In Return to Finals, Edwardsburg Reigns

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 23, 2018

DETROIT – Edwardsburg finished the deal on Friday, erasing much of the disappointment the final game of last season produced.

Although the Eddies’ offense was slow to jell, they controlled the clock and Chelsea’s multi-faceted attack to capture their first MHSAA Finals championship in any boys sport with a 28-7 victory in the Division 4 title game at Ford Field.

Edwardsburg has one other MHSAA title to its credit – the girls volleyball team won Class C in 1977.

“This is a huge moment for the program,” Edwardsburg coach Kevin Bartz said. “Last year was more of a surprise. Beating a good River Rouge team, we were just happy to be here. They were more focused this year and not getting involved with all of the hoopla.”

Edwardsburg defeated River Rouge, 32-21, in a Semifinal last season and then lost to Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 42-31, in the Final. Last week, the Eddies avenged that defeat, downing GRCC 46-44 in overtime in their Semifinal matchup.

The Eddies (14-0) entered this championship game averaging 48.5 points per contest this fall and had scored 196 during the playoffs. But Chelsea (10-4) was up to the task early, and its defense gave the team a chance at winning would have been its first football championship as well.

But an underrated unit is Edwardsburg’s defense. The Eddies have five shutouts to their credit this season, and their defense kept this game close until the offense got untracked.

 “You hear a lot about our offense,” Bartz said, “but it was our defense that won the game.”

Mistakes, a missed field goal attempt and a failed fourth down try kept the scoring to a minimum in the first half.

Chelsea stopped an Edwardsburg try for a first down on 4th-and-1 at the Eddies’ 34, but the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage of the fine field position as Bryce Blue intercepted a Chelsea pass in the end zone.

That turnover set up Edwardsburg’s lone touchdown of the first half, as Caden Goggins scored from five yards out. Isaiah Mitchell’s conversion run gave the Eddies an 8-0 lead with 1:53 left in the first quarter.

Chelsea came back on the next possession and scored on a four-yard touchdown pass from Quinn Starkey to Hunter Neff, who made a one-handed catch in the left corner to complete the play. Starkey was 3-of-3 passing for 50 yards on the 64-yard drive.

The teams exchanged turnovers in the middle of the second quarter, and Chelsea couldn’t capitalize on a good scoring opportunity late. The Bulldogs drove from their 40 to the Edwardsburg 3, but a three-yard loss and an incomplete pass produced a bit of a dilemma for Chelsea coach Josh Lucas. He decided to go for the short field goal from the 6, but it missed to the right with 20 seconds left. Edwardsburg clung to an 8-7 lead at the break.

There were just two possessions in the third quarter, and only Edwardsburg made good on its opportunity.

The Eddies took the second half kickoff and drove 83 yards in 12 plays. Mac Gaideski, on his only carry of the drive, scored on a five-yard run. Quarterback Tre Harvey’s conversion run gave Edwardsburg a 16-7 lead with 6:39 left.

Chelsea used up the rest of the quarter, but its drive stalled at the Edwardsburg 32, and third and fourth down passes were incomplete.

Edwardsburg’s first drive of the fourth quarter didn’t produce any points, but it was just what Bartz wanted. His team burned 6:31 off the clock and pinned the Bulldogs on their 15.

Chelsea did not make a first down on its next drive, and the Eddies put the game away as Harvey ran five yards around right end for a touchdown and a 22-7 lead with 3:10 left.

“I came back with a vengeance this year,” Harvey said. “I wanted it. (Chelsea) came out strong in the beginning. They’re a good team. We preach playing strong in the third and fourth quarters. We definitely wear teams down.”

Edwardsburg rushed for 382 yards on 50 carries. The Eddies did not complete a pass in two attempts, but that’s not unusual for a T-formation team that prefers physicality at the line of scrimmage over big pass plays.

“The running backs deserve the credit,” Harvey said. “They’re the ones carrying out the fakes.

“We came in here not so much in awe as last year. I might have stared at the ceiling here too much a year ago.”

Goggins led Edwardsburg with 125 yards on 15 carries, and Chase Segar had 119 yards on 14 attempts.

For Chelsea, Starkey was 16-of-27 passing for 178 yards and one touchdown. The Bulldogs were held to 69 rushing yards.

“All of the credit goes to the line,” Sager said. “They made the holes. We had a mindset after last year. We weren’t used to the atmosphere then. I think now people will know where Edwardsburg is (located). We’re making them pay attention.”

Edwardsburg is located in the southwest part of the state, by the way.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Edwardsburg celebrated earning its first MHSAA Finals championship in any boys sport Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Eddies linebacker Drew Bidwell brings down a Chelsea ball carrier.

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.)