Football Finals: Top 10 of first 15 Years

January 23, 2021

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

Not long ago, MLive published an article listing its "Top 30" Michigan high school football state finals performances over the last 30 years.

But what about those feats from the first 15 years (1975-1989)?

There were a total of 60 championships awarded in that first decade-and-a-half of play in Michigan, with title trophies awarded in only four classifications of 11-player football.

Since the beginning of the postseason, one can certainly argue the game of football has evolved from a run-dominated approach to a more wide-open style. While rushing marks from those first 15 years still dot the MHSAA championship record book, title game passing records overwhelmingly come from the later years of the playoffs.

Despite the changes made over time to the postseason, it’s interesting to note, the average margin of victory for 312 MHSAA football championship games has not really changed much. For the first 60 titles, the differential was 15.88 points. For the 252 played since 1989, it averages 16.12.

What has changed is the average score. For the first 60, it was 25-9 (25.25 to 9.37). Since then, it has climbed to 30-14 (29.98 to 13.84). In other words, the offense for both the victor and the runner-up is more productive.

The defense has shut out its opponent on 42 occasions over the past 45 years. That happened on 16 occasions in those first 15 years, over 26 percent of the time. Over the last 30 years, that’s happened in just over 10 percent of MHSAA title games played since 1990.

Top performances aren't always found in a state record book. In a world that's constantly changing, the circumstances that form the setting mean everything.

Now about those 10 performances, shown chronologically by year.

1975 Class C

Mike Dellangelo, Ishpeming vs Hudson
Quarterback Mike Marana earned Detroit Free Press Class C all-state honors come December, but it was a 5-foot-6, 160-pound running back named Mike Dellangelo who stole the spotlight when Ishpeming stunned Hudson, 38-22, in the MHSAA title game in 1975 hosted at Central Michigan University. The postseason lasted only two weeks in that inaugural season of the playoffs, with only four teams qualifying in each of four classifications.

Dellangelo’s two touchdowns, a pair of two-point conversions and his 158 rushing yards on 21 carries may seem pedestrian to most when looking at playoff history today. But when studied against the accomplishment of Ishpeming’s opponent, Hudson, it magnifies the performance. The Tigers were, at the time, the most famous high school football team in America. Riding a 72-game win streak, recognized at the time as the longest ever in the nation, Hudson’s team’s achievements were featured in Sports Illustrated, before a Sunday broadcast of NFL games, and in countless newspapers and magazines from coast-to-coast.

“Few except the loyal fans from Ishpeming gave the Hematites a chance,” wrote Free Press sports writer, Hal Schram.

“A blocked punt by Bill Andriacchi early in the first period set up the game’s opening score,” stated the Green Bay Press-Gazette. ”Andriacchi broke through and blocked a punt by John Barnett on the 49-yard line, with the ball going out of bounds on the Hudson nine.”

Ishpeming coach Mike Mileski told Press-Gazette sports editor Len Wagner that the play turned the game over to the Hematites.

“We had three guys scout Hudson in their semi-final and one of the things we thought we could do was block their punts,” Mileski revealed. “We had four different rushes planned and we just called the right one in that case. It was our game after that.”

Dellangelo’s first TD, a 60-yard dash on a pitchout from Marana, in which he reversed his field and turned on the jets, was the day’s most explosive play. Followed by a two-point conversion by Marana, it gave the Hematites a stunning 24-8 first quarter lead. His second, a 10-yard scamper in the third quarter, upped the lead to 36-16.

Following the game, Hudson coach Tom Saylor called Dellangelo “the finest back I’ve seen this year. No one is quicker.”

That Saturday night, a welcoming party of 1,000 fans greeted the Hematites upon their arrival home to help celebrate their 38-22 triumph.

