.


Okemos (5-3) at East Lansing (6-2), Friday

The Trojans started this season 1-2 taking losses to Dearborn Divine Child and Grand Ledge, which are a combined 14-2. Riding a defense that has given up a combined 28 points over the last four weeks, East Lansing battled through most of the rest of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue and is headed to the playoffs for the second straight season thanks in part to three wins by five points or fewer. Okemos started 4-0 but then lost three straight before getting back on the positive side last week against Holt. This season has been a success regardless, with more wins than the last two combined, but the Chiefs would love to beat an old rival to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Saranac (5-3) at Blanchard Montabella (4-4), Ionia (4-4) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (7-1), Marshall (4-4) at Portland (7-1), St. Louis (5-3) at Breckenridge (7-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City St. Francis (8-0) at Boyne City (8-0), Friday

The matchup has become one of the best small-school games statewide each season. It’s decided the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends championship the last three years with one of the two teams then going on to at least the Division 6 Regional Finals each of those seasons. Like last year, these teams meet tonight both undefeated in league play. St. Francis handed Boyne City a 22-0 defeat in 2016 and also gave the Ramblers their only losses of 2015 – the first in Week 5 and the final in a Regional rematch. Boyne City is banking this time will look more like the three straight wins in this series from 2012-14, and the Ramblers look that caliber giving up no more than 13 points in a game so far. Then again, the Gladiators have given up 45 points total this fall and haven’t lost a regular-season game since that 2014 Boyne City loss.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Harbor Springs (4-4) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (5-3), Grayling (5-3) at Kalkaska (4-4), Evart (4-4) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-2), Oscoda (5-3) at Tawas (2-5).

Southeast & Border

Reading (7-1) at Michigan Center (7-1), Friday

The champions of the Big 8 and Cascades conferences meet in Week 9, and it’s a crowning regular-season achievement for a Reading team that had won six games combined over the last two seasons and earned its first league title since 2012. It’s a great opportunity as well for Michigan Center, which shared the Cascades title with Napoleon and Addison – the Cardinals’ first piece of a championship since sharing in 2013. To the victor tonight goes a little more pride, and also possibly enough points to earn a home playoff game.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Hudson (7-1) at Blissfied (5-3), Brooklyn Columbia Central (6-2) at Hillsdale (4-4), Milan (5-3) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (6-2), Morenci (5-3) at Petersburg-Summerfield (6-2).

Southwest Corridor

Three Rivers (7-1) at Vicksburg (6-2), Friday

Technically, the Wolverine B Conference can still finish with three teams sharing the title. It would take, in part, co-leader Edwardsburg falling to two-win Sturgis. So while that seems less likely to occur, Three Rivers faces a much tougher task to hold on to its share of the prize. The Wildcats find themselves tied for first because of a three-point win over the Eddies two weeks ago, and can keep what would be a first league title since 2009. But Three Rivers beat third-place Vicksburg by only a point last year after losing three straight to the Bulldogs. And with that slim chance at a three-way title still alive, the Wildcats are sure to see Vicksburg’s best again.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Kalamazoo United (6-2) at Schoolcraft (5-3), Paw Paw (4-4) at Dowagiac (5-3), Coloma (5-3) at Watervliet (8-0), Climax-Scotts (6-2) at Athens (5-3).

Upper Peninsula

Escanaba (7-1) at Kingsford (6-1), Friday

Escanaba won two weeks ago a game that lined up like a meeting of the two best teams in the Upper Peninsula, handing the only loss to then-undefeated Gladstone. But Kingsford has belonged in that conversation too, and tonight’s game has the same feel – and with the winner claiming the outright Great Northern Conference championship. Kingsford’s only loss was on opening night to Menasha, Wis., which has gone on to go 8-1. The Flivvers actually have been a little better against their league opponents too, scoring three more points than Escanaba and giving up 48 fewer – not to mention they have three straight losses to the Eskymos they’d love to avenge.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Gladstone (7-1) at Calumet (5-3), Bark River-Harris (4-4) at Munising (4-3), Negaunee (4-4) at Ishpeming Westwood (7-1), Menominee (5-3) at Marquette (4-4).

West Michigan

Zeeland West (6-2) at Zeeland East (8-0), Friday

This matchup between schools literally next door to each other is always one of the most anticipated on the west side of the state. But it means more again as both are undefeated in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green and with the possibility they could see each other in the playoffs at some point as well. The Chix have put up 41 or more points in every game – their most impressive offensive output this decade. West has won their last three meetings, and its two defeats this fall – to Muskegon Mona Shores and Grand Rapids West Catholic, a combined 13-3 – no doubt prepared the Dux for games of this caliber.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Grand Rapids South Christian (7-1) at East Grand Rapids (8-0), Grandville (6-2) at Holland West Ottawa (7-1), Lake City (8-0) at Morley Stanwood (7-1), Montague (8-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (7-0).


Bay City All Saints (6-2) at Kinde-North Huron (7-1), Friday

A lot of the hype this season deservedly has gone to teams playing – and succeeding – in their first seasons of 8-player football, and All Saints is part of that group. The Cougars were 3-6 last fall in 11-player and had one winning season over their last six before making the switch. Kinde-North Huron, meanwhile, has played 8-player since 2012 – and it’s having its most successful regular season since 2007. Both are undefeated in the North Central Thumb League Stripes division, with the winner tonight taking the outright championship.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Battle Creek St. Philip (5-3) at Bellevue (7-1), Stephenson (7-1) at Powers North Central (5-2), Suttons Bay (5-3) at Mesick (5-3), Webberville (5-3) at Morrice (7-1).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews and reviews 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: Zeeland East (yellow helmets) downed Saginaw Swan Valley on opening night and will face arguably its toughest opponent since in rival Zeeland West 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.)