Lumen Christi Legacy Grows with D6 Triumph

November 23, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Herb Brogan’s teams over 39 years coaching Jackson Lumen Christi have succeeded in part by regularly capitalizing on opportunities.

Give the Titans an inch … and in Friday’s case, they’ll take 28 straight points.

Halftime came just in time for Lumen Christi as all momentum had been lost during the Division 6 Final at Ford Field. But when Montague couldn’t keep the swing going into the second half, the Titans took the opportunity and made school history.

Lumen Christi rode a defensive stop and four straight touchdowns to a 42-28 win over the Wildcats – clinching the program’s 11th MHSAA football championship and third straight, a program first.

“The whole year, and really since freshman year, we’ve been talking about it,” Titans senior Nick Thomas said of the three-peat opportunity. “We had two good grades above us. We said we’re going to do it with those two grades, and we’re going to become the first team to make history.

“That just became a major motivator, during those early morning grinds, getting there an hour early instead of a half-hour early. You’re already sweating before anybody else gets there. We were working before anybody else gets up, and that was a big emphasis the whole season – and it paid off 10 times over.”

Lumen Christi last season became the program’s third repeat champion, and Friday’s win was the Titans’ 23rd straight – they finished 13-0 this season, with an open date Week 9.

Brogan improved his career record to 356-83 since taking over the program in 1980. He sits fifth all-time for state football coaching wins, and this season pulled within five of fourth place and longtime Waterford Our Lady coach Mike Boyd’s 361.

Although senior Bryce Stark gave Montague the game’s first lead with a 57-yard scoring run midway through the first quarter Friday, Lumen Christi tied it up with a 57-yarder by Thomas two minutes into the second. Senior Cy’Aire Johnson scored on a 40-yard pass from senior Joe Barrett a little more than two minutes later, and after senior Bobby Willis’ interception on Montague’s next possession, it seemed like the Titans might break away.  

But not yet. Three plays after throwing the interception, Montague sophomore Drew Collins recovered a fumble, and Stark ran for his second touchdown to tie the score with 1:17 to go in the first half.

Lumen hustled to get to Montague’s 28-yard-line during the next minute – but Wildcats senior Sebastian Archer snagged an interception.

The score stood tied at halftime. And Montague (11-3) was set to get the ball first in the third quarter.

“It was a question mark: who was going to wear who down? They wore St. Francis down last weekend (in the Semifinal), and if you talked to those guys, they were tired,” Brogan said. “One of the things we talked about at halftime, it just comes down to playing with pain. You’re going to be uncomfortable for the next 24 minutes, but what are the results going to be if you can put up with that level of discomfort, push yourself and make plays and make some memories.”

The first possession of the third quarter didn’t include a score, but it should be memorable as the start of Lumen’s final surge.

Montague took the opening kickoff, and over three plays went backward one yard. Lumen scored on its next four possessions, twice getting the ball back on turnovers and a third time after a turnover on downs when the Wildcats had driven to the Titans’ 24.

“We ran out of gas today. They’re folding guys in all the time, and we just don’t have those guys,” said Montague coach Pat Collins. “Our guys worked hard. I’m proud of our guys. That’s who we are. We have nine guys going both ways … they’ve got a whole bunch of guys playing football, and that’s tough.

“If it was a video game, and your guys don’t get tired, that would be a closer game and maybe the ‘Cats would be on top. But it wasn’t; this is real life. … I love my guys. They’re great players. They just got tired.”

The Titans used 22 players to Montague’s 18, and Collins said the difference was most noticeable up front as the game wore on.

Lumen Christi ran for 216 of its 348 rushing yards during the second half.

“Our running backs always push us to try to be better and better every day,” Lumen junior lineman Keegan Smith said. “After every play, they’re saying ‘one more, one more.’ And ‘we’ve got 24 minutes (left)’ at halftime. They pushed us and we told each other, let’s do it for the brotherhood of the line and just try to make history.”

Thomas finished with 249 yards on 28 carries and scored twice. Barrett threw two touchdown passes – senior Dayton Keller caught the second, and Johnson and senior Brock Fitzpatrick also ran for scores. Thomas had a team-high 10 tackles.

The Wildcats cut the deficit to 14 late with two touchdown passes from Collins to junior Brennan Schwarz. Stark ran for 156 yards and three scores on 19 carries. Junior Mark Vanderleest had 12 tackles and Schwarz nine for Montague, which was playing in its first MHSAA Final since winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.

The Wildcats’ only defeats this fall were to Lumen Christi, Division 5 finalist Portland and Division 5 District champ Reed City. Montague is 39-8 over the last four seasons and 22-4 over the last two.

“Since my freshman year, the seniors set the bar pretty high,” Archer said. “Sophomore year, the seniors did their part. Junior year, I love each and every one of those seniors and they’re great guys.

“This year I felt like we raised the bar.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jackson Lumen Christi’s Nick Thomas (10) breaks past a defender during Friday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (Middle) Thomas, Delton Langley (35) and Bobby Willis celebrate the Titans’ 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.)