Whiteford Scores 1st Title with Epic Offense

November 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Next time, no one will leave Ottawa Lake Whiteford out of the conversation.

It wasn’t like the Bobcats felt overlooked. But coming into this season’s Division 8 playoffs, it was pretty easy to pencil in four-time reigning champion Muskegon Catholic Central to win again.

Then, when the Crusaders lost to 12-time champion Mendon in the Regional Finals, the Hornets assumed the status as favorites – while on the other side of the bracket, reigning runner-up Whiteford continued building a run historic both locally and statewide.

“Everybody kinda knew Muskegon (CC) was the favorite going in, and Mendon beating them, that was a big win,” Bobcats senior lineman Lucas Tesznar said. “But we knew what we had. We knew we were talented. We just had to play our game every game, and good things would happen.”

And they experienced the best Friday – the first MHSAA football championship in school history, with a 42-21 win over previously-undefeated Saginaw Nouvel to kick off the weekend at Ford Field.

Last year’s trip to the Division 8 Final was Whiteford’s first appearance in an MHSAA title game in this sport.

The Bobcats lost to MCC 35-6, but a year later left the field having scored 737 points this fall – tied for second most in one season with Beal City’s 2013 team – to average 52.6 per game, tied with the Aggies for ninth-most all-time.

Whiteford finished 14-0, winning all of its games by at least 16 points. It’s 27-1 over the last two seasons and 37-4 over the last three.

“Four years ago if you would’ve told me we were going to be in back-to-back states, and win it my senior year, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Tesznar said. “It wasn’t just us. It was the whole community. Everybody around us just pushed us to get better, and the support was non-stop. It was just amazing.”

Whiteford put nonstop pressure on Nouvel, starting with the opening kickoff – an onside bouncer recovered by Bobcats senior quarterback Thomas Eitniear, the first successful onside kick to open an MHSAA Final since Spring Lake succeeded against Jackson Lumen Christi in the 2000 Division 5 game.

Two plays later, Eitniear ran 37 yards to put his team on the board. By the end of the first quarter, junior Logan Murphy had added two running scores to push the Bobcats’ advantage to 20-0. Eitniear ran for another four minutes into the second quarter to make the score 28-0 and give Whiteford all of the offense it would need for the day.

The Bobcats gained 484 yards, with Eitniear running 10 times for 129 and three touchdowns and throwing for 143 on 7 of 11 passing. Murphy had 126 yards rushing and three scores as well.

They succeeded behind an all-senior line anchored by the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Tesznar. He was joined up front by Jordan Book, Jacob Lewis, Alex Kohler, Jarret Atherton and tight end Matthew Taylor.

“We work every day in practice, just to get better each and every day. But I’m not surprised … our o-line has worked as hard as they can all year,” Eitniear said. “That whole offense is all based on them. All of that is all them.”

Nouvel had a tougher time stopping the Bobcats’ attacking defense, which had 11 tackles for losses including four sacks by junior Ian Slick and two by Taylor. Whiteford didn’t allow more than 22 points in a game this season, an impressive feat that got lost a little behind all of the accomplishments on offense.

Senior Tate Hausbeck threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 11 of 26 passing for Nouvel (13-1), with senior Ken Kujawa catching both scoring tosses. Junior Joshua Kuligowski added a score on the ground. Senior Alex Wrobel led Nouvel with 14 tackles, and Kujawa had 10.

“All the looks we had out there were pretty much what we planned for. When you’re playing against a good football team, you’ve got to make some plays, try to find a way to make plays,” Nouvel coach Mike Boyd said. “I thought at times we moved the ball extremely well. I think probably when we reflect on things, we’ll see some opportunities that got away from us. They got a lot of pressure on Tate, and if we had more from a protection standpoint we might have had some big plays out there.” 

Whiteford coach Jason Mensing talked after of the support his program has received from various groups in the community since he and his staff took over six years ago – and how all of it has made a difference as the Bobcats have continued to rise.

On their way back to Detroit, they found what they needed to climb one step more and finish as the last Division 8 team standing.

“The chemistry this year was just so amazing. Everybody got along with each other, and it was just a family. I think that’s what put us over the top,” Tesznar said. “We put Whiteford on the map, and it’s amazing. I think we all wanted a little revenge on Muskegon, but this feels just as good winning the state title.”

Click for the full box score.

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Whiteford's Logan Murphy rumbles into the end zone for one of his two touchdowns Friday. (Middle) Bradyn Clark-Gilmore holds on to a catch as Nouvel's Ken Kujawa wraps him up.

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.)