A Game for Every Fan: Regional Finals

November 8, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Let's face it. In high school football especially, it's tough to predict which teams will be around when the big trophies are awarded Thanksgiving weekend. It wouldn't take much research to figure out how many top-ranked favorites have fallen long before finishing the drive for Detroit. 

But here's a little indicator that's bearing out as this season's playoffs rush into their third weekend. 

Of 64 teams still alive in the 11-player brackets, 53 ranked among the top half of their respective divisions in playoff point average. The four teams remaining in the 8-player bracket all ranked among the top six in that division. 

That's rather logical, you might say. But it's also an endorsement for playing tough competition, and further makes it special when a team with a lower average breaks through at the end. 

Those teams still alive despite bottom-16 playoff point averages? Congrats on great efforts by Detroit Catholic Central, Caledonia, St. Johns, Three Rivers, Clare, Newaygo, Constantine, Britton-Deerfield, Pewamo-Westphalia, Flint Beecher and Johannesburg-Lewiston.   

This week's games are split evenly between Friday and Saturday, with 17 each day. Four Friday games will be streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com's Prep Zone: Montrose at Ithaca, Detrot Cass Tech at Saline, Saginaw Swan Valley at Croswell-Lexington and Three Rivers at Grand Rapids South Christian.

Below are all of the Regional Finals with a little extra on some of the best matchups, plus a look at both 8-player Semifinals. Visit the MHSAA Score Center for game times and dates, and all weekend for updated scores and schedules.

Division 1

Rockford (9-2) at Clarkston (11-0)

These two easily come to mind when Division 1 football is discussed. But oddly enough, they've never met. The Wolves are playing for their fourth Semifinal berth and second in four seasons, and were the most popular pick in Division 1 heading into the playoffs. But three-time MHSAA champion Rockford is finally humming after opening 1-2 this fall and losing quarterback Kyle Short for a time. He’s back, and the Rams are playing in their fifth-straight Regional Final.

Other Regional Finals: Detroit Catholic Central (7-4) at Plymouth (9-2), Detroit Cass Tech (9-2) at Saline (10-1), Macomb Dakota (10-1) at Lake Orion (10-1).

Division 2

Muskegon (10-1) at Midland (11-0)

The Big Reds no doubt enjoyed a sigh of relief after edging Lowell in last week’s District Final. But life gets no easier. Midland is working toward what would be the first 14-0 season in its similarly-impressive history, and is keyed by a likely all-state candidate at quarterback in Alec Johnson. Not that Muskegon will be intimidated – this will be its eighth game this fall against a playoff team.

Other Regional Finals: Caledonia (8-3) at Mattawan (10-1), Birmingham Brother Rice (9-2) at Walled Lake Western (9-2), Oak Park (9-2) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (10-1).

Division 3

Grand Rapids Christian (10-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (11-0)

This may be the game of the weekend in Michigan. Neither has lost to an in-state team – Christian’s only defeat was to Ohio power Cincinnati Moeller – and both have crushed the majority of their opponents this fall. The Eagles scored a season-high 68 points against Zeeland West last week thanks to four touchdown passes plus four touchdown runs by quarterback Alex VandeVusse. This is Lakeshore’s fifth Regional Final over the last decade, and comes after a perfect run through the Southwest Michigan Activities Conference West – one of the state’s most competitive leagues this season.

Other Regional Finals: St. Johns (8-3) at DeWitt (9-2), Tecumseh (9-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (9-2), Detroit East English (9-2) at Orchard Lake St. Mary (9-2).

Division 4

Grosse Ile (10-1) at Detroit Country Day (9-2)

The Red Devils have won 10 games for the second straight season after making the Semifinals in 2011. This fall’s success has come against a schedule that has included six playoff teams. Country Day’s slate has included only three teams that made the postseason, but the Yellow Jackets beat a strong one last week in Pontiac Notre Dame and opened the playoffs by dropping previously-undefeated Clinton Township Clintondale 35-0.

Other Regional Finals: West Branch Ogemaw Heights (8-3) at Comstock Park (10-1), Three Rivers (8-3) at Grand Rapids South Christian (8-3), Saginaw Swan Valley (9-2) at Croswell-Lexington (11-0).

