A Game for Every Fan: Regional Finals

November 15, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s both notable, yet logical, that 25 undefeated teams remain among the 68 still alive in the MHSAA football playoffs heading into this weekend.

At this point in the season, the best teams rise to the top. But maintaining perfection over 11 weeks is something worth celebrating regardless – even as at least three of those teams are guaranteed to fall this weekend.

Three of 32 11-player Regional Finals will feature matchups of undefeateds this weekend. Both 8-player Semifinals also feature one team that hasn't lost.

A total of 13 games will be played tonight, with the other 21 – including both 8-player games – kicking off Saturday. See below for all 34 matchups, plus a little extra on the headliner from each 11-player division and both 8-Player semis. 

Remember to follow all of the action again on MHSAA Score Center. And check out our four games live on Fox Sports Detroit’s Prep Zone: Battle Creek Pennfield at Grand Rapids South Christian, Saginaw Swan Valley at Lansing Sexton, Melvindale at St. Clair and St. Ignace at Beal City. 

Division 1

Macomb Dakota (11-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (11-0)

Cass Tech has won three games by 10 or fewer points, and might need to draw on that experience again in this Regional Final. Dakota’s success coming out of the solid Macomb Area Conference Red mirrors that of the Technicians, even as its stars are a little less known statewide. Cass Tech has won the last two Division 1 titles, and that know-how no doubt will come in handy in this titanic clash. 

Other Regional Finals: Hudsonville (8-3) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (10-1), Rochester Adams (8-3) at Clarkston (10-1), Detroit Catholic Central (9-2) at Temperance Bedford (11-0).

Division 2

Detroit Martin Luther King (9-1) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (11-0)

This is Roosevelt’s third straight Regional Final and it is playing for a second straight Semifinal berth against a team that lost only to Cass Tech this fall. The difference this time might be the Bears’ offense, which is averaging 45 points per game and already has scored 100 more than in any season of its modern history. They’ll need to light up the board to keep up with King playmakers Jalen Embry and Avonte Maddox, who both will play at high-major schools at the college level.

Other Regional Finals: Midland (10-1) at Muskegon (10-1), Farmington Hills Harrison (10-1) at Portage Central (11-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (7-4) at Birmingham Brother Rice (11-0).

Division 3

Zeeland West (10-1) at Mount Pleasant (10-1)

This has the feel of a Semifinal, with these two having survived wild runs already to get to this point. West avenged a Week 2 loss to Zeeland East to start the playoffs and then eliminated reigning champion Grand Rapids Christian last week – after closing the regular season with a 36-13 win over Byron Center, a possible opponent next week. Mount Pleasant bounced back this fall after finishing Division 3 runner-up in 2011 and then falling to 2-7 a year ago. The Oilers’ only loss was on opening night to DeWitt, which has emerged as the favorite in this division.

Other Regional Finals: Byron Center (8-3) at Stevensville Lakeshore (8-3), Eaton Rapids (7-4) at DeWitt (11-0), Melvindale (9-2) at St. Clair (10-1).

Division 4

Saginaw Swan Valley (11-0) at Lansing Sexton (11-0)

This game could be over in less than two hours with the way these two run the ball. Swan Valley junior Alex Grace is approaching the MHSAA single-season rushing record of 2,890 yards after also topping 2,000 last season. Sexton, meanwhile, hasn't scored fewer than 32 points since September and blends a strong inside running game with plenty of speed on the perimeter.

Other Regional Finals: Cadillac (11-0) at Comstock Park (11-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (10-1), at Grand Rapids South Christian (10-1), Detroit Country Day (8-3) at Marine City (10-1).

Division 5

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (10-1) at Livonia Clarenceville (11-0)

The last time Clarenceville made this kind of run was in 2001, when superstar Tim Shaw was finishing off a record-setting effort that would take him to Penn State and then the NFL. The Trojans have been rolling since opening this fall with three wins by seven or fewer points during the season’s first five weeks, although they had to survive a tough test in the District Final against Detroit University Prep. This is usual territory for St. Mary, which has won 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons and is playing for its second straight Semifinal berth.

Other Regional Finals: Standish-Sterling (9-1) at Menominee (11-0), Millington (9-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (10-1), Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-4) at Olivet (10-1).

Division 6

Madison Heights Madison (11-0) at Montrose (11-0)

Since the brackets came out four weeks ago, this has been seen as the likely matchup to decide which team might have the best chance to end Ithaca’s national-best winning streak (53 games). Coming off four straight shutouts, Madison barely survived last week against Flint Beecher, which plays in Montrose’s league and lost to the Rams by 16 in their matchup this fall. Montrose has crushed two strong opponents – Reese and Saginaw Nouvel – to start the playoffs and no doubt would love to see the Yellowjackets again after falling to them in the playoffs the last three years.

Other Regional Finals: Negaunee (10-1) at Ithaca (11-0), Schoolcraft (10-1) at Shelby (10-1), Constantine (7-4) at Clinton (11-0).

Division 7

Pewamo-Westphalia (10-1) at Harbor Beach (10-1)

Keyed by veteran quarterback Eli Kraft and a sturdy defense, Harbor Beach has made a nice jump into Division 7 after winning Division 8 in 2012. But Pewamo-Westphalia likely will be Harbor Beach’s strongest test to this point. P-W had to come back at the end last week to beat Carson City-Crystal but also beat a league champion the week before in Saugatuck.

Other Regional Finals: Lake City (10-1) at Ishpeming (11-0), Decatur (8-3) at Homer (10-1), Southfield Christian (10-1) at Detroit Loyola (11-0).

Division 8

Muskegon Catholic Central (9-2) at Mendon (11-0)

These southwestern powers are plenty familiar with each other – this will be their third straight playoff meeting and fifth in seven seasons. Muskegon Catholic hasn't lost since Week 2, also the last time it scored fewer than 40 points or gave up more than 16. Mendon is riding double figure wins for the seventh straight season with a combined score of 526-19 against its 11 opponents. That defensive effort is headed toward going down as one of the best in Michigan history.

Other Regional Finals: Felch North Dickinson (8-2) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (11-0), St. Ignace (9-2) at Beal City (11-0), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (9-2) at New Lothrop (11-0).

8-Player (Semifinals)

Kinde-North Huron (8-3) at Rapid River (11-0)

Rapid River has become an 8-player power, going 31-5 since making the switch three seasons ago. The Rockets are keyed by quarterback Jake Pearson, who has run for 2,166 yards and 39 touchdowns and throw for 963 yards and 13 more scores. North Huron is a great story as well; the Warriors were 0-9 in 2011 before improving to 6-5 last fall and then adding two more wins this season.

Lawrence (8-2) at Peck (11-0)

Peck rivals Rapid River as the most dominant team in 8-player this season, with all but two games decided by 20 points or more despite a schedule that included two matchups each against the first two 8-player MHSAA champions – Carsonville-Port Sanilac and Deckerville. The Pirates did beat Lawrence 61-38 all the way back in Week 4 – but the Tigers are primed to avenge. Last week they beat Battle Creek St. Philip after falling to St. Phil only two weeks prior.

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant (blue jerseys) ran away from Sault Ste. Marie 42-27 last week to earn this weekend’s matchup against Zeeland West. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)