Hudson, Morenci Fondly Recall Rivalry

January 31, 2020

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MORENCI – It was a measuring stick for the season. It was Michigan vs. Ohio State, except inside state and county lines. It was tradition.

The Morenci-Hudson football rivalry was like a lot of other football rivalries across Michigan. Often pitting cousin against cousin and friend against friend, the rivalry was among the oldest in the state, with a continuous string of games dating back 99 years.

However, following a cascade of league changes in southeastern Michigan and recent one-sided history in the matchup, the rivalry has been discontinued – leaving behind nearly a century of memories for both communities.

Hudson has dominated the series of late, winning 17 of the last 20 games on the field, although one of those wins was later forfeited. Over 99 years, Hudson holds a 61-39-2 advantage in 102 all-time meetings. But to those who have coached in and played in the game between two southern Lenawee County teams nestled near the state line, the game has always meant more than wins and losses.

“That game? That game was everything,” said Marc Cisco, a 1954 Morenci graduate. “It was the kind of game that kids lived for back then. Both communities would come out for that game. Heck, it would be packed for the JV game. We played in snow and rain. It didn’t matter.”

Cisco had families on both sides of the rivalry. His father’s farm backed right up to the Hudson school district line. His younger brother ended up playing at Hudson.

Cisco is a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He coached at Monroe Jefferson for 51 years, leading his team to the Class BB title in 1994. In high school he once led the state in scoring while playing for the Bulldogs. There was nothing quite like Hudson-Morenci, he said.

“It was the type of game that everyone talked about all summer,” Cisco said. “I knew a lot of players on Hudson’s team. We spent the summers up at Devil’s Lake, just like they did. It was really, really important to win that one.”

Hudson football historian Bill Mullaly has done the research on the rivalry. The two schools first met on the gridiron in 1921, meaning the 2020 game would have marked 100 continuous years of competition.

"It is sad to see this rivalry end,” Mullaly said. “I understand nothing lasts forever, but I always thought there would be a Hudson-Morenci game each fall.”

Both teams have enjoyed record-setting win streaks – and games against each other kept those streaks alive.

Morenci won 44 straight games from 1948 to 1953, setting the state record at the time. Hudson tied that record at Morenci in 1972, defeating the Bulldogs 42-0.

Hudson would go on to win 72 straight games, the national record at the time, under head coach Tom Saylor. One of the players for Saylor during that streak was Chris Luma, who played quarterback for the Tigers. Luma began coaching at Hudson soon after high school and was head coach of the Tigers varsity from 1997-2019, announcing his retirement this month. In 2009 and 2010, Luma coached the Tigers to shutout wins over Morenci – which was coached by Luma’s former coach, Saylor.

In 1982, Hudson opened the season with a 6-2 win over Morenci. The Bulldogs’ only score came when Hudson dropped back to punt and the snap went over the head of the punter and out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The Tigers didn’t give up a touchdown for the first 10 games that season but didn’t get the shutout against the Bulldogs.

“We didn’t allow them to score, we scored for them,” said Scott Marry, who played on that Tigers team that eventually lost in the Class C Semifinals. Marry, who has coached Hudson’s wrestling team to eight MHSAA Finals titles over the last 11 years, said it’s sad the game won’t be played going forward. “That game, every year, was so special. We’d open up with them every year, and you knew that if you won that game, you had a chance to go 9-0. That game was a measuring stick every year.

“I can still remember some of the collisions, the sound of the games against them.”

Jacob Bovee of Morenci played and coached in the rivalry. His wife is from Hudson.

“I remember my uncles and my grandpa talking about playing against Hudson,” Bovee said. “As a player, you liked to compete against them because you knew you were going to get their best shot. As a coach, you knew if you could play them tough you were going to be all right that season.

“We had some success against them, but records didn’t matter. You knew it was going to be a smash-mouth football game.”

Harley McCaskey was an all-state linebacker for Morenci before graduating in 2018. He played three games as a varsity player against the Tigers. The last two were excruciating two-point losses.

“My dad talked about the games he played against Hudson,” he said. “Everyone in school would talk about the Hudson game. When you started lifting weights for the season, you talked about beating Hudson.”

Hudson and Morenci were both members of the Lenawee County Athletic Association until Morenci left the LCAA to join the Tri-County Conference in 1981. Coincidentally, recent league shuffling played a major part in the move to discontinue the rivalry.

Whitmore Lake left the TCC before last season, causing a series of changes. Erie Mason left the LCAA to join the TCC. When that happened, Clinton left the TCC and joined the LCAA. Pittsford, left without an 11-player conference when Adrian Lenawee Christian and Athens decided to move to 8-player football for 2020, was added to the TCC as a football member starting this fall.

Pittsford and Morenci had been nonleague opponents for the last five years. With Pittsford joining the TCC, that left Morenci looking for a new nonleague opponent. The Bulldogs will open the 2020 season on the road at Three Oaks River Valley. Instead of keeping Hudson in the Week 2 slot – the teams have played each other that week for the last 15 years – Morenci instead will play Stockbridge.

Hudson, then, will play Erie Mason, now a nonleague opponent, in 2020.

Hudson has dominated the series in recent years, with several lopsided wins. The Tigers went 2-7 last season but beat Morenci 54-13 when the Bulldogs had fewer than 20 players on its roster. Morenci is 3-15 over the last two seasons, and the school district felt in order to rebuild the program, a new schedule would help.

But that doesn't mean the formerly annual meeting won't be missed. Marry said league or nonleague, home or away, Hudson vs. Morenci was a backyard rivalry that always seemed to be a little more important than some of the other games.

“If there was such a thing as a preseason playoff game, that was it,” he said. “It was a red-letter game for sure.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Hudson’s Malik Ray (26) breaks into the open as Morenci’s Harley McCaskey (20) pursues during the 2017 matchup. (Photo by Mike Dickie.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)