King Completes Perfect Run on Final Play

November 27, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — Armani Posey was supposed to be a two-week stopgap at quarterback for Detroit Martin Luther King.

Two weeks turned into 11 weeks, building toward a championship finish for the ages. 

In a moment that was “The Catch” and “The Drive” all rolled into one, Posey heaved a 40-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Donnie Corley on the final play of the game to give King a 40-38 victory over Lowell in the Division 2 title game Friday at Ford Field.

Lowell led 31-13 in the third quarter before Posey responded by throwing four of his record-tying five touchdown passes in the final 15:41 of the game. The final drive began with 37 seconds remaining at King's 3-yard line after a punt out of bounds and a penalty. 

It was a scenario tailor-made for John Elway — or Armani Posey.

"What happened today is a memory forever," Posey said. "I dreamed about that and went out there and did it today. I couldn't imagine that type of performance, but we got the job done. Shout-out to the O-line." 

When the starter was suspended for two weeks, King coach Dale Harvel was in search of a quarterback for the Week 4 game against Detroit Denby and the week 5 game against eventual Division 1 finalist Detroit Cass Tech. Harvel wanted a mature senior to, at the very least, manage an offense that is loaded with Division I college prospects. Posey turned into much more than a game manager.

"What we found out was he settled down everybody in the offense, because the first week we struggled a little bit against (Warren) DeLaSalle and struggled against East (English) Village," Harvel said. "We were able to win because we were playing good defense. He's been a settling effect on our offense and we couldn't go away from him, because we were in a rhythm with our offense. So, we stuck with him all year." 

Posey's first position was quarterback, but that was way back in his elementary school days playing in the Detroit Police Athletic League for the East Side Tigers. One of his teammates back in the day happened to be the young man with whom his legacy will forever be linked.

"He played quarterback when I played for the Tigers," Corley said. "He's always been a good quarterback. I didn't know he was going to play this well. He had five touchdowns for 300 yards today? That's amazing." 

After starting the game with three three-and-outs and his team falling behind 17-0, Posey finished 19 for 27 for 383 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He broke the MHSAA Finals record of 335 yards set by Olivet's Jay Cousineau in the 2010 Division 5 Final. He matched the record of five touchdown passes shared by Macomb Dakota's Mitch Lovett (2007, Division 1) and Cass Tech's Jayru Campbell (2011, Division 1). Posey also ran seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown.

It took a rare defensive stop by King to put Posey and Corley in a position to produce a moment that will be talked about for decades. 

Lowell drove from its own 35 to King's 39 before its only negative play of the game, a 2-yard loss on a run by quarterback Ryan Stevens, forced only the second punt of the game for the Red Arrows. Stevens nailed the punt out of bounds at the 5 with 37 seconds left. An illegal procedure penalty on King before the first snap moved it back inside the 3.

"They battled, right down to where we punted the ball down to the 5 with (37) seconds on the clock," Lowell coach Noel Dean said. "I thought that would be a pretty good spot to be in. Credit them — they made the plays at the end." 

King made several plays on its way to the end zone. 

A 22-yard pass to Lavert Hill, a 10-yard pass to Corley and a 25-yard pass to Dontre Boyd got the ball to the Lowell 40 with 10 seconds left. Boyd had to watch the final play from the sidelines, having injured his shoulder after his catch on a tackle by Alex Anschutz. Boyd had 126 yards on five catches.

"He could've easily dropped the football," Harvel said. "He focused on that football and knew he was going to get hit — a good legal hit. He caught the football and made the play for a first down for us and made the opportunity to throw that pass to Donnie. All of his teammates understand what he sacrificed for his football team out there today." 

"To me, that was the biggest play of the game," said Corley, who was about to make the most memorable play of the 2015 season.

King had two shots at the end zone in the final 10 seconds. On the first play, Posey overthrew Ambry Thomas down the left side. Two seconds remained on the clock for a play that would make one team's dreams come true and crush another's. 

As King lined up for the final play, Corley was in single coverage on the left side. This was an inviting prospect for the Crusaders, considering Corley is being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Corley said the Lowell cornerback called for safety help over the top, but that the safety didn't hear in the instructions. 