1975 Class D

Bill Santilli, Crystal Falls Forest Park & the Trojans defense vs. Flint Holy Rosary
Of course, the big story of the 1975 football playoffs was the end of Hudson’s national-record winning streak played out before a crowd of 7,000 at CMU. Yet, perhaps the most impressive performances on the day were provided by the Crystal Falls Forest Park squad, who completely stymied Flint Holy Rosary, 50-0, in the Class D Final, hosted at Western Michigan University, the other site used by the MHSAA to host that first year of championship games. The Finals would move indoors, away from the elements, to the recently-opened Pontiac Silverdome in 1976.

It would take until 1994 for a single championship team to equal the 50-point total put up by Forest Park that day, and until 2002 for a single team to exceed the point total. Bill Santilli “was double-teamed and even triple-teamed” for much of the day, but still managed to rack up 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 37 carries. The 5-foot-9 senior totaled 226 points on the season, (including 46 points in the team’s 67-0 thrashing of Posen in the Semifinals a week earlier) to set an MHSAA single-season record for points scored at the time. Quarterback Rich Mettlach totaled 148 yards passing, with 103 to Bryan LaChapelle out of the backfield.

The Forest Park defense limited Holy Rosary to an incredible -32 yards rushing, 78 passing and only four first downs in the contest.

“They told us the competition got tougher the farther south we got,” said winning coach Richard Mettlach. “We like it down here and may come back next year.”

The two teams squared off again each of the next two years to form one of the tournament’s first classic postseason rivalries. These were much better contests, with Crystal Falls again victorious,14-6, in 1976, and Rosary the winner, 21-20, in 1977.

1978 Class C

Kerry Smith, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern vs Bad Axe
Quick. Tell me who was the first to break the Pontiac Silverdome’s single-game rushing mark of 273 yards, set by O.J. Simpson on November 25, 1976? (No – it’s not Barry Sanders, who did run for more than 200 yards in a single game at the Silverdome on two occasions – the tops being 237 in 1994.)

The answer - Junior halfback Kerry Smith from Forest Hills Northern.

Running behind what was then considered a massive line (averaging 220 pounds), Smith rambled, seemingly at will, for 278 yards on 27 carries. The top mark would last for 13 seasons before being eclipsed by Farmington Hills Harrison’s Roy Granger.

Northern held a 12-0 halftime advantage, and an 18-0 third-quarter lead, before hanging on for an 18-16 win. Smith ran for 176 yards on 13 carries in the first half, and 252 on 20 totes through three quarters before a miscue and a 60-yard drive put the Hatchets into the game. But time was running out, and following a failed squib kick with 1:49 to go, Northern, handing the ball to Smith, ground out four more rushes to seal the victory.

An ideal fit under Bo Schembechler’s approach to football, Smith went on to a solid career at the University of Michigan.

1984 Class D

Jim Steinman, Gobles vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park
“Our scouting report indicated that we could pass on them,” said Gobles quarterback, Tony Koshar. Indeed, after grabbing a 6-0 lead on a 31-yard dash by Shawn Ampey on their opening drive of the game, Koshar connected with tight end Jim Steinman on a pass for the two-point conversion.

Following the exchange, Crystal Falls Forest Park responded with a long drive, but it stalled at the Gobles 9-yard line. Following a procedure penalty, Koshar spotted Steinman on the left sideline at the Tigers 40. The 6-2, 195-pound junior grabbed the pass, shook off a defender, then sprinted to the end-zone. The 96-yard TD reception stood as a championship record until 2008. Koshar connected with his big receiver for two more touchdown strikes of 17 and eight yards in the opening two quarters as Gobles opened up a 28-0 lead.

“We were sleeping in the first half,” said Forest Park coach Dick Mettlach, whose squad was making its sixth appearance in the Class D title game in 10 years.

The Trojans stormed back in the second half, closing the gap to 28-22, before Steinman ended the day with a championship-record field goal of 34 yards with 1:29 remaining to go up 31-22. (The mark would be topped a couple of hours later by Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Jeff Fisher, who booted a 42-yarder against Dearborn Fordson in the Class A title game). He finished the day with 23 points, also a new championship record. His point total mark would last until 1990.

