Zeeland West Rumbles to Another Title

November 27, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — The Zeeland West offensive machine was in good hands the last three seasons with Casey Brinks directing the attack.

The Dux’ senior quarterback brought two teams to Ford Field during his varsity career, and ended it Friday night helping hoist a second MHSAA championship trophy.

West scored its first of five touchdowns with 35 seconds left in the first quarter and didn't let up from there, pounding its way to a 40-14 victory over Flint Powers Catholic for a fourth championship in 10 years.

"That one (in 2013) was really fun, but this one to me is a lot better, just being a senior and it's my last year," Brinks said. "To end my football career playing on a state championship team in Ford Field is amazing."

Brinks was the starting quarterback as a sophomore when West won its last title, throwing for one touchdown and running for another in a 34-27 victory over DeWitt in the Division 3 championship game. He also led West to the Semifinal round a year ago.

Brinks was one of three Dux who played in the 2013 championship game, the others being running back Dakota Geurink and lineman Zach VanValkenburg. Geurink ran 14 times for 71 yards and a touchdown Friday. VanValkenburg had two sacks among three tackles for losses.

With his team facing fourth-and five near the end of the first quarter, fullback Darius Perisee scored on an 8-yard run for the opening touchdown and then added a 2-point conversion run. He was the top gainer for West's powerful T offense, finishing this season with 1,982 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing.

Brinks doesn't pass often but he was highly effective when he did. He finished 4 for 4 for 103 yards, with three straight completions on the team’s third possession. Tyler Thompson capped that drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, then added a 2-point run to make it 16-0 with 4:03 left in the second quarter.

Powers (11-3) drove to the West 18 late in the first half, only to be denied on the final play before halftime when Brinks picked off a pass in the end zone. He also had an interception in the third quarter, playing defense for only the second time this season.

"I played defense last week for the first time," said Brinks, who ran five times for 45 yards and a touchdown. "Otherwise, I didn't play defense. It was nice to play. Mostly in the playoffs, we've been playing running teams. We've played two passing teams the past two weeks."

West came into the game running the ball 94 percent of the time and averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Even though Powers knew what was coming, the Chargers were unable to stop the Dux’ power-running attack.

Powers did get a huge stop when Reese Morgan caught Brinks for no gain on fourth-and-three from the Chargers' 5-yard line on the first series of the game, but West went on to score on its next five drives before running out the final 3:55 on its final possession.

"It's just a very deceiving offense they run," Morgan said. "It's hard to know who has the ball."

The Chargers nearly turned the momentum from that first defensive stop into a scoring drive of their own, marching down to West's 14-yard line on their first possession. On fourth-and-one, however, quarterback Noah Sargent came up inches short of a first down with 4:53 left in the first quarter.

"That was tough, but you can't say we lost the game on one play," said Sargent, who ran 17 times for 89 yards and a touchdown while going 12 for 19 for 158 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions through the air. "You've got to play the whole game."

Powers got on the board on the first possession of the second half, scoring on a 15-yard run by Sargent, but a 2-point run by Morgan was stopped by Riley Brinks. With West cashing in on all five of its 2-point conversion tries, the Chargers couldn't afford to miss theirs.

West (14-0) responded with a 13-play, 80-yard march that ended on a 4-yard run by Geurink with 3:14 to go in the third quarter. Following Casey Brinks' second interception, West built its lead to 32-6 on a 2-yard run by Thompson with 10:36 to go in the game.

Luke Brcic caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Sargent and threw a 2-point conversion to Morgan with 7:28 remaining, getting Powers within 32-14, but Aaron Sleeman recovered the onside kick for the Dux.

Four plays later, West capped the scoring on a 39-yard run by Casey Brinks and Perisee's third 2-point run with 5:13 remaining.

Geurink picked off a pass with 3:55 remaining, and West was able to run out the rest of the clock and celebrate another championship.

"We've won four," West coach John Shillito said. "They're all different, but this one might have been the most complete on both sides of the ball. It's maybe not the deepest team, because we were playing a lot of guys two ways. I looked out there and we looked a little tired at times, because it's warm in here. It's maybe not the deepest (team), but the guys on the field were probably the best we've had."

West was able to score 40 points against a Powers team that had a school-record six shutouts, allowing only 21 points over its first four playoff games.

"I really just figured we had to score every time we had the ball, because no one has really stopped them all year," Powers coach Bob Buckel said. "Playing them, you start doing things you're uncomfortable doing, because you don't want to turn the ball over to them." 

Thompson ran 16 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns to lead a West ground attack that had 318 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries.

Matt Wiskur caught five passes for 70 yards, while Morgan ran 13 times for 61 yards for Powers. Both of them had brothers on the Chargers' 2011 Division 5 championship team. 

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Darius Perisee breaks free for yardage in leading the Zeeland West rushing attack Friday. (Middle) The Dux hoist a championship trophy for the second time in three seasons.

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.)