MCC Makes Most of 3-Peat Opportunity

November 27, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Christian Martinez ran for 45 yards Friday morning according to the Division 8 championship game box score, but crisscrossed his backfield for at least a few hundred more just trying to stay on his feet. 

Muskegon Catholic Central’s senior quarterback didn’t find many opportunities to move forward during the day’s first MHSAA Final at Ford Field – but took advantage when a title-deciding opening finally came.

In a game surprisingly dominated by defense, Martinez scored the only points with 10:21 to play in a 7-0 victory over undefeated Waterford Our Lady that gave MCC its third straight championship.

The teams entered the Final averaging a combined 78 points this season. But four turnovers by the Lakers and a number of stops by both defenses kept the scoreboard blank for the first three quarters.

“I was wondering when we were finally going to bust loose and score,” Martinez said. “They were just well-coached. They read their keys well. They had a really good inside linebacker; he broke on the ball. And then they had some really big defensive linemen who stopped a lot of plays up front before they even started.”

Martinez was complimentary of the Lakers’ defense for good reason. Both defenses shined – Our Lady held MCC to 215 yards and allowed only five third-down conversions in 12 tries. The Crusaders held the Lakers to 241 yards, but intercepted four passes and allowed Our Lady only four first downs on 12 third-down attempts.

Our Lady hadn’t been shut out since 2011. MCC had been held to single digits only one other time over the last three seasons – by Division 4 semifinalist Detroit Country Day in Week 8 of this fall.

All of the offense MCC could muster came together as the third quarter turned into the fourth. Our Lady looked to have another stop in hand with the Crusaders facing 3rd-and-4, but Martinez followed his blockers for a 14-yard gain down to the Lakers' 32-yard line. Senior Walker Christoffersen followed with a 24-yard run to the 8. Martinez then watched towering offensive tackle Jacob Holt block two defenders to set the edge, and followed for an 8-yard scoring run.

MCC (11-2) entered this season on a 26-game winning streak and abruptly lost in Week 1 to Muskegon Oakridge. After two seasons of complete dominance, three games this fall were decided by 14 points or fewer – which may have paid off when it mattered most.

“I was extremely happy that we were able to gut it out,” MCC coach Steve Czerwon said. “We’ve been in quite a few close games this year, maybe some more than past years. A lot of grit, a lot of integrity out of these guys.”

And a great strategy on his staff's part. The Crusaders played with four defensive backs deep to try to contain an Our Lady offense keyed by senior quarterback Clay Senerius, who had thrown for 2,913 yards and 34 touchdowns entering the day.

Christoffersen had two interceptions, including one in the end zone as Our Lady drove for a tying score with 3:21 to play. Senerius still finished 17 of 27 passing for 193 yards, but the Lakers had difficulty stringing enough positive plays together to get other drives rolling.

Our Lady did try a field goal midway through the first quarter but missed left from 35 yards out. The Lakers gained first downs on two fourth-down conversions, but their one failed fourth-down attempt came later in the first quarter when an incomplete pass ended a drive at MCC’s 16-yard line.

“The play at the end (of the game) is the one everyone is going to remember, but we had our shots there in the first half,” Our Lady coach Josh Sawicki said. “We’ve been aggressive all year. We’ve gone for it on fourth down all year. We don’t change our strategy and who we are and what we do just because of the big stage.

“Most of the time we come up with those big plays on fourth down. That’s when we bear down. It just didn’t go our way today.”

Our Lady, back in a Final for the first time since 2002, allowed only one opponent this season to come within 25 points. The Lakers (13-1) finished with their most wins and points (542) in school history.

Clay’s brother Devin, also a senior, caught six passes for 72 yards, and senior linebacker Ryan Kostich and junior defensive back Isaac Oliver led the team with seven tackles apiece.

Holt had 6.5 tackles and senior linebacker Nathan Jones and junior linebacker Andrew Schulte both had six for MCC. Christoffersen ran for 113 yards to go with his interceptions.

“We’ve had really good coaching. We had good players run routes on us, really good teaching throughout the week, and it resulted in a really good play I made in the state championship,” Christoffersen said. “I knew that was a really big play, and I was really happy I could make a play for my team.” 

Click for the full box score.

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Catholic Central’s Walker Christoffersen snags one of his two interceptions in the Division 8 Final. (Middle) MCC quarterback Christian Martinez works to break away from an Our Lady defender.

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.)