(It’s also interesting to note that the 1983 season was the first in which the Silverdome installed high school goal posts for the four title games. Prior to that, the title games used pro posts, which measured 18 feet, 6 inches in width, versus the 23-feet, 4-inch posts used in high school.)

1987 Class A

Chris Moore, Ann Arbor Pioneer vs Detroit Catholic Central 
It doesn’t appear among final game record performances in today’s MHSAA record book, but it might arguably be called the most important field goal in championship game history. In all honesty, the boot held little meaning to those assembled in the press box until after the game was finished.

The 1987 Class A match-up between Detroit Catholic Central and Ann Arbor Pioneer was expected to feature two strong defenses. Ranked sixth in The Associated Press final press poll, the Shamrocks’ lone loss on the year had come against Pioneer, 7-2, in the third game of the season. Still, CC was favored by most after taking out Dearborn Fordson and Sterling Heights, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the final AP press poll, in their opening-round games of the postseason.

Pioneer, unranked with two losses, had barely slipped into the playoffs.

“In Pioneer’s last regular-season game against Ann Arbor Huron, (Chris) Moore lined up to kick a potential game-winning field goal but the kick was blocked,” noted Free Press sports writer Mick McCabe. The football was scooped up and returned 85 yards for a touchdown as time ran out, giving Huron a 27-21 win.

The football Final was a “day of redemption,” as Moore’s 35-yard kick, midway through the second quarter, broke a scoreless tie. In the end, it would be the only points scored in Pioneer’s 3-0 victory over Catholic Central. The point total still stands alone as the lowest number scored by two teams in the 45-year history of the postseason championship contests.

“I wanted Coach to call on me, but I didn’t know if he would,” said Moore after the game. “The snap was a little off but Sterling Olsen caught it and put it down. As soon as I kicked it, I felt good about it. It was on the left hash and I’m left footed, so I hooked it a little and it went right down the middle.”

“It might not have been the best-looking game,” stated Pioneer coach Chuck Lori, “but from this side of the press room it’s a beautiful win.”

1988 Class D

Brad Johnson, Schoolcraft vs. Frankfort
Over 30 years later, Brad Johnson’s record-setting 87-yard TD on a punt return still stands as an MHSAA title game record.

Johnson, Schoolcraft’s top rusher with more than 1,600 yards on the season, fielded the kick midway between the far right sideline and the hash mark, headed left, faked a reverse to teammate Todd Spears, then followed a wall of blockers down the left sideline to the end zone, giving the Eagles a 21-7 lead with a little over nine minutes remaining in the first half.

The return was his second touchdown of the game. Schoolcraft finished with a 42-7 victory over Frankfort.

1988 Class B

Brian Wauldron, Farmington Hills Harrison vs. St. Joseph
Farmington Hill Harrison’s junior quarterback Mill Coleman broke the state’s championship records for passing yards with 228 on 12 of 14 completions and with four passing touchdowns, but it was Brian Wauldron’s 177 yards and three TDs (on a mere five receptions), two interceptions and a fumble recovery that were truly mind-blowing at the end of the day.

St. Joseph took the game’s opening kickoff and moved from its 19 to Harrison’s 30 before Wauldron intercepted a fourth-down pass. On the next play, Coleman fired a perfect strike to Wauldron, who caught the ball in stride and streaked into the end zone. The play went for 71 yards.

The Bears responded with a long scoring strike of their own, cutting the lead to 7-6. Then 5-foot-9 Coleman connected again with Wauldron for a 72-yard TD. Their third touchdown, Waldron’s final catch of the day, came from 15 yards out in the third quarter.

The Hawks’ 44-9 win marked the first of back-to-back titles and came in the second of three straight visits to the Class B title game. Harrison had lost to Grand Rapids Catholic Central a year earlier, 19-7.

