Muskegon Catholic Central Repeats in D8

November 28, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — It certainly wasn't nerves.

Tommy Scott had already played in an MHSAA championship game, winning the Division 8 title with Muskegon Catholic Central last season. Scott, like the Crusaders' other veterans, said he was more at ease this season, knowing what to expect on the big stage at Ford Field.

So, why was Scott throwing up as he came off the field in the second quarter of the Crusaders' 31-6 victory over Munising?

"Thanksgiving food," he said.

Something he ate Thursday didn't agree with him for the early game the following morning, but it was Munising feeling queasy once Scott started feeling better.

"I felt sick in the first half," he said. "I wouldn't let that stop me in my last game in the state championship. I wasn't coming out. After I vomited, I felt way better."

Coach Steve Czerwon quickly added, "After he saw his dad screaming at him to get back in, I think he felt better, too."

Scott said he felt fine early in the game, well enough to bust off a momentum-altering 99-yard kickoff return just 13 seconds after Munising had taken a 6-0 lead. But he started to feel sick shortly after that, finally finding relief when he threw up.

Held to 14 yards on seven carries in the first half, Scott finished with 21 carries for 92 yards and three second-half touchdowns on the ground in addition to the record-breaking kick return. The previous record was a 97-yard return by Zeeland West's Brad Mesbergen in the 2011 Division 4 final.

"We knew coming in, we had to stop Scott and their quarterback," Munising senior Andy Cooper said. "We knew their quarterback was a little bit injured. He toughed it out today and played a heck of a game. Tommy, we saw he got sick a little bit on the sidelines. He came back in and was running the ball on us; he was tough."

Crusaders quarterback Nick Holt has been playing at less-than-optimal health the second half of the season after spraining his ankle, an injury he aggravated in the semifinals. Holt finished with 13 carries for 61 yards and was 2 for 6 passing for 41 yards.

"You know it's going to be your last game," Holt said. "You're never going to be able to put on your pads again or your helmet again. Just to have a group of guys around me that are there for me saying, 'You're going to be all right, you're going to be all right.' I couldn't have gotten through without them."

The Crusaders trailed for the first time all season when Cooper made a leaping catch in double coverage at the 50-yard line and sprinted to the end zone on third-and-seven to complete a 74-yard scoring pass from Austin Kelto with 10:14 left in the first quarter. Cooper's extra point was blocked.

It turned out that MCC would trail for only 13 seconds all season, as Scott turned on the jets and out-sprinted the last player back, Cooper, who won four events in last season's MHSAA Division 3 Upper Peninsula track and field meet.

"It was huge to get the momentum right back after they took the momentum in the first three plays," Scott said. "Making a big play like that can change a game."

Munising also allowed a 99-yard kick return by Beal City's Chase Rollin in a 10-7 semifinal victory after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

"We were all excited after that touchdown," Cooper said. "Everyone was: the fans, the sidelines, the coaches. Then it seemed like deja vu, because it happened last week, the exact same thing. We score and they returned the next kickoff on us. We got through it and still kept our heads in the game."

The Mustangs were still in the hunt by halftime, trailing only 10-6. Seymour booted a 25-yard field goal with 2:37 left in the first half to cap an 18-play, 64-yard drive that consumed 9:16 off the clock.

MCC had a chance to extend its lead before halftime, but Blake Sanford had the ball punched out by Cooper at the 7-yard line after making a 29-yard catch. Kelto recovered the fumble, but a roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Crusaders new life at the 21. On the next play, Ben Stasewich tipped a pass by Holt, and Ian McInnis intercepted it with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

In the second half, the Crusaders controlled the game with their ground attack.
They scored on their first three possessions of the half, with Scott scoring on runs of 1, 30 and 9 yards.

"We got a little bit tired in the second half," Munising coach Jeff Seaberg said. "Just not as many subs to put in. They started to grind on us and impose their running game on us a little bit. We weren't able to stop them. Once it got out of hand, it's a little bit too much to get back into it against them. They're a heck of a football team. We have a heck of a football team. They were just a little bit too much for us today."

Any conversation about the greatest high school football programs in Michigan must now include Muskegon Catholic Central.

With their 10th MHSAA title, the Crusaders joined five other elite programs who have reached double digits. Farmington Hills Harrison leads the way with 13, followed by now-closed Detroit St. Martin dePorres (12), East Grand Rapids and Mendon (11 each), and Detroit Catholic Central (10).

The only other time the Crusaders repeated was in 1991.

"To be able to say we won back-to-back, we're never going to be forgotten," Holt said. "Everyone is going to remember the 2013-14 team. Not only is it back-to-back, but we had such a big class. We had 18 starters last year, and this year it's just about everyone. This class is always going to be remembered. It's an honor and a blessing."

The Crusaders held Munising to 39 yards on 30 carries. Jaeden MacPherson had two sacks for minus-19 yards.

Muskegon Catholic Central ran for 198 yards on 48 carries. 

Click for full statistics. 

PHOTOS: (Top) A group of Muskegon Catholic Central defenders surround and take down Munising's Izaak Mahoski. (Middle) Munising's Austin Kelto (2) and David Harris (32) work to wrap up MCC's Tommy Scott. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)


MUSTANGS LIGHT IT UP FIRST - On the third play of the Division 8 title game, Austin Kelto hits Andy Cooper, and Cooper converts into a 74-yard touchdown for Munising. 
LONGEST KICK RETURN EVER IN A FINAL - On the kickoff following the Munising score, Muskegon Catholic Central's Tommy Scott goes coast-to-coast - 99 yards - for the longest kickoff return in an MHSAA Football Final. Scott ended up scoring four times and rushing for 96 yards.

Watch the game in its entirety and order DVDs by Clicking Here.

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.)