Hudson Rides Dominating Defense to Lock Down Division 8 Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 26, 2021

DETROIT – For a team not used to giving up points – or yards, for that matter – it would have been easy Friday for Hudson to make some big changes at halftime to slow down a Beal City offense that had found success through the passing game.  

But the Tigers – who entered the MHSAA Division 8 Final having allowed 107.7 yards and less than a touchdown per game through the Semifinals – didn’t stray from the gameplan. 

“Honestly, (the adjustment was) just keep playing,” Hudson coach Dan Rogers said. “They did a great job, their line, we couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback. He could get out on the edge and we struggled getting to him. That made us cover a lot longer than we want to, so we were trying to get to the quarterback a little bit more, keep the receivers in front of us and make plays on the football.” 

It worked, as Hudson smothered Beal City in the second half, allowing just 17 yards over the final 24 minutes of its 14-7 victory at Ford Field to claim its second Finals title. 

“I can’t even describe it yet; it hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Hudson senior running back and safety Bronson Marry, who had a crucial late-game interception. “I’m just waiting to walk out of the locker room and find our families. It’s going to (hit like) a brick wall.” 

While Hudson (14-0) never led by more than one score, Beal City never threatened to overcome it, spending the entirety of the second half offensively on its own side of the field. The Aggies’ five second-half possessions went for 4, -6, 13, 1 and 5 yards, and totaled 5 minutes and 29 seconds.  

A fumble, an interception and downs ended the last three drives, with Nick Kopin breaking up the final Beal City pass attempt with 1:51 to play, sealing the game. It was a fitting end to Kopin’s big day, as he also had forced a fumble earlier in the fourth quarter and rushed for 131 yards and both of Hudson’s touchdowns. 

“It’s amazing,” Kopin said. “Obviously, I’m going to credit all my runs to our offensive line and our play-calling by coach (Jeremy) Beal. It set up really good cutbacks, and they were blocking real well. Defensively, credit to (Coach Rogers), he’s very strict on us reading our keys and doing our jobs. I think all of us, including myself, just did that, and the game turned out in our favor.” 

Hudson/Beal City footballKopin’s second score, a 2-yard run, came with 6:58 to play and put the Tigers up 14-7. The two-point pass was no good, however, keeping Beal City within a touchdown. The Aggies received a further boost with the return of quarterback Hunter Miles, who had been injured midway through the third quarter, but Hudson’s defense didn’t allow for a storybook comeback. 

“Hunter Miles is Hunter Miles; he’s a warrior,” Beal City coach Brad Gross said. “That’s Hunter Miles. Ankle, ribs, everything else (was hurt). We have a lot of guys dinged up. Cade Block’s had a (injured) shoulder that he’s been playing with for three weeks. Wade Wilson has a broken hand that he played the whole game with. We’re just banged up. We have a bunch of warriors. That’s why we’re here.” 

Miles had more success in the first half, mostly on the strength of a pair of big pass plays to Carter Fussman. The first was a 53-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. Miles rolled to his right before finding Fussman open near the 10-yard line.  

The second was a 56-yard throw and catch on the penultimate play of the first half, which came immediately after Hudson had taken an 8-7 lead on a 2-yard run from Kopin and a two-point conversion pass from Anthony Arredondo to Ambrose Horwath. The big pass play ended with Fussman being hauled down by Horwath at the Hudson 7-yard line with four seconds left in the half.  

That tackle wound up being enormous, as an incomplete pass on the next play ended the half with Hudson still in the lead. 

“It probably made the conversation at halftime better,” Rogers said. “It was a huge tackle. That’s what we talk about: You just have to keep playing. They’re going to make plays, things are going to happen, and it would have been just as easy to hang your head and he runs into the end zone. Our kids don’t do that, and Ambrose, he made a play, and that’s what we had to have.” 

Hudson’s offense had success on the ground, rushing for 282 yards, but strong red zone defense from the Aggies kept them in the game. All five of Hudson’s second half drives – excluding the final one, which consisted of three kneel downs – ended at least within the Beal City 35, but just one led to a score. 

“You have to give credit to Beal City, too,” Rogers said. “When we got down there, they stiffened up defensively and took all the inside runs away. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to score and it kept the game close.” 

Payton Rogers added 62 yards on the ground for Hudson, while Horwath hauled in the lone completed pass for the Tigers, a 17-yard catch from Easten Strodtman that converted a 3rd-and-long on the Tigers’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Kopin led the Hudson defense with six tackles, while Strodtman and Ethan Harris each recorded a sack. 

Fussman led the Beal City (12-2) offense with two catches for 109 yards, while Miles finished with 128 yards through the air – all in the first half. Josh Wilson recorded 13 tackles to lead the Beal City defense, while Miles had eight. 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Hudson’s Easten Strodtman brings down Beal City quarterback Jack Fussman during Friday’s Division 8 Final. (Middle) The Tigers’ Ambrose Horwath (10) tries to get a hand on the ball with the Aggies’ Carter Fussman (2) and Jack Fussman defending. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)