A Game for Every Fan: Week 8

October 16, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Consider this little-known, or perhaps lesser-stated fact about the MHSAA football playoffs:

Two weeks remain in the regular season. But 50 percent of the 616 teams eligible for the postseason still control their futures with opportunities to earn automatic berths.

And that’s fewer teams than at this point the last few seasons – meaning more opportunities remain for a larger pool of teams to receive at-large bids.

Read on for more on some of those teams and some the games that matter most this week as the last available league titles are being locked down and playoff selection sits just 10 days away.

Bay and Thumb

Lapeer (7-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-1)

It’s accurate to say Lapeer High has never been in this situation – this is the first season for the school, made up of the former Lapeer West and East. But a fair argument can be made that the Lightning has opened better than either school did over the last decade. It has clinched a share of the Saginaw Valley Association Red title and given up 20 points – total – this fall. Enter Carman-Ainsworth, last season’s champion of the former SVA South and a one-point loss to Mount Pleasant from also being perfect this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Flint Beecher (7-0) at Montrose (6-1), Birch Run (6-1) at Millington (7-0), Harbor Beach (7-0) at Marlette (5-2), Walled Lake Central (5-2) at Grand Blanc (5-2).

Southwest and Border 

Watervliet (6-1) at Decatur (7-0)

Decatur has guaranteed a fourth straight winning season and is 30-11 since the beginning of 2011 – with three of those losses coming in the playoffs and seven coming in the competitive Southwestern Athletic Conference South. The Raiders never finished higher than third in the five-team league during the last three seasons. But the winner tonight will clinch a share of the title, although to do so Decatur must break a five-game losing streak to Watervliet – league champions the last three seasons.  

Others that caught my eye: Berrien Springs (5-2) at Edwardsburg (7-0), Olivet (6-1) at Constantine (6-1), St. Joseph (4-3) at Battle Creek Lakeview (5-1), Homer (6-1) at Union City (7-0).

Greater Detroit

Ypsilanti Community (5-2) at Ypsilanti Lincoln (5-2) 

The last four seasons have been like no other in Lincoln football history. The Railsplitters made the playoffs for the first time in 2011 and this season have guaranteed a fourth straight winning record – and tonight also can guarantee a third playoff berth and second straight outright Southeastern Conference White championship. Community had a brief up-and-down span, sandwiching an impressive win over Chelsea between two losses to finish September. But tonight’s win would mean for the Grizzlies a share of the league title and first playoff berth in the school’s two-year history.

Others that caught my eye: Farmington (6-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-1), Detroit Cass Tech (7-0) vs. Detroit East English (5-2) at Detroit Northwestern, Marine City (7-0) at Warren Woods-Tower (6-1), Harper Woods Chandler Park (5-2) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (7-0) on Saturday.

Lower Up North

Whittemore-Prescott (7-0) at Hillman (7-0)

This should end up the best game of the season in the northeastern end of the Lower Peninsula. Whittemore-Prescott won the North Star League Huron Shores championship and has clinched its 16th playoff berth in the last 17 seasons. Hillman won the league’s North Star division and has guaranteed its eighth playoff appearance in nine seasons with its best start since 1990. Last season marked the teams' first meeting since 1976 – and turned into a 66-26 win for the Cardinals. This time should be much closer.

Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids (4-3) at Boyne City (7-0), Mancelona (4-3) at Central Lake (4-3), Manton (5-2) at Lincoln Alcona (4-3), Cadillac (7-0) at Manistee (4-3).

West Michigan

Rockford (6-1) at East Kentwood (6-1)

The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title is down to three teams and two weeks of the season, with Rockford holding a one-win lead over East Kentwood and Holland West Ottawa – and West Ottawa next week’s opponent. The Rams haven’t lost a league game since Week 4 of 2010, and that has included two seasons of facing Muskegon in Red games. But it’s tough to argue against this being East Kentwood’s best season since 2003 – which also was the last time it won this matchup.

Others that caught my eye: Lowell (7-0) at Caledonia (5-2), Greenville (4-3) at Cedar Springs (6-1), Hudsonville (4-3) at Holland West Ottawa (5-2), Whitehall (6-1) at Ravenna (6-1).


Lansing Everett (5-2) at Lansing Sexton (7-0)

This is the most meaningful game between these rivals since probably 1986, when Everett and Sexton met in the first league game of the season and the Vikings won by a point – and then eventually won the league title by a win over the Big Reds. Everett has the top-scoring offense in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue this season; Sexton’s defense has given up the fewest points. The Big Reds can win a share of the Blue title for the second straight season – but the Vikings are one of the few teams in the Lansing area that might be able to match Sexton's speedy pace.

Others that caught my eye: Pewamo-Westphalia (6-1) at Fowler (7-0), Harrison (7-0) at Clare (5-2), Walled Lake Western (6-1) at Hartland (6-1), Reed City (6-1) at Remus Chippewa Hills (6-1). 

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (4-3) at Marquette (7-1)

This game became key to Negaunee’s season after last week, when Marquette guaranteed a playoff berth with a win over Constantine and Negaunee fell to rival Ishpeming and into a must-win situation for the rest of the regular season. The Miners have made the playoffs five of the last six seasons – and the closest loss the season they missed qualifying by a win, 2011, was a six-point defeat to the Redmen.

Others that caught my eye: Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-1) at Bessemer (4-2) on Saturday, Felch North Dickinson (3-4) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-1) on Saturday, Marinette, Wis. (3-5) at Menominee (7-0) on Saturday, Newberry (4-3) at Rudyard (3-4).


Portland St. Patrick (7-0) at Battle Creek St. Philip (7-0), Saturday

For the second straight week, it’s nearly impossible to pick the best from a group of 8-player games matching the state’s elite. But consider this face-off of two of the six undefeated teams left in 8-player. The Tigers fell to St. Patrick three times in their first 8-player season in 2012, but beat the Shamrocks 68-14 last fall and are 17-1 over their last 18 games. That point total should be tougher to come by this time – St. Patrick is giving up a mere 12.7 points per game, particularly strong in the high-scoring 8-player format. 

Others that caught my eye: Cedarville (6-1) at Bellaire (7-0), Peck (7-0) at Deckerville (6-1).

PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth, here against Midland earlier this season, can lock up a second straight league title tonight against Lapeer. (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.)