A Game for Every Fan: Playoffs Week 1

October 28, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This first week of the 41st MHSAA Football Playoffs will be filled with firsts and familiar faces.

Benton Harbor, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy and Parma Western will take part in the first playoff games in their football programs’ histories. Ten more teams will be making their first postseason appearance in more than a decade.

Beal City will enjoy the playoffs for the 33rd time, most of any MHSAA school and one of 18 that have appeared in the tournament at least 25 seasons. Rockford will play in its 21st straight playoffs and Menominee in its 20th, those two enjoying the two longest active streaks. Eight of nine champions return from 2014 – and Clarkston, Grand Rapids West Catholic and Muskegon Catholic Central hope to be playing in five weeks for their third straight MHSAA titles.

But first things first – below are some of the most intriguing openers, all to be played Friday, unless noted. Keep up with the MHSAA Score Center all weekend as scores come in, and check out the Football Page for up-to-date pairings and scores by division.

Division 1

Clarkston (7-2) at Romeo (8-1)

A 1-2 start – albeit, with losses to eventual league champions Macomb Dakota and West Bloomfield – knocked Clarkston out of most conversations about the state’s elite this season, despite the Wolves coming off back-to-back Division 1 titles. But Clarkston won its next six games – including over playoff team Oak Park last week – and drew a Romeo team that started 8-0, beat Dakota by two touchdowns, but is coming off an unexpected three-point loss to Utica Eisenhower in Week 9.

Others that caught my eye: Grandville (6-3) at Rockford (6-3), Plymouth (6-3) at Northville (9-0), Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-3) at Belleville (8-1), Utica Eisenhower (6-3) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-2).

Division 2

Muskegon (7-2) at Traverse City Central (9-0)

Traverse City Central is undefeated for the first time since its Class A championship season of 1988, and at home, hosting a team with a few hours of road time ahead. And yet, it’s fair to assume most will consider the Trojans underdogs against a Muskegon program that has finished each of the last three seasons at Ford Field. The Big Reds are back in Division 2 after finishing Division 3 runner-up a year ago, and have lost only to Detroit Catholic Central and Muskegon Mona Shores – a possible opponent next week for the winner of this game.

Others that caught my eye: Midland (7-2) at Midland Dow (8-1). Farmington Hills Harrison (7-2) at Birmingham Groves (9-0), Lincoln Park (6-3) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (7-2), Detroit East English (7-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (6-3).

Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian (5-4) at East Grand Rapids (6-3)

The Pioneers held a 26-0 lead in the first matchup between these Ottawa-Kent Conference White rivals, in Week 6, before the Eagles outscored them 39-7 the rest of the way. The math worked out such that East Grand Rapids is the host this time after Christian qualified with an at-large bid, and it's fair to expect another close tilt between teams that have split their last eight meetings, including two during the playoffs.

Others that caught my eye: Haslett (6-3) at DeWitt (8-1), Parma Western (6-3) at Coldwater (9-0), Ortonville-Brandon (6-3) at Linden (7-2), Warren Fitzgerald (6-3) at Redford Thurston (5-4).

Division 4

Flint Powers Catholic (7-2) at Goodrich (7-2)

Both of these teams should be among the most prepared to up their games for the postseason. Powers quietly put together one of the most solid defensive performances in the state, giving up only 101 points total while shutting out four teams and finishing second to Division 2 contender Midland Dow in the Saginaw Valley League Blue. Goodrich emerged as one of five playoff teams from the seven-team Genesee Area Conference Red and played two more playoff teams nonleague, so it too is used to playoff-caliber competition.

Others that caught my eye: Dowagiac (6-3) at Benton Harbor (5-4), Big Rapids (6-3) at Escanaba (5-4), Detroit Denby (5-4) at Detroit Collegiate Prep (9-0), Harper Woods Chandler Park (6-3) at Detroit Country Day (8-1), Saturday.