1989 Class A

Marcus Longmire, Muskegon vs. Detroit Martin Luther King 
“Two years ago, Ann Arbor Pioneer won the Class A state championship by scoring three points,” wrote Mick McCabe in his pregame article on the Detroit Martin Luther King/Muskegon game, scheduled for Saturday. Playing in another Class A contest matching outstanding defenses, Detroit Martin Luther King was the first Detroit Public School League team to reach the Finals. Muskegon had made its first appearance in an MHSAA title game in 1986, defeating Sterling Heights Stevenson for the Class A crown.

The Son of Swami gave a vote of confidence to King and coach Jim Reynolds in his annual pregame picks, but noted that “SOS has a funny feeling that Muskegon might come into the Dome and leave with the state championship trophy.”

Muskegon held a 9-0 halftime lead and didn’t allow King a first down until midway through the second quarter, but it was an 89-yard playoff record kickoff return by Marcus Longmire to open the second half that stands out from the game in the minds of most.

Twelve seconds into the second half, Muskegon led 16-0. King responded almost instantaneously, with a Class A record-setting 76-yard TD pass from quarterback Zolton Hall to David Bowden. Then, with 3:36 left in the third quarter, Hall scored from three yards out to pull King within three, 16-13. Big-play defense ruled the scoreless fourth quarter, punctuated by strong secondary play by Longmire, and the Big Reds escaped with the trophy.

Longmire’s return has since been equaled or topped on 13 occasions, but lasted as the record until 1996 when Martez Johnson took one 95 yards to the house for Detroit St. Martin dePorres in the 1996 game against Iron Mountain.

1989 Class B

Mill Coleman, Farmington Hills Harrison vs. DeWitt
Mill Coleman’s performance in 1988, impressive as it was, is overshadowed in many minds by both Brian Wauldron’s game and what Coleman engineered a year later. The 1989 title game with DeWitt was a battle, in which the top-ranked and Class B reigning champion Hawks had their hands full.

Tied 7-7 after the first 12 minutes of play, DeWitt, ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll, opened a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter on a 32-yard run by fullback John Telford and a 35-yard option pass from Telford to John Cowan. Harrison responded with a Matt Conley one-yard run to cut the margin to 21-14 with just over a minute left to play before the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, Coleman knotted the score at 21-21 with a dazzling 16-yard run early in the fourth quarter, but DeWitt stormed back again driving 75 yards on 13 plays. The series was highlighted by tight end Dave Riker's 24-yard, one-handed catch to the Hawks’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Chris Berkimer slipped over the goal line from the 1. The extra point attempt was blocked but DeWitt again held the lead, 27-21.

With 2:12 remaining and the ball at the Harrison 33, Coleman went to work. Three rapid completions of 24, 12 and 15 yards gave the Hawks a first down at the DeWitt 16 with 1:50 left on the clock. Following a Hawks timeout, Coleman dashed right for seven more yards to the Panthers’ 9. On second down, he dropped back to pass, moved to his left at the DeWitt 17, then, feeling the pressure, darted up the middle, shaking off a tackle at the 15 and slipping past two defenders at the 10, a third at the 6 and a fourth at the 4  before diving into the end zone for the tying points. Steve Hill added his fourth PAT of the game with 1:34 remaining, giving Harrison only its second lead of the day, 28-27. Hill then sealed the victory with an interception on the next series.

Coleman finished with 297 yards of total offense (89 rushing and 208 passing). The mark stood until 2002, and has since been topped an amazing 29 times by 27 players.

(One might also point out that Coleman ended his prep career as the most prolific quarterback in state history, throwing for 7,464 yards and 77 touchdowns during his career. Today, both marks rank 10th overall.)

Still, when it comes to top individual performances in 45 years of MHSAA Final games, in my mind, no one has topped Coleman’s galvanizing performance on that championship weekend in November.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected]:void(0);t with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Chris Moore lines up to kick what will be the winning field goal of the 1987 Class A Final. (Middle) Kerry Smith starred at Forest Hills Northern before going on to play at University of Michigan. (Below) The scoreboard announced the 1987 Class A championship game still remembered. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch.)

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.)