Zeeland West Puts 'T' in 3rd MHSAA Title

November 30, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — Danny Bauder would rather trade touches for trophies. 

In most other offenses, a player of Bauder's ability would be a featured running back. What team wouldn't want to keep feeding the rock to a kid who ran for 1,796 yards and 28 touchdowns this season?

Bauder did all of that damage, despite the fact he shares the load in the shell game that is Zeeland West's run-oriented Wing-T offense. 

He once again had maximum impact on minimal carries, running eight times for 144 yards and a touchdown in West's 34-27 victory over DeWitt in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game Saturday at Ford Field.

Two teammates had more carries than Bauder, as the Dux rolled up 441 rushing yards on 66 carries. Cole Hession had 26 carries for 122 yards, quarterback Casey Brinks had 11 carries for 66 yards and Grant Postma had six carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns. 

They all shared in the same accomplishment with their teammates — West's third MHSAA title in the nine-year history of the school. The Dux (13-1) were Division 4 champions in 2006 and 2011.

"I love (our offense), because everyone has a chance to get the ball," said Bauder, who got things rolling with an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. "We have three backs. We rotate them like every other drive. It's a good team offense. It's a team. I don't mind, just as long as we win." 

Led by its ground attack, West appeared to be on the verge of running away with this one, building a 28-7 halftime lead.

The Panthers wouldn't allow the Dux to coast to the championship that easily, however. 

A 56-yard touchdown run by Chris Ruby and a 29-yard scoring strike from Jake Johnson to Josh Borta in a 72-second span got DeWitt within 28-20 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.

West responded with a 25-yard touchdown run by Brinks with 2:57 to go in the third, but an offense that averaged 48.9 points per game coming into the contest wouldn't score again. Junior defensive back Ben Zamiara led DeWitt's defensive charge with a game-high 20 tackles, 11 more than anyone else on either team. The Panthers held West to 1-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. 

"I'm pretty sore right now," Hession said. "This is one of the games I've come out of the most sore. I can feel it right now, and my adrenaline is still rushing. Props to them, because they came out and they had three or four series where they stopped us on fourth down. Not many teams can do that. They're just good."

DeWitt closed the deficit to seven points when Johnson rolled left and hit a wide-open Borta for a 75-yard touchdown with 4:25 left in the game. 

The Panthers' offense would watch the rest of the game on the sidelines. The Dux milked some clock by getting two first downs before dropping back to punt from its own 48 for the only time in the game. Postma barely got off the punt, but was knocked to the ground when a DeWitt defender caught him on the leg while going for a block. West retained the ball, running out the remaining 32 seconds by taking a knee one time.

"Our punter was already hurt," West coach John Shillito said. "He was on one leg. So, it was a great effort by Grant to get the ball off and it was a break for us. We knew the game was over. You knew that all you had to do was take a knee." 

DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman said going for the block was a risk the Panthers had to take, given the time on the clock and the potential field position.

"If they punt and pin us down at the 10, that's a long way to go," Zimmerman said. "We went for it. Obviously, it didn't turn out in our favor. You have to take chances when you're in that situation." 

DeWitt tried in vain to play catch-up all night after falling behind 8-0 when Bauder took the ball around the left side of the Dux line and broke into the clear for an 80-yard touchdown just 45 seconds into the game. West, which attempted (and missed) only one extra-point kick all year, got two points on a pass from Brinks to Zach Poppema.

West scored on four of its five possessions in the first half, failing only on its second series when a fourth-and-five run from the DeWitt 13 came up a yard short. 

The Dux shook off that temporary setback and scored on a 7-yard pass from Brinks to Hession on the first play of the second quarter. Hession ran for the 2-point conversion to make it 16-0.

Following a fumble at the West 49, the Dux took a 22-0 lead on an 18-yard run up the middle by Postma with 6:45 left in the first half. Brinks' conversion run failed. 

DeWitt (13-1) finally put a drive together and got back in the game on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Justice Shankel with 3:15 left in the first half. Cameron West's extra point made it a 22-7 game.

The Dux didn't get away from their ground game with time winding down in the first half, throwing only one pass on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that yielded a 12-yard touchdown run by Postma with 1:04 to go in the half. Postma's 2-point run failed, resulting in a 28-7 halftime lead for West. 

"We dug ourselves too deep a hole," Zimmerman said. "I felt if we got one more possession, we had a shot."

Johnson, a junior, was 15 for 24 passing for 289 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for DeWitt. Brinks was 3 for 5 for 35 yards and a touchdown for West. 

Borta grabbed five passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Zeeland West running back Danny Bauder scampers ahead during Saturday's Division 3 Final. (Middle) DeWitt quarterback Jake Johnson tries to pull away from a Dux defender's grasp. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos).

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.)