Division 5

Marine City (6-3) at Almont (7-2)

With its proximity to Port Huron, it’s easy to forget that Marine City plays in the Macomb Area Conference Gold and not the Blue Water Area Conference, and actually has faced BWAC power Almont only once over the last 65 seasons – in a District Final a year ago. Both have deceiving records this time around; Marine City’s three losses were by a combined 12 points to three playoff teams, while Almont’s two defeats came by a combined 15 points to two playoff qualifiers (both fell to Algonac).

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Oakridge (7-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-2), Hillsdale (6-3) at Buchanan (9-0), Clinton Township Clintondale (5-4) at Algonac (8-1), Harrison (7-2) at Kingsford (6-3), Saturday.

Division 6

Clinton (9-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1)

Division 6 might have the most intriguing set of opening games, topped by this matchup of the reigning champion Falcons against one of two undefeated teams that finds itself on the road this week. This is a rematch of last season’s District Final, won by St. Mary; in 2013 it was Clinton that reached Ford Field and finished runner-up in Division 6. St. Mary’s earned this home game with a schedule loaded with Class A and B teams, but that doesn’t mean Clinton doesn’t know how to ramp up for good competition – the Redskins are one of four playoff teams from the Tri-County Conference.

Others that caught my eye: Vassar (8-1) at Ithaca (9-0), Millington (8-1) at Sanford Meridian (9-0), Calumet (7-2) at Negaunee (7-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (6-3) at Vandercook Lake (8-1).

Division 7

Saugatuck (9-0) at Hesperia (9-0)

Matchups of undefeated teams in the first round are rare, but so is having three undefeated teams in the same District, which these two share with Pewamo-Westphalia. Hesperia is one of the incredible stories of this season. The Panthers, known best for their wrestling, were 1-8 a year ago and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002 – but did have four 0-9 seasons during the drought. Only once this fall, in Week 4 against Morley-Stanwood, did an opponent come within 25 points of Hesperia. But Saugatuck has been both impressive and consistent on offense, scoring no fewer than 42 points in any game and beating their opponents by an average of 48.

Others that caught my eye: Flint Hamady (7-2) at Flint Beecher (6-2), Cass City (7-2) at Ubly (7-2), Concord (7-2) at Dansville (8-1), Harbor Springs (6-3) at Iron Mountain (6-3), Saturday.

Division 8

Mendon (5-4) at Climax-Scotts (9-0)

A first-round game between an at-large qualifier and an undefeated host is generally viewed as a slam dunk for the home team. But it’s doubtful anyone recently has considered Mendon and its eight straight seasons with at least 10 wins an easy out. The four losses this fall were all to playoff teams, three now playing in higher divisions. Climax-Scotts has seen its last four seasons end against the Hornets and is the last team that would take them lightly, even after giving up a total of only 27 points this season.

Others that caught my eye: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (6-3) at Muskegon Catholic Central (6-2), Bark River-Harris (7-2) at Munising (7-2), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (7-2) at Petersburg-Summerfield (7-2), Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-3) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (9-0), Saturday.


Rapid River (6-3) at Engadine (7-2)

Engadine’s Week 5 62-30 win over Rapid River sent a shockwave through 8-player football, as it was Rapid River’s first regular-season loss since 2012. The Eagles still haven’t lost since Week 3, with only Stephenson coming reasonably close to taking a game. But the short history of 8-player football in this state has shown that this division allows more than any other for massive turnarounds between the regular-season and playoff meetings between teams – and Rapid River knows well the possibility this weekend after beating Cedarville 20-19 during the 2014 regular season and then falling to the Trojans 28-0 five weeks later in a Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: Cedarville (7-2) at Owendale-Gagetown (9-0), Peck (7-2) at Deckerville (8-1).

PHOTO: Montrose, carrying the ball, earned an at-large bid to its 23rd MHSAA Playoffs as one of five qualifiers from the Genesee Area Conference Red. 

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.)