Eagles Stone-wall Bellaire in 8 Final

November 16, 2012

By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second Half

GREENVILLE – Deckerville sophomore Ryan Stone had serious doubts about playing on the varsity team this year.

Stone thought he was better suited for the junior varsity. But following Friday night's MHSAA 8-player football championship game, everyone in the city of Deckerville is glad he opted for the jump to the next level.

The scrawny 5-foot-8, 140-pound Stone made perhaps the biggest play of the game as the Eagles survived a late rally from Bellaire to pull out a 14-12 victory at Greenville High School's Legacy Field.

Stone stopped Bellaire's two-point conversion run try short of the goal line with 49 seconds remaining to prevent a tie score and possible overtime.

“I was lined up and saw him coming around the corner,” Stone said. “I was hustling to him, hoping I could get him before he crossed the line. I just got to him.”

And doing so gave Deckerville its first MHSAA championship in its first Final appearance, to cap its first season in 8-player football. Bellaire made the switch to 8-player three seasons ago, and also made its first MHSAA Final appearance. The first 8-Player Final was last season.

On Friday’s game-saving play, Stone popped out his right shoulder and laid on the turf for several minutes while athletic trainers tended to him.

He eventually stood up and walked gingerly to the sidelines.

“I thought that was amazing,” said Deckerville senior fullback Chris Wolfe, who rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown.

“To put his body at risk to stop a two-point conversion for us not to go into overtime – I thought that was amazing to help our team like that.”

Deckerville coach Bill Brown wasn't surprised to see Stone put himself in harm's way for the benefit of his team.

“He has made big plays for us all year, and it takes a lot of heart and guts to make that happen,” he said. “This whole team is just like him, and what a heck of a play. He's one of those kids who thought he might not want to come up as a sophomore, but he came up, and what a great addition to our team.”

Stone also came up with a key interception in the third quarter, and scampered 23 yards for a touchdown on the Eagles' ensuing possession that put them ahead 14-6.

“It's my sophomore year, and to already win a state championship is pretty amazing,” Stone said. “I wanted to stay on the junior varsity this year because I didn't think I could make it on the varsity very well, but I think I did pretty good.”

Stone's effort was almost for naught, as Bellaire recovered an onside kick and threatened in the final seconds.

A 31-yard pass from quarterback Zach Smith to Wes Villafane put Bellaire at the Deckerville 4-yard line.

But Deckerville's defense smothered the run on the game's final play to preserve the win.

“We didn't spike it down there because I live by the philosophy of, let's catch them so the defense can't get set,” Bellaire coach Ron Bindi said. “We hit a big play earlier with that running play, and it just didn't work out.

“The kids have played like this all year. With only 13 of them, they are always outnumbered, but there is no quit in them. We just didn't get it done at the end this time.”

Trailing 14-6 late, Smith tossed a long bomb to Villafane, who hauled in the 52-yard score and trimmed the deficit to14-12.

Bellaire (9-4) failed multiple times to capitalize on scoring opportunities.

The Eagles were inside Deckerville's 30-yard line five times, but only scored once on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Smith in the final minute of the second quarter.

“We came out ready to play, but our offense did things that we haven't done all year,” Bindi said. “We made mistake, after mistake, after mistake, and you can't win football games like that.”

Deckerville closed with a 12-1 record en route to the title. Its lone loss came in Week 2 against Cedarville.

“Ever since Week 1, it has been a great ride,” Wolfe said. “We learned a lot of things. We learned responsibility, dedication and how to become a team.”

Said Brown: “It means a lot to the program, our community and all the alumni who have played before us and busted their tails. We just happened to have a great year with a great group.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Deckerville running back Christopher Wolfe prepares for an oncoming tackler during Friday's 8-Player Final. (Middle) Bellaire's Zach Smith (12) dives for his team's first touchdown. (Click to see more from the Regional Final at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)