A Game for Every Fan: Week 6

September 27, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Time isn't running out yet on the 2012 MHSAA football season.

But for those with high aspirations, the time has come to make months of preparation pay off.

Four weeks remain in the regular season, meaning every team with at least two wins still has a shot to qualify for the playoffs automatically. It also means most league titles are still in play – although a lot of those opportunities will be lost by the time Saturday's games are done.

Following are this week's best matchups from your corner of the state. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center all weekend for updated scores and standings.

(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)


Carrollton (5-0) at Ithaca (5-0)

It’s not that Ithaca has laid low during this season’s extension to its 33-game winning streak. It’s just that before this week, none of the games was an intriguing enough matchup to mention here – the Yellowjackets beat their strongest opponents so far, Williamston and Saginaw Valley Lutheran, 46-0 and 55-0, respectively. Quarterback Travis Smith, a hero from last season’s Division 6 Final win, has completed 66 percent of his passes for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for eight scores. He’s tough to stop, but Ithaca’s defense might have the bigger challenge this time – Carrollton running back Derrick Nash, who has committed to Central Michigan, is averaging 10 yards per carry with 1,048 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Manchester (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1), Lake City (5-0) at Beal City (5-0), Lansing Waverly (4-1) at Charlotte (3-2), East Lansing (4-1) at Lansing Everett (5-0).

Southwest and Border

Battle Creek Pennfield (5-0) at Schoolcraft (5-0)

These two have taken slightly different routes to this point, making this game a true test for both. Pennfield has beaten five of the bottom six teams in the Kalamazoo Valley Association standings (two are among three tied for fifth), and those opponents have combined for five wins so far this season. But the Panthers also are the reigning league champions. Schoolcraft owns wins over likely playoff qualifiers Olivet and Constantine, but hasn’t beaten Pennfield since 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Niles Brandywine (4-1) at Buchanan (4-1), Mattawan (5-0) at St. Joseph (3-2), Climax-Scotts (5-0) at Pittsford (4-1), Marcellus (5-0) at Watervliet (5-0).

Greater Detroit

Orchard Lake St. Mary (4-1) at Birmingham Brother Rice (4-1), Saturday

Of all the great matchups that take place in the Detroit Catholic League Central every season, this one might be the best of 2012. Both still must face Detroit Catholic Central – the reigning MHSAA Division 1 runner-up. But so far, thes Eaglets and the Warriors have made the biggest waves and done so coming off MHSAA championships last fall – St. Mary in Division 3 and Brother Rice in Division 2. The Warriors fell to reigning Division 1 champ Detroit Cass Tech 25-18 on opening night in what looked then like the potential game of 2012 in the Detroit area. Then St. Mary beat Cass Tech 13-6 last week. If all of that doesn’t provide enough hype, there’s always the result of last season’s game – a 10-9 Eaglets victory.

Others that caught my eye: Rochester (4-1) at Lake Orion (5-0), Allen Park Cabrini (4-1) at Royal Oak Shrine (4-1), Detroit Central Collegiate (3-2) at Detroit East English (4-1), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (4-1) at Petersburg-Summerfield (4-1).

West Michigan

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at Lowell (4-1)

Wins over traditional powers Zeeland West (59-58) and East Grand Rapids (43-17) have made this a solid season so far for Forest Hills Central – but this week, the Rangers can take it up another level. Lowell continues to be Lowell – its only loss was to Muskegon, arguably the best team in the state regardless of division, and no other opponent has scored more than seven points. Standout linebackers Colin Schlosser and Nick Lamica may need to come up big again for Forest Hills Central to break an eight-game losing streak against the Red Arrows.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Christian (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (2-3), Shelby (5-0) at Montague (4-1), Grandville Calvin Christian (4-1) at Hopkins (5-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (4-1) at Muskegon (5-0).

Lower Up North

Traverse City West (4-1) at Traverse City Central (4-1)

West owns an 11-4 edge in this series since the schools split in 1997. But a Central win this time would erase some of those memories – or at least push the one-sidedness out of the conversation for a while. The Trojans’ only loss this season was by three to Grand Haven on opening night, and they’ve already equaled last season’s win total with only two more needed for their most since 1991. This also could eventually decide the Big North Conference title – West has been a power since two divisions combined in 2000, but Central hasn’t won a league title since the schools were still one, in 1996.  West’s only loss this season was by four to Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, also on opening night.

Others that caught my eye: Grayling (5-0) at Elk Rapids (3-2), Pickford (5-0) at Mancelona (5-0), Kingsley (4-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-0), Onaway (4-1) at Pellston (4-1).

Upper Peninsula

Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-0) at Iron Mountain North Dickinson (5-0)

North Dickinson, playing only eight regular-season games this season, became the first team in 2012 to qualify for the playoffs. Now Forest Park can do the same by beating the Nordics for a ninth straight time, a streak that has included two playoff victories. This is a clash of likely eventual league champions – North Dickinson needs only a win over Powers North Central next week to claim the Mid-Eastern Football Conference title, while the Trojans already own a win over 2011 Great Western Conference champion Hurley, Wis., and have a one-game lead on two teams in that league.

Others that caught my eye: Menominee (4-1) at Escanaba (2-3), Marquette (4-1) at Kingsford (4-1), Powers North Central (3-2) at Newberry (3-2), Cedarville (5-0) at Rapid River (5-0).

Thumb and Bay

Goodrich (4-1) at Lake Fenton (4-1)

The Blue Devils are tied with Montrose atop the Genesee Area Conference Red standings and playing for their first league title since sharing with the Rams in 2007. They’ve outscored their last four opponents 203-20 since opening this season with a 42-39 loss to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. Goodrich fell to Montrose by a point two weeks ago, and would love to jump back into this race with a third-straight win over Lake Fenton – the Martians won last season 27-7.

Others that caught my eye: Midland Dow (3-2) at Bay City Western (5-0), Lapeer East (3-2) at Fenton (4-1), Davison (4-1) at Flint Powers Catholic (5-0), Hemlock (4-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (4-1).

PHOTO: Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith focuses in on a target during last week's win at Merrill. (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.)