Loyola Learns Championship Lessons

November 29, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Saturday’s celebration began with respect, senior linebacker Paul Engram said, for an opponent that had become familiar and frustrating.

Detroit Loyola hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2010. But the Bulldogs also hadn’t solved Ishpeming in their first two MHSAA Division 7 Final matchups, falling to the Hematites to end both of the last two seasons despite obvious size and arguable speed advantages.

“We know they could beat us, and they thought they could beat us, and we had to recognize that,” Engram said. “We knew what we can do. We had to believe in ourselves and play as a team.

“Football isn’t always about just playing a game. It’s about life. We really learned a lesson about how to stick together and trust, what love and trust are really all about. Because that’s what we were missing the last couple of years.”

Loyola had all of the above Saturday morning in defeating Ishpeming 29-8 to claim its first MHSAA title.

Just as in 2012 and 2013, Ishpeming scored first. But this time, the Bulldogs responded with 29 unanswered points dominating with the physicality that has helped it build a 65-10 record under coach John Callahan since he took over the program in 2009.

“Passion, motivation. Us losing two times in a row, we just really had a goal,” said senior running back Marvin Campbell, who like Engram had played prominent roles on all three Finals teams. “We just knew we had to get this done.”

Campbell finished with 215 yards on 21 carries with all four of Loyola’s scores – on runs of 47 and eight yards in the second quarter, 66 in the third and five yards in the fourth.

The first touchdown would’ve come earlier – a two-yard scoring run was called back because of a penalty – and Ishpeming junior Thomas Finegan intercepted a Loyola pass on the next play. With junior quarterback Ozzy Corp either running or completing passes on 10 plays, the Hematites responded with a 13-play, 90-yard drive capped by his 1-yard scoring run and two-point conversion pass with 1:03 to go in the first quarter.

But Loyola (14-0) made adjustments – taking opposite tacks for each side of the field.

Callahan had traveled to watch Ishpeming twice this season, including against eventual Division 8 semifinalist Beal City when those teams met in Week 6. Callahan noticed how the Aggies tried to defend Ishpeming’s powerful run – and came back to a defense he’d used coaching Pontiac Notre Dame to a league title before moving to Loyola. The “nitro” defense took all of his players off the line and gave a look of seven linebackers able to range side to side. 

Loyola finished Saturday with six tackles for losses and three sacks, with junior lineman Anthony Fitzpatrick leading with 11 tackles.

“(Nitro) gives us better vision,” Callahan said. “With what they ran, they were going one way or the other.  It gave our guys the opportunity to move as quick as they were and get to the spot.”

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs did just about the opposite offensively, as the game wore on getting back to the fundamentals of its base power running game that had served so well the last four seasons.

Loyola finished with 297 yards on the ground, with senior Mideyin Wilson picking up 75 on 16 carries.

“Those guys are seniors now, all those guys we played before,” Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said. “They’re big. They’re strong. They were better than us. There are only so many things you can do, and we tried a lot of different things, a lot of different blocking schemes. They just dominated us at times.”

Corp turned in another courageous performance without senior teammate and top back Ozzy Hakkarinen to assist – the latter was injured in last week’s Semifinal. Corp ran for 198 yards in that game, and added 111 yards passing to the team’s lone score Saturday.

Senior Dominic Suardini had 14 tackles for the Hematites (12-1), which had won 33 straight games entering Saturday – good to tie for eighth-longest winning streak in MHSAA football history and fourth longest among streaks to take place entirely during the playoff era (beginning in 1975). 

“People don’t understand how hard it is to get here. When you do it three times in a row and win two, people think it gets easy,” Olson said. “We had some tough teams we had to play along the way, and you’ve got to beat those teams. And those teams are giving you everything they have. You can’t just have talent; you’ve got to have great kids, got to have competitors. We had that.”

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Loyola celebrates its first MHSAA football championship at Ford Field. (Middle) Ishpeming quarterback Ozzy Corp prepares to throw with the Bulldogs pressuring. (Below) Loyola’s Marvin Campbell runs away from tacklers for some of his 215 rushing yards. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


ISHPEMING PICK - The Ishpeming defense stopped a long game-opening Detroit Loyola drive when Thomas Finegan intercepted a Nicholas Lee pass. The Hematites scored on the ensuing drive.

MARVELOUS MARVIN - Marvin Campbell rushed for 215 yards and four touchdowns for Detroit Loyola in its 29-8 Division 8 victory over Ishpeming. Here's the third score on a 66-yard run.

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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.)