A Game for Every Fan: Week 1

August 28, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s a lot like birds knowing to fly north in the spring.

If you’ve played, coached, parented or followed high school football, you’re likely having a hard time not jumping out of your shoes in anticipation of opening night.

So let’s get right to it; below are some of the most intriguing matchups from this first weekend of the MHSAA football season. More than 250 of the total 310-plus games will be played tonight, with 50 more Friday and a handful Saturday.

Tune in to MHSAA.com’s Score Center all weekend for game times, scores as we get them, standings for those starting league play immediately and all the playoff-point equating that will start to matter to most as we get rolling into the season’s second half. (Records below are from 2013. Games are organized based on the region of Michigan where they'll be played.)

West Michigan

Detroit Catholic Central (11-3) at Muskegon (12-2), Friday

This is set up to be arguably the most high-octane opener in Michigan in some time. DCC is back-to-back-to-back Division 1 runner-up, while Muskegon has finished runner-up in Division 2 the last two seasons. Granted, rosters turn over – but Joeviar Kennedy was Muskegon’s leading receiver in last season’s championship game and Alezay Coleman its leading tackler, and both are back. So are Alex Bock and Jordan Jenkins, two of the most noticeable Shamrocks during their run to Ford Field.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Country Day (8-4) at Zeeland West (13-1), Grand Rapids South Christian (12-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (8-3) on Friday, Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-4) at Muskegon Oakridge (11-2) on Friday, Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-4) at East Grand Rapids (5-4).

Greater Detroit

Lansing Sexton (12-1) vs. Detroit East English (9-3), Saturday at Wayne State

Many of the best from Detroit will be playing at Wayne State University over the next three days (see a few more big-time contests listed below), but this one carries the most intrigue because it features one of the best from the city against a Sexton team that missed making last season’s Division 4 Final by a touchdown. The Big Reds have all of their playmakers and much of their outstanding defense back; East English is keyed by run/pass dynamo Anton Curtis, one of the state’s most exciting quarterbacks.

Others that caught my eye: Macomb Dakota (11-1) at Clarkston (13-1), Pewamo-Westphalia (10-2) at Madison Heights Madison (11-1), Detroit Cass Tech (12-1) vs. Oak Park (6-5) on Friday at Wayne State, Southfield (7-3) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (5-4) on Friday at Wayne State.

Bay and Thumb

Saginaw Swan Valley (11-1) at Saginaw Nouvel (9-2)

A nail-biting 27-20 win for Swan Valley in this opener last season kicked off a run to the Regional Finals and the team’s best season in the last eight. Senior running back Alex Grace returns from the most potent offense in school history and arguably is the most potent runner in MHSAA history with more than 5,000 yards in his career and nearly 3,000 last season alone. Nouvel’s lineup will include more new names – but the Panthers rattled off nine straight wins after the 2013 opening loss and will be prepared to get the streak started a week earlier this time.

Others that caught my eye: Flint Carman-Ainsworth (11-2) at Grand Blanc (7-3), Freeland (6-4) at Lake Fenton (8-3), Montrose (12-1) at Reese (8-2), Mount Pleasant (10-2) at Midland Dow (8-3).


Ithaca (14-0) at Clare (7-3), Friday

The Yellowjackets’ 56-game winning streak stretches over four seasons and is the longest of any in MHSAA history achieved entirely during the playoff era. But Clare – the Jack Pine Conference champion for seven years running – should be Ithaca’s toughest regular-season test of at least the last two or three. Ithaca star quarterback Travis Smith is graduated and gone to Wake Forest University, but younger brother Jake Smith has been similarly anticipated and takes over the offense to start his junior year.

Others that caught my eye: Manchester (7-3) at Clinton (13-1), St. Johns (5-4) at East Lansing (4-5), Jackson Northwest (5-4) at Eaton Rapids (7-5), South Lyon (6-4) at Pinckney (7-4).

Lower Up North

New Lothrop (11-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (5-5), Friday

This is the second chapter of a series started a year ago that allows both to start out against a tough opponent before jumping into league play against more familiar foes. New Lothrop won last season’s matchup and went on to make the Division 8 Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. St. Francis hasn’t had two straight middling seasons like this since 2000-01 (it also finished 4-5 in 2012). But the Gladiators are back in a league for the first time since 2011 and should be able to add on last season’s return to the playoffs.

Others that caught my eye: Midland (10-2) at Traverse City West (5-5), Cadillac (11-1) at Big Rapids (3-6), Kingsley (6-4) at McBain (5-5), Marquette (5-4) at Traverse City Central (5-4).

Upper Peninsula

Munising (6-4) at Iron River West Iron County (10-1), Friday

These two did some celebrating in 2013. West Iron tied its school record for wins, while Munising bounced back from 2-7 in 2012 to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons – and also for only the second time since 1990. Both should be looking for more this fall; West Iron’s lone loss came in the playoffs to eventual Division 7 champion Ishpeming, while Munising – after falling to West Iron 7-0 in last season’s opener – then lost its next two games by a combined six points before rattling off six straight wins.

Others that caught my eye: Houghton (6-4) at L'Anse (8-3), Ishpeming (14-0) at Iron Mountain (4-5), Petoskey (5-4) at Sault Ste. Marie (7-4) on Friday, Posen (4-6) at Cedarville (8-2).

Southwest and Border

Dowagiac (7-4) at Plainwell (8-2)

Dowagiac was cruising along on a 17-game regular-season winning streak when Plainwell broke it last fall with a 10-0 win on the way to a third straight playoff berth. These two haven’t played in the same division of the Wolverine B since 2011, but the rivalry continues to run hot now that both are division favorites on an annual basis.

Others that caught my eye: Watervliet (10-1) at Gobles (5-4), Parchment (7-4) at Schoolcraft (10-2), Edwardsburg (9-1) at Three Rivers (5-4), Portage Central (12-1) at Mattawan (4-5).

PHOTO: Lansing Sexton, practicing earlier this month, fell just a touchdown shy last season of reaching its first MHSAA Final.

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.)