"When we didn't see the safety move over, I was repeating, 'Throw it to Donnie, throw it to Donnie,'" Harvel said. "Nobody could hear me, but it was comforting to me to say that, even though nobody could hear me."

As Corley ran toward the left side of the end zone, Posey had time to heave the ball to his star receiver. Corley, who has a 37-inch vertical leap, won a jump ball against the corner who appeared to get a hand on the ball, then fell to the ground safely inbounds. 

"It was a beautiful ball," said Corley, who caught six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. "It couldn't have been any better. He threw it just inbounds and in the back of the end zone. I knew where I was on the field. I couldn't believe it — I'm not gonna lie. We fought back from 17-0 and we won."

It's only the second time that the winning score in an MHSAA championship game took place on the final play. Steve Mann caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Johnson to give Detroit Country Day an 18-14 victory over Muskegon Catholic Central in the 1986 Class C title game. 

For most of the afternoon, this wasn't a championship game that appeared to be destined for a dramatic finish.

Max Dean's third touchdown run of the game, a 4-yarder with 8:24 left in the third quarter, gave Lowell a 31-13 lead. The Red Arrows had leads of 17-0 and 24-7 in the first half. 

A 25-yard touchdown pass from Posey to Corley with 3:41 left in the third quarter and a 41-yard pass from Posey to Thomas got King back in the game, down only 31-26 with 11:44 remaining.

Lowell responded with a 10-play, 73-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown run by Stevens with 7:10 remaining. 

Aided by a personal foul for facemasking, King crept to within 38-34 on a 2-yard pass from Posey to Hill and a 2-point pass from Posey to Martell Pettaway with 4:42 to go.

Lowell got two first downs on its next possession, forcing the Crusaders to use their remaining timeouts. They were able to manage the clock well on the final drive, particularly when Hill gave up the opportunity for a few more yards to get out of bounds with 28 seconds left on the first play. The clock stopped temporarily when Corley's 10-yard catch got a first down. Boyd was on the field for a couple of minutes after being injured making his 25-yard catch, allowing King to discuss its options and be ready at the line when the clock started running as play resumed. 

Corley's catch gave King its second MHSAA championship, matching the achievement of the 2007 team. It was King's fourth victory of three points or fewer in a 14-0 season.

Lowell scored on its first four possessions before taking a knee to end the first half during its fifth, leading 17-0 before King even registered a first down. 

After getting first-and-goal at the King 5, Lowell settled for a 21-yard field goal by George Gonzales to open the scoring with 4:52 left in the first quarter.

A 36-yard pass to senior Gabe Steed was the key play on a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Dean with 11:03 left in the second quarter. 

A 62-yard pass to a wide-open David Kruse on Lowell's third drive set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Stevens with 7:02 left in the first half. At this point, Lowell had a 173-9 advantage in total offense and a 17-0 lead.

It appeared King would suffer its fourth straight three-and-out to start the game when an intentional grounding penalty left the Crusaders facing third-and-20 from their own 25. That's when King's explosive offense finally showed life, as Boyd had a 73-yard catch and run down to the Lowell 2. Two plays later, Posey scored on a 3-yard bootleg to the right, cutting Lowell's lead to 17-7 with 4:21 left in the first half. 

Lowell responded immediately, using a 66-yard pass to Sawyer Olesko to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Dean with 1:53 to go in the first half, making it a 24-7 game.

King tightened the margin before the break, as Hill made an acrobatic 41-yard catch at the Lowell 12, then grabbed a 12-yard touchdown pass from Posey on the next play to cut Lowell's lead to 24-13 with 25 seconds left in the half. The extra point attempt failed. 

Lowell (12-2) used some trickery to build its lead to 31-13, with Nathan Stephens taking a short direct snap on a fourth-and-one punt and running 38 yards to the King 5. Two plays later, Dean scored his third touchdown from four yards out with 8:24 left in the third quarter.

Dean finished with 99 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 22 carries. Stevens was 6 for 9 for 186 yards, running 22 times for 66 yards and two touchdowns.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Martin Luther King’s Donnie Corley pulls down a touchdown pass on the final play of the game to give the Crusaders the lead and win. (Middle) King players celebrate their second MHSAA championship.

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.)