A Game for Every Fan: District Finals

November 7, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If last week's first round of the MHSAA football playoffs was one of the most unpredictable we've seen in years, why bother setting expectations for the encore?

But this weekend should be just as entertaining with rematches the theme, including some second versions of the best games from the regular season and the closest from the 2012 playoffs.

Be sure to follow the scores and schedules all weekend on the MHSAA Score Center, and see below for our games to watch in every division. 

Division 1

Warren Mott (10-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (10-0)

Mott has played football since 1992, and this certainly has been the Marauders' best run as it has included its first perfect regular season, the Macomb Area Conference White title and 10 wins for the first time. Mott's league was competitive this season, but Saturday it gets to see how it matches up against the elite – two-time reigning MHSAA champion Detroit Cass Tech, which has given up only 46 points this season and has 16 straight wins. 

Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville (7-3) at Rockford (9-1), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-1) at Macomb Dakota (10-0), Saline (9-1) at Temperance Bedford (10-0). 

Division 2

Muskegon (9-1) at Lowell (10-0)

The best set of games this weekend is in Division 2, and Portage Central/Battle Creek Lakeview also has an argument as the biggest game in the state overall. But the Muskegon/Lowell rivalry has been simply too good of late. They've faced off in the playoffs the last five seasons, with Lowell holding a 3-2 advantage but falling 15-13 to the Big Reds in 2012. Muskegon went on to finish Division 2 runner-up, but then suffered its only loss this fall to the Red Arrows 31-20 in Week 4. This game features two of the state's most dynamic quarterbacks in Muskegon's Deshaun Thrower and Lowell's Kyler Shurlow.

Others that caught my eye: Battle Creek Lakeview (10-0) at Portage Central (10-0), Birmingham Seaholm (9-1) at Birmingham Brother Rice (10-0), Detroit East English (7-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (8-1).

Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian (8-2) at Zeeland West (9-1)

This is a rematch of one of last season's most high-scoring playoff games; Grand Rapids Christian beat West 68-44 in a District Final on the way to winning the MHSAA title. The Eagles' defense has stuck out a little more throughout this season, but the Dux have scored at least 44 points in eight of their 10 games. And it's a decent prediction that the winner of this game again could be playing for the title in four weeks.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Mumford (8-2) at St. Clair (9-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (7-3) at St. Joseph (9-1), Melvindale (8-2) at Milan (10-0). 

Division 4

Detroit Country Day (7-3) at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (8-2)

This is another rematch of a 2012 game that helped decide an eventual MHSAA championship contender. Country Day defeated Notre Dame Prep in the District Final 14-12 on the way to finishing division runner-up at Ford Field, and quarterback Tyler Wiegers is back and committed to play for Rutgers next season. The Yellowjackets haven't lost since opening 0-3, but the Fighting Irish also are riding high with four straight wins after two straight midseason losses.

Others that caught my eye: Richmond (9-1) at Marine City (9-1), Dowagiac (7-3) at Battle Creek Pennfield (9-1), Belding (7-3) at Comstock Park (10-0).

Division 5

Muskegon Oakridge (9-1) at Reed City (10-0)

Oakridge hasn't allowed an opponent to come within three touchdowns since suffering its lone loss of the season, to Shelby, in Week 6. Oakridge has won at least nine games in each of the last four seasons, but is riding its strongest offense since the 14-0 team in 2008. Reed City is 10-0 for the third straight season thanks in part to its highest-scoring offense ever and shooting for its first District title after falling by a point to Newaygo in last season's Final.

Others that caught my eye: Millington (8-2) at Frankenmuth (9-1), Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (8-2) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-1), Grayling (9-1) at Menominee (10-0). 

Division 6

Saginaw Nouvel (9-1) at Montrose (10-0)

These two along with Madison Heights Madison and Flint Beecher make up arguably the most competitive Region in the playoffs, with the winner likely earning the right to face national winning-streak leader Ithaca in a Semifinal. Nouvel is back in Division 6 after playing in Division 7 the last three seasons and winning the championship in 2011, while Montrose long has been a contender in this division and no doubt would like another shot at the Yellowjackets.

Others that caught my eye: Grass Lake (9-1) at Clinton (10-0), Schoolcraft (9-1) at Watervliet (10-0), Maple City Glen Lake (9-1) at Ithaca (10-0). 

Division 7

Ishpeming (10-0) at Iron River West Iron Country (10-0)

This is the biggest game in the Upper Peninsula this week. Reigning MHSAA champion Ishpeming is riding two straight shutouts with five total this season, and West Iron is looking for its first District title since 2008. The Wykons earned a little more notice statewide by opening the playoffs with a 14-point win over perennial power Traverse City St. Francis last week. This should be one of Ishpeming's first challenges this season as only rival Negaunee has come within 36 points of the Hematites.

Others that caught my eye: Lake City (9-1) at Lincoln Alcona (10-0), Pewamo-Westphalia (9-1) at Carson City-Crystal (10-0), Lawton (9-1) at Homer (9-1). 

Division 8

Climax-Scotts (9-1) at Mendon (10-0)

How did annual championship contender Mendon bounce back from ending last season in the Regional Final? The Hornets have outscored opponents 513-19 in arguably the most impressive run of any team statewide. Mendon has beaten Climax-Scotts in the playoffs the last two seasons, so the Panthers have plenty of additional motivation. Their only loss this fall was to much larger Flint Powers Catholic.

Others that caught my eye: Waterford Our Lady (8-2) at New Lothrop (10-0), Fowler (8-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-2), Powers North Central (8-2) at Felch North Dickinson (7-2). 


Lawrence (7-2) at Battle Creek St. Philip (10-0)

The 8-player playoffs are in their Regional Finals, and these two are plenty familiar with each other after a titanic 54-50 battle won by St. Philip only two weeks ago. In that game, the two traded touchdowns until the end, and this Saturday afternoon rematch could be one of the highest-scoring of the weekend.

Other Regional Finals: Engadine (6-4) at Rapid River (10-0), Owendale-Gagetown (9-1) at Kinde-North Huron (7-3), Carsonville-Port Sanilac (7-3) at Peck (10-0). 

PHOTO: DeWitt, carrying the ball, survived with a 14-6 win over rival Haslett last week to advance to tonight's District Final against Linden. (Photo courtesy of Matt Stehouwer.)

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.)