Commercial-News, Penny Saver, & Sturgis Sentinel Sports

Constantine comes out on top of Schoolcraft in clash of top-4 schools

Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg carries the ball for a big gain in the second half of Friday’s 27-21 win by the Falcons over Schoolcraft. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

Story updated 2:36 a.m. Sept. 17, 2023

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

CONSTANTINE — A game between Constantine and Schoolcraft can reasonably be expected to be a physical matchup every single year.

This year’s edition, held at Constantine’s Sweetland Stadium between two teams ranked in the top four of their respective divisions, lived up to those expectations and then some, with the home Falcons coming out on top in a 27-21 nail-biter.

“You don’t ever apologize for beating Schoolcraft. That’s a huge win. Their kids came to play, our kids came to play,” Constantine Head Coach Shawn Griffith said. “I have to give Schoolcraft credit; their kids kept battling and coming back.”

With the win, Constantine, ranked No. 4 in Division 6 coming into Friday’s matchup, moves to 3-1 on the season, while Schoolcraft, ranked No. 4 in Division 7 coming in, drops their record to 3-1.

Constantine came out firing on all cylinders, recovering a squib kick on their opening kickoff that bounced off of a Schoolcraft returner and put the Falcons in good field position at Schoolcraft’s 31. Seven plays later, junior running back Rushawn James found the end zone on a two-yard rush to make it 7-0 Falcons after the extra point.

After forcing a turnover on downs on four plays in Schoolcraft’s first possession, Constantine drove the ball all the way down to Schoolcraft’s 13-yard line, only to be thwarted by Schoolcraft’s defense when a fourth-and-four run by junior running back Brendan Presswood went nowhere to start the second quarter.

Constantine’s defense stayed with it, despite an unnecessary roughness penalty, and forced Schoolcraft to punt. However, the snap went over the head of Schoolcraft’s punter, once again giving the Falcons good field position at the Eagles’ 29.

Three rushes for 25 yards by senior tight end Bennett VandenBerg set up quarterback Brody Jones for a one-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 14-0 with 4:33 to go in the first half.

Schoolcraft running back Isaac Noora (20) reaches toward the pylon for a touchdown in the first half of Constantine’s 27-21 win over the Eagles Friday. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

Schoolcraft would get things going on offense after that point. Two back-to-back big runs to start their next drive – an 18-yard gain by Kolby Lloyd and a 23-yard run by Isaac Noora – set up a four-yard touchdown carry by Noora five plays later with a dive to the pylon to put the Eagles on the board, with Constantine still holding onto a 14-7 lead.

With less than a minute to go in the half, Constantine drove down the field all the way to the Schoolcraft 10-yard line, aided by a 23-yard rush by James plus a Schoolcraft penalty, but a field goal attempt with one second left doinked off the left upright, making the score 14-7 Constantine at the half.

Constantine cornerback Cooper Juday (20) intercepts a pass in the second half of Friday’s 27-21 win by the Falcons over Schoolcraft. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

Constantine turned the ball over on the second play of the third quarter when Isaac Moore fumbled, with Schoolcraft recovering at Constantine’s 48. Schoolcraft attempted to go deep five plays later, but the pass by the Eagles’ senior quarterback Ryan Ling was intercepted by Constantine’s junior cornerback Cooper Juday to give the Falcons the ball back deep in their own territory.

The next drive started what eventually became the Bennett VandenBerg show on offense, as the tight end got the majority of the carries for the Falcons in the second half. After being backed up to a first-and-19 after a holding penalty five plays into the drive, VandenBerg got the first down on the next play and then some, gaining 43 yards all the way down to the Schoolcraft 34. Five plays later, after he gained another eight yards on two of those plays, he would cap it off with an 11-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 21-7 lead with 2:13 to go in the third quarter.

Schoolcraft would not go quietly down by 14, though. Five plays into the next drive at the Constantine 45, Ling was flushed out to the left, scampered back to the right and found just enough daylight down the right sideline to score on a big touchdown run to bring the Eagles back within seven, 21-14, which would remain the score after the third quarter.

VandenBerg would score on a three-yard touchdown run on the next drive, which he helped set up thanks to a 20-yard run earlier in that drive, to give Constantine its final points of the game, putting them up 27-14 after the extra point was missed wide left.

A couple of deep passes helped Schoolcraft on their next possession, carving the Falcons defense through the air, highlighted by a 40-yard deep pass to Lloyd. They would score four plays later when Ling found junior wideout Jimmy Miller in the end zone for a 15-yard strike to make it 27-21 after the extra point with just over five minutes left.

However, Constantine made sure the Eagles wouldn’t get the ball back, as Schoolcraft got all VandenBerg all the time, bleeding the clock with three first downs, and ending the game in victory formation to give the Falcons a hard-fought win.

VandenBerg led all Falcons in rushing, carrying the ball 23 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns on the day. Griffith said he made the switch to give him the ball more after the final drive of the first half, which ended on the doinked field goal.

“Our backs are on the smaller end, so we made the switch to put Bennett in the backfield,” Griffith said. “We talked about it at halftime, let’s get him back there. Our drive just before the half, our field goal attempt that was doinked, that drive I think showed us going in that we had something there. That was huge for us, and I thought our line really came up big and played great up front.”

Constantine running back Rushawn James (1) carries the ball in the first half of Friday’s 27-21 win by the Falcons over Schoolcraft. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

James had 13 rushes for 75 yards and a touchdown, while Presswood had 10 carries for 55 yards, Moore had eight carries for 19 yards, and Jones added six carries for six yards and a touchdown. Constantine had 332 yards of offense on the day, all on the ground, compared to Schoolcraft’s 215 total yards. The Falcons were a nice 6-for-9 on third downs, and 2-for-3 on fourth downs.

Defensively, VandenBerg led the way with six total tackles, with Cohen McGee adding five, and Caleb Bontrager adding four, including one for a loss. Juday had the lone interception on the day.

Looking ahead, Griffith said he’s concentrating on getting the team ready for Watervliet at home next Friday for their homecoming matchup.

“We’ve got a little ways to go, but you don’t want to be as good as you’re going to be in game four of the season,” Griffith said. “We’re concentrating on getting ourselves better and coming out next week, homecoming next week against Watervliet. Hats off to Schoolcraft, that’s a good football team right there.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

Constantine students celebrate on the field with the Falcons players following their 27-21 win over Schoolcraft Friday. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

Leave a Reply