Marine City, Mathison Make Right Moves

November 29, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — When Jarrett Mathison was told he wouldn't be Marine City's quarterback this season, he could've taken the news the wrong way.

He could've been selfish about losing the marquee position on the football team. He could've sulked, becoming a disruptive force on the team. He could've complained to his parents, who in turn could've made life miserable for coach Ron Glodich and his staff. 

Instead, Mathison handled the change with a team-first attitude, even though he had no clue what his role would be with the Mariners.

"There wasn't really a decision until about a week before our first game," Mathison said. "They told me I was going to play fullback. I said, 'OK. I don't care. I'm playing. I've got to do what I've got to do to help the team out.'" 

As it turned out, Mathison got even more action this season than he did a year ago when he was the sophomore quarterback for an 8-2 team.

He starred in all three phases of the game, leading Marine City to a 49-35 victory over defending-champion Grand Rapids South Christian in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game Friday at Ford Field. 

Mathison intercepted two passes, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 91 yards for a touchdown, and ran 18 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns.

"We had to tell him he could be a benefit on both sides of the ball," Glodich said. "That gamble paid off tonight. He's a warrior. He was better at the end of the game than the beginning of the game." 

Mathison never expected to have such an active role in Marine City's success after the quarterback position was turned over to junior Alex Merchant, who was 10 for 12 for 208 yards and three touchdowns against South Christian.

"I thought I was just going to be a person filling in," said Mathison, who scored 32 touchdowns this season. "It just came out for the better. Everything happens for a reason." 

Senior Pete Patsalis caught all three touchdown passes for the Mariners, grabbing five passes for 142 yards. Marine City scored on seven straight full possessions, not including a one-play series in which it ran out the clock following a South Christian touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half.

The score was tied 21-21 at halftime when Mathison gave Marine City a huge lift to start the second half. A series of fake handoffs on a kick return that fooled nobody the first time the Mariners tried it worked wonders this time around. Mathison received the kick, turned his back toward the Sailors and faked the ball to three teammates before taking off and getting in the clear. 

"The big kickoff return took the wind out of us a bit," South Christian coach Mark Tamminga said. "That was a huge momentum swing there. Give all the credit to them. That's a heck of a football team. We got beat by a better football team."

Still, South Christian was in the game when quarterback Jon Wassink scored from one yard out on fourth-and-goal to tie the game 28-28 with 6:04 left in the third quarter. 

The Sailors couldn't stop the Mariners' offense, however. A 65-yard touchdown pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 5:11 left in the third quarter put Marine City ahead to stay. A 1-yard run by Mathison made it a 14-point game.

South Christian got within 42-35 with plenty of time left when Wassink hit Eric VanVoorst with a 19-yard touchdown pass with 10:04 remaining, but Marine City ground out a 12-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 6:15 to get some breathing room. A 20-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis capped the drive with 3:45 left. 

"We told the kids, 'You stay with them until the fourth quarter, then I guarantee you you'll have more in your tank than they do,'" Glodich said.

History was made in this game, as Marine City junior Olivia Viney became the first girl to play in an MHSAA Final. Viney did more than just play, going 7 for 7 on extra points to tie a Finals record for most extra points in a game. Paul Gross of Jackson Lumen Christi also was 7 for 7 in the 2001 Division 5 Final against Livonia Clarenceville. 

"I really wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," Viney said. "My team did a really good job of keeping everyone calm, keeping their heads on their shoulders. I was totally prepared mentally and physically."

Viney finished the season 61 for 65 on extra points, breaking the Marine City mark of 59 extra points in a season. She also had a 30-yard field goal. 

"I couldn't do it without my team," she said. "I couldn't score an extra point unless we get touchdowns. Our snapper, our holder, our offensive line — I couldn't do it without them."

The tone for the high-scoring game was set just 58 seconds in, as Wassink hit VanVoorst with a 52-yard touchdown pass to give South Christian a 7-0 lead. 

That was the only score of the first quarter, but the pace picked up in the second quarter, with the teams combining for five touchdowns to go into halftime tied at 21-21.

Mathison's 1-yard run put Marine City on the board with 10:28 left in the second quarter. 

A 39-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 7:12 left in the second quarter gave the Mariners a 14-7 lead.

Wassink's 50-yard option keeper with 5:36 left in the second quarter tied it 14-14. Tait Sapienza answered for Marine City with an 18-yard touchdown run with 2:05 to go in the half. 

South Christian tied it 12 seconds before halftime when Wassink threw a low 8-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Haan, who was able to trap the ball between his legs as he fell across the goal line.

Wassink, a junior two-year starter who missed last year's championship game after breaking his collarbone in the Semifinal, was 18-for-38 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Sapienza ran 17 times for 123 yards and a touchdown for Marine City (13-1), which won its other MHSAA title in 2007. 

"They were more physical than us," Tamminga said. "When you control both sides of the line of scrimmage, you're going to win a lot of football games."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marine City's Joe Mazure (88) hauls in a pass during Friday's Final. (Middle) Grand Rapids South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink breaks away for a gain. (Click to see more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)