Quick Study Central Lake Clinches 1st Title

November 18, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MARQUETTE – Central Lake may not have been totally sure what it got itself into switching to 8-player football heading into this fall.

Clearly it didn’t take the Trojans long to figure things out.

A year after finishing 2-7 with 11 players on the field, Central Lake finished Saturday afternoon at the Superior Dome with its first football championship, downing Deckerville 32-30 in the inaugural 8-Player Division 1 Final.

The championship was the first for the school in any MHSAA tournament sport since claiming the Class D softball title in 1980. The Trojans also finished 13-0 this fall.

“Last year it was not even something. Or just growing up, you’re watching the Finals on TV … ‘I’m never going to be there,’ but it’s cool to watch,” Central Lake senior quarterback Gavin Mortensen said. “You dream about it. And then all of a sudden, you’re a state champion. It’s crazy.”

And so was the finish, as Mortensen put his team ahead to stay on a six-yard touchdown run with 2:49 to play. Central Lake came back from 10 points down with under a minute to play in the third quarter, riding a powerful running game to the final two of four rushing touchdowns on the day, while also halting two Deckerville fourth-quarter drives that reached the Trojans’ 21-yard line.

“Those get your heart pumping, don’t they, those stops? But what a great way to win,” Central Lake coach Rob Heeke said.

Junior running back Grant Papineau went over 2,000 yards rushing for the season, adding 183 for a final total of 2,067 while also rushing for his 26th touchdown of the fall. Junior Skyler Spangler had 101 yards and two scores on the ground to finish the season with 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing.

Mortensen, in addition to running the show, made it count when his number was called, adding a 49-yard touchdown pass to senior Jayce Hoogerhyde. And Hoogerhyde, who had 15 pass break-ups as a defensive back entering the game, made an equally significant play on that side of the ball batting down Deckerville’s final pass into the end zone.

Those are the guys who got most of the attention during the perfect run. But a most unlikely contributor deserved his share as well Saturday. Junior center Dalin Clark (6-foot, 265 pounds) left the game with an injury near the end of the first half. In came sophomore Vance Hoeksema (5-6, 140), who had played that position only a couple of times this fall. But the Central Lake attack just kept rolling.

“We just kinda rallied around Vance, and he did a great job,” Mortensen said. “After we got the first few bad snaps out of the way, exchange-wise, he did really well.

Guys on the line picked him up and told him what to do if he didn’t know, and it worked out.”

Hoogerhyde said it wasn’t until a 14-point Week 8 win over Onekama – that clinched for the Trojans the Midwest Central Michigan Conference championship – that he and his teammates started to realize what they might be capable of accomplishing this fall.

Deckerville had been to this level before, winning the 8-player championship in 2012 and finishing runner-up to two-time champion Powers North Central a year ago. That the Eagles (11-2) returned to the final game Saturday was impressive though, considering they replaced nearly their entire backfield from a year ago and then didn’t have injured leading rusher Cruz Ibarra for the last two games.

Senior Kenton Bowerman ran for 83 yards and also caught three passes for 93 yards and a score in the Final. Sophomore quarterback Isaac Keinath threw for three scores total.

“We’d love to win that state championship, but I think we overachieved maybe a little bit,” Deckerville coach Bill Brown said. “They really came together as a team midway through the season and as a head football coach, when you watch your kids and they come together and they’re playing as a team, and you’re getting those selfless acts … we have kids giving just everything they have out there. When you’re a coach, that’s all you ask for.

“I’m disappointed in the outcome of course. That doesn’t define this football team. We could play that game again, and we might win by two touchdowns.”

Spangler had 15 tackles, Mortensen 14, Papineau 13 and senior Dylan Michael 12 for Central Lake. Junior Curtis Vogel had 20 tackles and senior Wyatt Janowiak had 15 for the Eagles.  Senior Zach Ostrowski also caught a touchdown pass, and senior Brendan Hadley ran for a score.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Central Lake quarterback Gavin Mortensen begins to turn the corner on the way to scoring the go-head touchdown Saturday. (Middle) Deckerville’s Wyatt Janowiak hauls in a third-quarter touchdown pass over the tight coverage of Jayce Hoogerhyde. (Photos by John Johnson.)

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.)