A Game for Every Fan: Week 4

September 18, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

How much does each game of the MHSAA football season count?

It’s only Week 4. But on one hand, 108 teams enter this weekend winless and one more loss from missing their chance at automatic playoff qualification. On the other hand, the elite already are beginning to separate – with six of our eight featured matchups pitting a pair of 3-0 teams.

That said, each of the last five weeks of the regular season matter just as much as well – little is decided before the midpoint. But the following should help set the paths for many as we reach halfway next week. 

West Michigan

Rockford (3-0) at Hudsonville (3-0)

From 2003-08, this was one of the best matchups in the entire Ottawa-Kent Conference and on more than one occasion THE game in West Michigan for that particular season – all six were decided by eight or fewer points, with Hudsonville claiming a 4-2 advantage. Rockford has won the last four meetings, all by multiple scores – but this one has the feel of another potential classic.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Haven (3-0) at Holland West Ottawa (2-1), Whitehall (3-0) at Mason County Central (2-1), Caledonia (2-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (2-1), Muskegon Catholic Central (3-0) at Spring Lake (2-1).

Greater Detroit

Plymouth (3-0) at Livonia Churchill (3-0)

This pair of Kensington Lakes Activities Association South foes has played a pair of classics over the last two seasons – Plymouth winning 23-22 last season and Churchill claiming a 35-31 victory in 2012. Churchill is surging again after winning two games last season, beating returning playoff teams Brighton and Westland John Glenn over the last two weeks. Plymouth also missed the playoffs last season but owns an impressive three-point win over Pinckney.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (3-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (3-0), Detroit Cody (2-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (3-0) on Saturday, Warren Michigan Collegiate (3-0) vs. Detroit University Prep (3-0) on Saturday at Detroit Osborn, Lake Orion (2-1) at Oxford (3-0).


Coldwater (3-0) at Parma Western (2-1)

This matchup is overflowing with storylines. Parma Western has had two winning seasons over its last 24 and few games of consequence over that time – but has blown into 2014 with two early wins including over Battle Creek Pennfield, and the Panthers barely fell to Marshall last week, 45-44. Parma Wester also has never made the MHSAA playoffs, even starting 5-1 in 2009 before finishing 5-4. Enter this week’s opponent, Coldwater, coming off its first playoff berth ever last season and outscoring its first three 2014 opponents – including Pennfield and Marshall as well – by a combined 97-6.

Others that caught my eye: Mason (1-2) at St. Johns (3-0), Eaton Rapids (2-1) at Williamston (3-0), Portland (2-1) at Ionia (2-1), Grand Ledge (1-2) at Okemos (2-1).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (3-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-0)

This game has been similarly highly anticipated a few other times in recent history – although Ishpeming won the 2008, 2009 and 2011 games, Westwood entered all of those undefeated. This one has to have Patriots supporters just as amped – Westwood hasn’t beaten Ishpeming since 1998, is coming off two losing seasons and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 140-30. Ishpeming? The two-time reigning MHSAA Division 7 champion has run its winning streak to 24 while beating this season’s first three opponents by a combined 126-32.

Others that caught my eye: Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-1) at Bessemer (3-0), Escanaba (1-2) at Marquette (2-1), Gladstone (3-0) at Menominee (3-0), Newberry (1-2) at Munising (2-1).

Lower Up North

Detroit Catholic Central (1-2) at Traverse City Central (3-0)

The Trojans have momentum after last week’s 20-13 win over rival Traverse City West, and this week could claim arguably their most impressive nonleague win since the schools split in 1997. Detroit Catholic’s Central’s lone win this fall came against a Canadian team, but its losses are to Muskegon by seven and Ohio power Toledo Whitmer – and there’s no reason to think the Shamrocks won’t be in Division 1 title contention again in two months.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (1-2) at Petoskey (2-1), Alpena (2-1) at Cadillac (3-0), Charlevoix (2-1) at Grayling (1-2), Standish-Sterling (1-2) at Whittemore-Prescott (3-0).

Southwest and Border

St. Joseph (3-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (3-0)

Niles also is undefeated to give the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference West three 3-0 teams to open the season, but St. Joseph and Lakeshore are annual favorites and own the most impressive victories so far. St. Joseph, last season’s league runner-up, got a leg up last week by beating 2013 third-place Portage Northern by 10. Lakeshore, last season’s fourth-place team and an eventual District winner, beat reigning league champ Portage Central last week 20-17.

Others that caught my eye: Parchment (1-2) at Constantine (3-0), Gobles (3-0) at Decatur (3-0), Plainwell (3-0) at Edwardsburg (2-1), Vicksburg (3-0) at Paw Paw (3-0).

Bay and Thumb

Millington (3-0) at Frankenmuth (3-0)

Frankenmuth has turned a four-game losing streak to the Cardinals into a two-game winning streak, with the victor going on to claim the Tri-Valley Conference East championship the last four seasons. Millington’s opening-night win over Essexville-Garber is the most impressive by either so far, but Frankenmuth did avenge last season’s loss to Hemlock and beat a returning playoff qualifier in North Branch.

Others that caught my eye: Flint Beecher (3-0) at Goodrich (3-0), Brighton (2-1) at Grand Blanc (2-1), Mount Pleasant (2-1) at Midland (2-1), Grosse Pointe South (2-1) at Port Huron (2-1).


Dryden (3-0) at Peck (3-0)

Dryden is a Class C school and as such cannot qualify for the MHSAA playoffs in 8-player. But the Cardinals are making a run at the North Central Thumb 8-Man League title as one of three undefeated teams atop the league – Peck and Deckerville are the others. Dryden has scored an incredible 176 points in three games; Peck, however, is the reigning MHSAA champion and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined 149-0.

Others that caught my eye: Engadine (2-1) vs. Cedarville (3-0) at DeTour, Morrice (2-1) at Deckerville (3-0), Burr Oak (2-1) at Battle Creek St. Philip (3-0) on Saturday.

PHOTO: Beal City (carrying the ball) hopes to be among those moving to 4-0 this week after earning its second win two weeks ago, 15-14 over Clare. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).

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.)