A Game for Every Fan: Week 6

October 4, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Admittedly, a number of teams show up regularly in this weekly look at the best high school football games to be played around the state. Their frequent mentions are the product of tough competition they schedule, their past histories of making it to the highest levels of our playoffs, and because of both the overall statewide interest in how those teams fare. 

But this week, many of those teams are absent from this list – replaced by some others with similarly strong resumes this season that many probably aren't as used to following.  

See below for our best matchups from each region of the state, including four 5-0 vs. 5-0 face-offs. 

Some additional fun with numbers: Two teams (Portland and Felch North Dickinson) have qualified for the 11-player playoffs. A total of 76 can qualify with a win tonight. Counting 8-player teams as well, there are 79 teams still undefeated.


Jonesville (5-0) at Homer (5-0)

Neither team has won the Big 8 Conference title since Homer did so in 2005 (although Jonesville finished one game back last season). In fact, Homer hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and Jonesville was 1-8 only two seasons ago. But they’re both dominating this fall, and both already have big wins over last season’s league champion, Reading. The winner tonight earns a playoff berth and strong upper hand in the league race with two conference games remaining.

Others that caught my eye: Lansing Everett (4-1) at East Lansing (3-2), Lansing Sexton (5-0) at Holt (3-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (4-1) at Mason (5-0), Williamston (4-1) at Portland (5-0).

West Michigan

Shelby (5-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (5-0)

Oakridge’s 18-game regular-season winning streak is on the line against a team it has beaten in four straight – but also, like Oakridge, a Shelby team that won 10 games last season. The Tigers have romped through its first four games in the West Michigan Conference this fall, while Oakridge did get a scare last week before beating Ravenna 31-27. The winner of this one claims a playoff berth, and Oakridge – with its final league opponents a combined 2-8 – will be touch to catch in the league race if it can prevail. 

Others that caught my eye: Allendale (4-1) at Belding (4-1), Lowell (5-0) at East Grand Rapids (3-2), Hudsonville (3-2) at Rockford (4-1), Wyoming Godwin Heights (4-1) at Wyoming Kelloggsville (3-2).

Upper Peninsula

Rapid River (5-0) at Cedarville (5-0)

This has become the regular-season game of the year during the short history of 8-player football in Michigan. Cedarville is tied for the highest playoff points average in 8-player and Rapid River is just behind the three co-leaders. The winner takes a commanding one-game lead in the Bridge-Alliance Conference, but Cedarville has additional motivation: The Trojans beat Rapid River 72-12 during the 2012 regular season and were a heavy favorite to at least make the MHSAA Final – but Rapid River came back to eliminate Cedarville 22-14 in their Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: Felch North Dickinson (5-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-0), Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-2) at Hancock (2-3), Kingsford (4-1) at Marquette (4-1), Eagle River Northland Pines, Wis. (5-1) at Houghton (3-2).

Greater Detroit and Southeast

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (5-0) at Milan (5-0)

This kind of game has become an annual rite of fall for St. Mary, which has at least 10 wins four of the last five seasons and is used to being in Huron League contention. Milan is getting used to this too; after a dismal 1-8 finish in 2011, the Big Reds ran the table last season and have a 14-game regular-season winning streak on the line. Beating Grosse Ile 21-14 and then St. Mary 35-20 over consecutive weeks last season put the rest of the league on notice, but the rematch of the latter could be both closer and more low-scoring – the Falcons have given up only 22 points this season.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (5-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-2), Hudson (5-0) at Ida (4-1), Waterford Our Lady (3-2) at Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (5-0), Grass Lake (5-0) at Manchester (4-1).

Lower Up North

McBain (4-1) at Lake City (5-0)

Granted, a giant matchup against reigning MHSAA Division 8 runner-up Beal City looms for Lake City in Week 7. But few teams statewide have been as impressive so far as the Trojans, who have outscored their opponents by a combined 262-6 – yes, 6 – in setting up for another Highland Conference title-deciding showdown with the Aggies. McBain would love to ruin that possibility. The Ramblers did fall to Lake City 28-13 last season, but have beaten Trojans in three of their last five games and already have equaled last season’s win total.

Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids (4-1) at Grayling (4-1), Mio (4-1) at Rogers City (3-2), Mancelona (3-2) at Pickford (4-1), East Jordan (3-2) at Boyne City (4-1).

Southwest and Border

Schoolcraft (4-1) at Battle Creek Pennfield (5-0)

Did you know? ... Pennfield has qualified for the playoffs 14 straight seasons and can make it 15 tonight. The Panthers have to be careful, however, not to look ahead to next week’s matchup with Olivet – the other team tied for first in the Kalamazoo Valley Association. That shouldn’t be an issue, however, given Schoolcraft won the league last season thanks in large part to a 19-16 win over Pennfield. Schoolcraft already has fallen to Olivet this season, three weeks ago, and likely must win tonight to keep hopes of a shared title alive.

Others that caught my eye: Lawton (5-0) at Hartford (3-2), Mattawan (2-3) at Portage Northern (3-2), Deckerville (3-2) at Lawrence (3-1), Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1) at Sturgis (3-2).

Bay and Thumb

Frankenmuth (4-1) at Millington (4-1)

The layers of this rivalry stack high, and this game no doubt is the one both have had circled all fall. After three seasons falling to the Cardinals, Frankenmuth broke through for a 12-8 win in the Tri-Valley Conference East opener last season and hung on to win the league title while Millington also didn’t lose again until the District Finals. The Cardinals have fallen to Essexville-Garber in league play this season and trail the Eagles by a win in the standings with two more games to play after tonight.

Others that caught my eye: Vassar (3-2) at Marlette (5-0), Bay City Western (2-3) at Midland Dow (4-1), Cass City (3-2) at Reese (4-1), Fenton (5-0) at Lapeer East (3-2).

PHOTO: Carson City Crystal – here against Vestaburg in Week 4 – is one of 76 teams statewide that can qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight. The Eagles made the postseason last fall for the first time since 1999. (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.)