A Game for Every Fan: Week 1 Preview

August 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The first weekend of high school football season always is filled with new beginnings. But that doesn't mean that all making fresh starts are completely unfamiliar. 

A pair of grand old stadiums will have new looks. Thousands of fans are expected to file into Flint’s Atwood Stadium on Thursday and Mount Pleasant’s Community Stadium on Friday for the first games after both received major renovations this offseason. 

And plenty of stars from last season are back for another go. Thousands more will likely pour into Wayne State University on Saturday for the Prep Kickoff Classic to watch six of the Detroit area's annual MHSAA Finals contenders, and top teams from all over the state are facing off against each other to get 2015 underway. 

There are no shortage of games to watch, no matter where you call home. Below is a look at games that stand out from each of eight regions across the state, plus from our group of 8-player matchups. All are Friday unless noted. Records listed are from 2014. 

And make sure to follow results as they come in on the MHSAA Score Center, and come back to Second Half later Monday for our round up of the most significant results from the first week. 

Bay & Thumb

Marysville (7-4) at Richmond (10-2) (Thurs.)

Richmond advanced to the Division 4 Regional Finals last season with its first double-digit win season since 2003 and thanks to two over Marysville – 47-0 on opening night and 48-6 in the District Final. But the Vikings quietly have earned six playoff berths in seven seasons and might have an opening for revenge this week with an experienced lineup taking on a Richmond team filled with new starters.

Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (4-5) at New Lothrop (11-1) (Thurs.), Millington (9-2) at Vassar (5-4) (Thurs.), Davison (4-5) at Fenton (9-1) (Thurs.), Grand Blanc (5-4) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (8-3).

Greater Detroit

Warren DeLaSalle (11-3) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) at Wayne State (Sat.)

The reigning Division 2 champion, DeLaSalle, takes on a favorite this season in King. The Crusaders are keyed by some of the state’s most impressive offensive players in receiver Donnie Corley and running back Martell Pettaway, while the Pilots will attempt to slow them returning important cogs back from a defense that gave up only 12.8 points per game last fall.  

Others that caught my eye: Clarkston (14-0) at Macomb Dakota (8-3) (Thurs.), East Kentwood (11-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (10-3), Muskegon (12-2) at Detroit Catholic Central (4-5), Southfield (9-4) vs Detroit Cass Tech (12-1) at Wayne State (Sat.).


Beal City (10-3) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-5)

These nonconference rivals have opened with against other all but two seasons going back to 1991, and this weekend will do so to debut the renovated Community Stadium. The Aggies are coming off another long playoff run, just missing a third straight trip to the MHSAA Finals with a three-point loss in the Semifinal. Sacred Heart hasn’t made the Finals since 2010, but is riding 10 playoff appearances over 11 seasons and looking to avenge some heavy losses to Beal City as of late.

Others that caught my eye: Clare (8-3) at Ithaca (13-1) (Thurs.), Mason (8-4) at Okemos (6-4) (Thurs.), Madison Heights Madison (9-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-3) (Thurs.), Midland Dow (10-1) at Mount Pleasant (7-4).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Mendon (10-2) at Boyne City (12-1) (Thurs.)

Boyne City is following up tying its best record ever and falling by only four in last season’s Division 6 Semifinals by taking on perennial power Mendon in what should be one of the state’s best games outside Detroit this weekend. The Hornets have won at least 10 games eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 12. Boyne City has made the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons and set a school record scoring 500 points in 2014.

Others that caught my eye: Reed City (9-3) at Baldwin (10-2), Marquette (7-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (9-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-2) at Mancelona (6-4), Sault Ste. Marie (5-4) at Petoskey (9-3).

Southeast & Border

Rockford (8-3) at Saline (12-2)

Expectations are high after Saline made the MHSAA Finals last season for the first time, falling to Clarkston 33-25 in the Division 1 championship game. Quarterback Joshua Jackson is among returnees and is considered one of the state’s most dynamic at his position. But teams learned long ago they can’t look past Rockford – and that’s hardly made a difference as the Rams haven’t missed the playoffs since 1994 and went 8-3 last season despite being outscored for the season.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Northview (6-4) at Chelsea (9-3) (Thurs.), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (13-1) at Tecumseh (5-5) (Thurs.), Pittsford (7-3) at Morenci (10-2), Clinton (10-1) at Manchester (8-2).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Northern (7-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (9-2) (Thurs.)

These two are facing off on opening night for the second straight year and after three games of significance over the last two seasons. Although Portage Northern beat Lakeview 28-24 in last season’s opener, Lakeview beat the Huskies in their Division 2 District Final 21-0 after eliminating Northern in the first round in 2013, 31-7. Lakeview didn’t lose again after last season’s opener until falling in the Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: Plainwell (8-2) at Three Rivers (6-4) (Thurs.), Caledonia (7-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-5), Stevensville Lakeshore (8-3) at Battle Creek Central (5-4), Mattawan (6-4) at Portage Central (7-2)

Upper Peninsula

Iron River West Iron County (9-2) at Munising (12-2)

Munising made last season’s Division 8 Final and pulled off its best finish since 1980 led by a handful of elite seniors whose only other loss last fall came on opening night – 28-6 to Iron River West Iron County. The combination of both should give these Mustangs plenty of motivation against a Wykons team that has won 19 of its last 20 regular-season games.

Others that caught my eye: Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-2) at Bark River-Harris (8-3), Iron Mountain (6-4) at Ishpeming (12-1), Central Lake (6-5) at St. Ignace (10-1), Marinette (3-6) (Wis.) at Menominee (12-1) (Sat.).

West Michigan

Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (14-0)

Few teams in Michigan are replacing superstars on the level of graduated Lumen Christi running back Khari Willis and West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell. But both teams have been down this road before. West Catholic is the two-time reigning Division 5 champion and has 10 or more wins in six straight seasons;  Lumen, while coming off its most wins since 2009, has made the playoffs 17 straight times.  

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-4) at East Grand Rapids (6-4) (Thurs.), Walled Lake Western (9-2) at Lowell (10-2) (Thurs.), Muskegon Catholic Central (14-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (8-2), Grand Rapids Christian (6-5) at Grand Rapids South Christian (12-2)


Kingston (7-4) at Deckerville (9-3)

A couple pockets of 8-player dominance have cropped up over the first few seasons of the sport, and these are two of the best and most consistent programs coming from Michigan’s thumb. Deckerville won the MHSAA title in 2012 and made the Semifinals last season after sweeping Kingston 14-8 in Week 2 but then 72-22 in the Regional Final. They play twice this season during the regular season alone; this one doesn’t count in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League standings, but the rematch comes in Week 4.

Others that caught my eye: Owendale-Gagetown (8-2) at New Haven Merritt (6-4) (Thurs.), Rapid River (10-1) at Onaway (4-5).

PHOTO: Saline quarterback Joshua Jackson prepares to hand off during last season’s Division 1 Final against Clarkston. Both teams’ returns to the field this weekend are among the most highly-anticipated in Michigan. 

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.)