Division 5

River Rouge (11-0) at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (10-1)

As written on 2H on Monday, River Rouge is one of the best stories of the season – the Panthers are 11-0 for the first time and before last month had won a playoff game only once, in 2001. But this week’s opponent easily will be their toughest this season. Gabriel Richard hasn't given up a point in the playoffs, with a 24-0 win last week over a strong Lake Fenton team.

Other Regional Finals: Clare (9-2) at Menominee (10-1), Newaygo (9-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (8-3), Portland (10-1) at Flint Powers Catholic (11-0).

Division 6

Montrose (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0)

One of these weeks, an opponent is going to provide a strong challenge to Ithaca’s 39-game winning streak. Montrose might be it. The two have met in the playoffs the last two seasons, with Ithaca winning only 28-13 in last season’s District Final. Granted, it doesn't look as good for the Rams after surviving by a point in the District Semifinal and by just five against a good Millington team last week. But expect Montrose to bring its best, and Ithaca to match in front of a crowd that could approach 3,000 fans.

Other Regional Finals: Shelby (9-2) at Negaunee (10-1), Constantine (9-2) at Hillsdale (11-0), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (9-2) at Grass Lake (10-1).

Division 7

Britton Deerfield (8-3) at Detroit Loyola (11-0)

The Britton-Macon Tories hadn't made the MHSAA playoffs since reaching the Semifinals in 2000, before the school combined in 2010 with Deerfield – which hadn't fielded a football team since 1992. Britton-Deerfield has made the playoffs both years of its existence and has improved two wins on last season’s finish so far. Loyola had easily the highest playoff point average in Division 7 entering the playoffs and is in the Regional Final for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs also entered 11-0 last season and were shut out by Hudson, but have upped their offensive average this fall by a touchdown to more than 46 points per game.

Other Regional Finals: Lake City (10-1) at Ishpeming (10-1), Pewamo-Westphalia (8-3) at Decatur (9-2), Flint Beecher (7-4) at Saginaw Nouvel (9-2).

Division 8

St. Ignace (11-0) at Felch North Dickinson (10-0)

The Saints are playing for their second straight Semifinal berth, but it’s fair to say they’re even better this time around. After giving up a respectable 16 points per game last season, St. Ignace is giving up an average of only five and has five shutouts (not counting the forfeit win over Rudyard in Week 3). North Dickinson’s most noticeable improvement this fall has come on offense – the Nordics have upped their points per game from 38 in 2011 to 50 this fall.  

Other Regional Finals: Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-2) at Beal City (11-0), Muskegon Catholic Central (8-3) at Mendon (11-0), Waterford Our Lady (9-2) at Harbor Beach (10-1).

8-Player (Semifinals)

Bellaire (8-3) at Rapid River (10-1)

It’s fair to call these teams two of the original powers in MHSAA 8-player football. Bellaire is 24-8 since making the switch in 2010, and that season finished “mythical” runner-up, that being the term because the championship game was organized by the two leagues and was not an MHSAA playoff game. Rapid River is 20-4 in two seasons as an 8-player program, and was the runner-up in last season’s inaugural championship game. The Rockets stunned the 8-player community last week by beating Cedarville 22-14 after falling to the Trojans 72-12 on Sept. 28.

Deckerville (10-1) at Portland St. Patrick (11-0)

These are both first-year 8-player programs, and it’s fair to say their moves were good ones. Deckerville’s only loss also was to Cedarville, but that was back on the final day of August. The Eagles' run opened with a 42-39 win over reigning MHSAA champ Carsonville-Port Sanilac. All but one of the Shamrocks' opponents were from the southwest part of the Lower Peninsula, but St. Patrick shouldn't be stunned by facing a little bit tougher competition after years of 11-player in the highly-competitive Central Michigan Athletic Conference.

PHOTO: Detroit Country Day senior Trevor Woodland (2) tries to break a tackle by Pontiac Notre Dame senior Mark Juriga during last week’s District Final win for the Yellow Jackets. (Click to see more at Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)