A Game for Every Fan: Week 8

October 15, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

All but one of the top-billed games of this week’s statewide football preview will decide a league champion. There are great ones to watch, no matter where you call home.

At the same time, we’re turning an eye to the growing 11-player playoff field, which includes 109 teams with 86 more able to qualify with a win this weekend. For that reason, you’ll see below a few more games than usual featuring teams with three-loss records – because those teams’ seasons are on the line as they attempt to win out and guarantee a postseason spot.

Read on for games that could carry the most impact from every region of the state during Week 8. And remember to check MHSAA Score Center this weekend for results as they come in, updated standings and playoff-point averages.

Bay & Thumb

Algonac (7-0) at Richmond (6-1)

Algonac, 1-8 a year ago, can finish its first league title run since 1972 after clinching a share of the Blue Water Area Conference championship last week against previously-undefeated Almont. But don’t forget Richmond, a regular in this kind of game and a one-point loss to Almont from being undefeated. The Blue Devils would love to spoil the party; they beat Algonac 42-21 in 2014.

Others that caught my eye: Montrose (4-3) at Flint Beecher (5-1), New Lothrop (7-0) at Flint Hamady (6-1), Corunna (6-1) at Lake Fenton (4-3), Holly (4-3) at Swartz Creek (4-3).

Greater Detroit

Sterling Heights Stevenson (6-1) at Macomb Dakota (5-2)

The Macomb Area Conference Red race has been one of the state’s most exciting this season, with five of six teams in the league still in the hunt for a share of the title and for automatic playoff berths as well. These two carry one-win leads into this weekend’s final league games; both are 3-1, while Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Utica Eisenhower and Warren Mott are all 2-2 in league play. Dakota has won the league three straight seasons, including last fall despite a 19-12 loss to Stevenson.

Others that caught my eye: St. Clair Shores South Lake (7-0) at Madison Heights Madison (6-1), Northville (7-0) at Plymouth (6-1), Hartland (5-2) at Walled Lake Western (7-0), Detroit Catholic Central (5-2) at Warren DeLaSalle (6-1).


Fowler (6-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (7-0)

This will be the 50th game between these neighbors and rivals, with Fowler holding a 27-22 advantage. This matchup has decided the last three Central Michigan Athletic Conference championships, with Fowler taking two of those three, and the Eagles hope to gain a share this time as P-W has a one-win edge with this the final week of the conference season. This has been a special one overall for the Pirates, who on opening night handed Madison Heights Madison its only loss and since have outscored six teams by a combined 340-27.

Others that caught my eye: Haslett (4-3) at Williamston (4-3), East Lansing (4-3) at Grand Ledge (7-0), Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (4-3) at Lansing Catholic (6-1), Fruitport (4-3) at St. Johns (5-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Frankfort (6-1) at Charlevoix (5-2)

The Panthers will play the region’s game to watch for the second straight week, with both of these teams undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League Legends division and Frankfort a half-win ahead in the standings with one more league game played. A conference title would be the Panthers’ first since 2008 and Charlevoix’s first since 2000 – and the Red Rayders won this matchup 27-6 a year ago.

Others that caught my eye: Hillman (6-1) at Whittemore-Prescott (4-3), Traverse City St. Francis (7-0) at Kalkaska (4-3), Lincoln Alcona (5-2) at Lake City (3-4), Maple City Glen Lake (4-3) at Kingsley (4-3).

Southeast & Border

Vandercook Lake (7-0) at Manchester (6-1)

The Cascades Conference championship is on the line with both teams undefeated in league play. Vandercook Lake has its most wins since 1996 and is chasing its first undefeated regular season since 1970 after surviving a three-point victory over Michigan Center last week. This is much more familiar territory for Manchester, which has won outright or shared the Cascades title the last three seasons.

Others that caught my eye: Ypsilanti Community (4-3) at Saline (7-0), Brooklyn Columbia Central (6-1) at Dundee (4-3), Ida (7-0) at Hillsdale (5-2), Holt (5-2) at Jackson (5-2).

Southwest Corridor

Buchanan (7-0) at Berrien Springs (7-0)

The victor will remain perfect and become the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White champion. That should be enough to sell this tilt, but there are additional details of note. Berrien Springs finished second in the Wolverine B Conference West last season and has its most wins since 2011 with a shot at its best finish since 2004. Buchanan is coming off two losing seasons and has its most wins since 2012, when it won the Lakeland Conference. This also is the first game between the longtime rivals since 2011.

Others that caught my eye: Bridgman (6-1) at Niles Brandywine (5-2), Saugatuck (7-0) at Delton Kellogg (5-2), Watervliet (6-1) at Decatur (5-2), Battle Creek Lakeview (5-2) at St. Joseph (6-1).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (6-0) at St. Ignace (7-0)

This game means nothing from a league race perspective and everything from a Peninsula pride point of view. St. Ignace locked up the Ski Valley Conference title with a perfect run it finished two weeks ago, while Ishpeming owns a share of the Mid-Peninsula Conference title and can finish the outright championship next week against two-win Gwinn. What makes this game intriguing is that Ishpeming hasn’t lost a regular-season game since Week 7 of 2012 and St. Ignace is perfect for the regular season since Week 9 of 2013 – and these two powers have played each other only once, in 1988.  

Others that caught my eye: Munising (6-1) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (5-2), DeWitt (7-0) at Menominee (7-0), Sault Ste. Marie (5-2) at Escanaba (3-4), Hurley, Wis. (7-1) at Iron Mountain (4-3).

West Michigan

Muskegon (6-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (7-0)

Before last season, when the Sailors won 48-27, they hadn’t beaten the Big Reds since 1982. Could they extend the streak to two? This latest chapter is at Mona Shores, the crowd should be huge, and the Sailors are reigning Division 2 runners-up and backed by a defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 points in a game while facing the likes of Fruitport, Rockford, Caledonia and Zeeland East. Then again, Muskegon remains what we’ve grown to expect – the Big Reds look like contenders to reach a fourth-straight MHSAA Final with wins over Grand Rapids Christian, East Grand Rapids and Zeeland East and the only loss to Detroit Catholic Central after Muskegon led by two touchdowns during the third quarter.

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Oakridge (6-1) at Montague (7-0), East Grand Rapids (5-2) at Lowell (6-1), Remus Chippewa Hills (6-1) at Reed City (7-0), Cedar Springs (5-2) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (7-0).


Deckerville (6-1) at Peck (6-1)

Michigan’s thumb is a hub for 8-player football, thanks in large part to these two past MHSAA champions. Peck has a half-win lead over Deckerville in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League standings because it has played one more league game, but this likely will decide the championship. Deckerville hasn’t beaten the Pirates since its 2012 MHSAA title season, and would love to avenge last season’s 30-28 loss that gave Peck the league title.

Others that caught my eye: Battle Creek St. Philip (7-0) at Portland St. Patrick (6-1), Engadine (5-2) at Stephenson (5-2).

PHOTO: Walled Lake Western and Lowell, which faced off earlier this season, both face tough opponents in Week 8. (Click for 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.)