Ruddy Makes Biggest Plays at Most Crucial Times as Whiteford Wins 2nd Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 25, 2022

DETROIT – When the Ottawa Lake Whiteford offense took the field Friday with the Division 8 championship on the line, head coach Todd Thieken had a message for his offensive coordinator:

Put the ball in Shea Ruddy’s hands.

Need to convert a crucial fourth down near midfield?

Put it in Ruddy’s hands. 

Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 7?

Let Ruddy make the decision to run or pass.

The senior quarterback paid off his coach’s confidence, making the plays the Bobcats needed and leading a go-ahead touchdown drive in Whiteford’s 26-20 victory against Ubly at Ford Field.

“I want us doing things that he’s either running it, or he’s directing the play in some way, shape or form,” Thieken said. “Obviously there were some big plays – (Hunter DeBarr and Jake Iott) made some big runs on that drive, (Ruddy) did, as well, big catch out of (Kolby Masserant). When I’ve got guys like this, I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I wasn’t nervous because the game’s on the line. But I definitely had a quiet confidence about what we had in front of us.”

Ruddy finished the game with 177 yards of total offense and two touchdowns to lead Whiteford to its second Division 8 title, the previous coming in 2017. 

The Bobcats’ Shea Ruddy (1) pushes forward with Ubly’s Parker Peruski (68) and Evan Peruski (10) working to take him down. His second rushing touchdown of the day came with 1 minute, 59 seconds to play, breaking a 20-all tie. 

“Originally I was just going to throw it,” Ruddy said. “But there was a lot of room to run so I just tucked it and figured I could get there.”

The touchdown run capped an 80-yard drive that took 7:42 off the clock. It included a 4th-and-5 conversion near midfield in which Ruddy rushed for seven yards. Nine of the 17 plays on the drive were either a pass or Ruddy run. 

“That kid’s a heck of a player,” Ubly coach Eric Sweeney said. “That’s the best athlete I’ve seen this year. He’s quick, explosive and when you get a kid like that in space, he’s tough to tackle.”

It appeared that Ruddy had made it 28-20 with a two-point conversion, but a replay review showed he stepped out of bounds just prior to hitting the pylon. That gave Ubly (13-1) some renewed hope going into its final drive, but the Bearcats couldn’t move the ball. A fourth down throw, hurried by immediate Whiteford pressure off the edge, was knocked away by Ruddy’s younger brother, Ryin, and Whiteford (14-0) was able to run out the clock in the victory formation.

“That was probably one of the best high school football games I’ve ever been a part of,” Thieken said. “I’ve been coaching football for over 30 years, and the way that both teams out there just battled right down to the wire, the way the teams were going at it. … The way we finished that game was a testament to all 51 kids on our football roster and the way they worked since last June.”

Whiteford’s go-ahead drive came after Ubly had erased a two-touchdown deficit and captured the game’s momentum.

The Bearcats – who were making their third Finals appearance and first since 2020 – went down 12-0 in the first quarter, and trailed 20-6 in the third before turning things around. 

They did it by not straying from the gameplan they’ve had all season – running the ball straight at their opponent. 

Ubly’s Luke Volmering (11) wraps up Whiteford’s Kolby Masserant.Seth Maurer scored both second-half touchdowns, one on a 31-yard run, and the other on a 9-yard run. Ubly rushed for 107 yards on 12 carries during the third quarter alone.

“The resiliency of these kids? They’re tough,” Sweeney said. “Cornfield tough is what I would say. They never quit, which I wouldn’t expect these kids to quit. They really battled. I couldn’t be prouder. We have to come down here and win one of these, but the kids played hard and left it all out on the field. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Whiteford jumped out to its 12-0 lead thanks in part to an Ubly fumble on its opening possession. The Bobcats capitalized with a 26-yard TD run by DeBarr. 

After a defensive stop, the Bobcats went 80 yards on 14 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by Shea Ruddy. 

Ubly would make it 12-6 with a 2-yard touchdown run by Mark Heilig. The drive was set up by an Evan Peruski interception at the Whiteford 30-yard line. 

Whiteford stretched the lead to 20-6 right after the half, as it went 80 yards on 12 plays, scoring on a 4-yard run from DeBarr. Ruddy ran in the two-point try.

DeBarr finished with 94 yards rushing and the two touchdowns for Whiteford, while Ruddy had 65 yards on the ground and 112 yards on 8-of-12 passing. He also had an interception and tied his brother for the team lead with 12 tackles. 

Masserant had five catches for 82 yards, and Iott had 11 tackles.

Maurer finished with 129 yards rushing for Ubly, while Heilig had 82. 

Canden Peruski led the Ubly defense with 14 tackles, while Aiden Mackowiak had 13.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Whiteford coach Todd Thieken presents the Division 8 championship trophy to his team Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Bobcats’ Shea Ruddy (1) pushes forward with Ubly’s Parker Peruski (68) and Evan Peruski (10) working to take him down. (Below) Ubly’s Luke Volmering (11) wraps up Whiteford’s Kolby Masserant. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)