A Game for Every Fan: Week 9

October 25, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The final Friday of the MHSAA football regular season always is one of the most celebratory and at the same time heart-breaking days of the entire school year. 

For many, practice will continue Monday. But for the majority, tonight will mark the end of another season – or a high school career. 

Fortunately for a number of those athletes, they and their teams still have control over how they'll be feeling when this night, and this weekend, is done. A total of 187 teams have qualified for the 256-team 11-player playoff field – including six teams that won their sixth games Thursday night – and 76 more can clinch a berth with a win tonight or Saturday. The 8-player field is more set, although movement could still occur among those in contention for the final spots in that 16-team field. 

Here's a look at some of the games to keep an eye on this weekend, including league title games in the Detroit Public School League, Catholic League and Kensington Lakes Activities Association. And make sure to check in throughout the weekend to Score Center and then Sunday when playoff pairings are posted at 8 p.m.

Detroit and Southeast

Detroit Martin Luther King (7-0) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (8-0), Ford Field

This title decider at Ford Field has been among the most highly-anticipated games in Detroit since before the first kickoff of this season. Although this was the second since the 1990s that these schools played in different divisions of the Detroit PSL, that separation arguably has made the rivalry even bigger – especially with King stunning the reigning MHSAA Division 1 champ with a 44-13 win during last season’s PSL semifinals. Neither has come to losing since the early weeks of this season; Cass Tech hasn't given up more than six points in a game since opening night, and King hasn't let an opponent come closer than 28 points since Week 2.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (8-0) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (7-1), Saturday at Ford Field; Southfield (7-1) at Clarkston (7-1), Britton Deerfield (6-2) at Clinton (8-0), Walled Lake Western (8-0) at Northville (7-1).

West Michigan

Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (7-1) at Muskegon (7-1)

This isn't as annual a scenario for Muskegon as most might think: The Big Reds did fall to Zeeland East by a point in Week 9 last season to finish second to the Chix in the O-K Black standings, but are still seeking their first league title since 2008. This is the first time Reeths-Puffer has posted a winning record since 2007, and it’s done so in impressive fashion with victories over one playoff qualifier and three more that can earn bids tonight. Still, Reeths-Puffer is seeking its first win over the Big Reds since 1999.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (5-3) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-3), Holland West Ottawa (5-3) at Hudsonville (5-3), East Kentwood (5-3) at Rockford (7-1), Zeeland West (7-1) at Byron Center (6-2).

Upper Peninsula

Menominee (8-0) at Marquette (5-2)

Marquette fell big to Menominee in 2012, but has won two of the last three between the Greater Northern UP Conference rivals – and can force a three-way tie for the league title by beating the Maroons tonight. Menominee has yet to be challenged significantly – only reigning Division 8 champion Harbor Beach has gotten within 20 points of the Maroons this season as they've built the second-highest playoff point average among teams expected to fall into Division 5.

Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (7-1) at Cheboygan (6-2), L'Anse (7-1) at Munising (5-3), Crystal Falls Forest Park (8-0) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-3), Newberry (3-5) at Sault Ste. Marie (5-3).

Bay and Thumb

Fenton (8-0) at Lapeer West (7-1)

Beating second-place Lapeer West tonight would give Fenton 20 straight Flint Metro League victories and make outright another league title, the Tigers’ third straight. But Lapeer West also has a fine football tradition stretching back into the late 1980s, and the Panthers would love nothing more in their final regular season game than to win a share of one more league title. Lapeer West will combine with Lapeer East next fall.

Others that caught my eye: Lake Fenton (7-1) at Montrose (8-0), Davison (4-4) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (7-1), Sanford Meridian (7-1) at Clare (6-2), Plymouth (5-3) at Grand Blanc (6-2).

Southwest and Border

Watervliet (8-0) at Lawton (8-0)

This trumps Edwardsburg/Paw Paw as the top game from the southwest and border areas because a league title is on the line. Watervliet and Lawton split the Southwestern Athletic Conference South title last season, and one of the two has won the league the last four seasons – with Lawton also finishing second the two times Watervliet finished first. The Panthers survived a three-point scare last week against Decatur and can finish their first perfect regular season since 1999.

Others that caught my eye: Edwardsburg (8-0) at Paw Paw (8-0), Battle Creek Pennfield (7-1) at Constantine (5-3), Saugatuck (7-1) at Gobles (5-3), Battle Creek St. Philip (8-0) at Lawrence (6-1).

Lower Up North

Boyne City (7-1) at Grayling (7-1)

This highly-anticipated Lake Michigan Conference deciding game has come to fruition thanks to some close calls including two Grayling wins by a touchdown or less and Boyne City’s victory last week over motivated Elk Rapids. This is a repeat of the 2012 scenario; both also entered that Week 9 game undefeated before Grayling won 21-0.

Others that caught my eye: Mio (7-1) at Lincoln Alcona (8-0), Kalkaska (6-2) at Elk Rapids (5-3), Cadillac (8-0) at Traverse City Central (5-3), Petoskey (5-3) at Ogemaw Heights (5-3).


Homer (8-0) at Grass Lake (7-1)

This is the showcase game of the Cascades/Big 8 Conference crossover series, with Grass Lake one of three that shared the Cascades title and Homer the outright champion in the Big 8. The Trojans also are attempting to finish their first perfect regular season since 2005. The last time these teams met was in 2004.

Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (8-0) at Howell (5-3), Grand Ledge (4-4) at Holt (4-4), New Lothrop (8-0) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0) at Alma College, Chelsea (2-6) at Haslett (5-3).

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech (green jerseys) will attempt to avenge last season's Detroit Public School League playoff loss to Martin Luther King when those teams meet tonight in this season's championship game. (Photo courtesy of Detroit PSL.)

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.)