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Defensive effort helps Constantine win fifth straight conference title

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

PARCHMENT — The tone of Friday night’s contest between Constantine and Parchment was set from the very first drive of the game.

On the third play of the game, a third and three for Parchment, a bad snap sailed over the head of the Panthers’ quarterback, eventually being picked up by the Falcons’ Josh Outlaw, who ran back the fumble for a touchdown.

The Falcons never looked back from that play, and their stifling defense only gave up a few first downs all game, as Constantine won its fifth straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championship – and fourth straight outright conference championship – with a 46-0 drubbing of Parchment.

“I wasn’t sure at the start of the year, especially after walking off Benton Harbor’s field, if we had what it took to come back, but hats off to our seniors who kind of pulled things together and made a great run,” Constantine head coach Shawn Griffith said about his team’s conference championship. “We’re happy to be where we are.”

With the win, Constantine moves to 8-1, and will be awaiting their destination in the MHSAA playoffs during Selection Sunday.

After the opening fumble recovery to go up 7-0, Constantine then forced a three-and-out on Parchment’s offense, and then put together a 67-yard drive on their first offensive drive of the game, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run by Rushawn James to put the Falcons up 14-0.

In the second quarter, the Falcons capped off a 75-yard drive that started just before the end of the first quarter with James scoring his second touchdown on the day from four yards out. The extra point was good to make it 21-0 with 8:38 to go in the second quarter.

The Falcons pulled off a surprise onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, recovering their own kick at midfield despite protests from the Parchment sideline, and on the very first play of the ensuing drive, Bennett VandenBerg found a hole in the Panther defense and sprinted 50 yards for another touchdown, putting the Falcons up comfortably 28-0 after the extra point. That would be the score going into the half.

On their first drive of the second half, Constantine would once again find paydirt, as Brandon Presswood found the end zone from 11 yards out on a touchdown rush to make it 34-0 after a two-point conversion attempt failed. The touchdown run was set up by a 19-yard scamper from VandenBerg early in the drive.

After snuffing out a fake punt by Parchment on fourth down on the Panthers’ ensuing possession, a 21-yard run by James eventually set up a four-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brody Jones, who found the edge on the left side to make it 40-0 after the extra point attempt failed.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons’ junior varsity players got in on some of the scoring action, as midway through the fourth quarter, running back Bear Geibe found the end zone from 13 yards out, getting mobbed by his teammates in the end zone. That was the final score of the game, which made it 46-0 after the extra point doinked off the left upright.

The JV players took over the final possession for the Falcons, eventually kneeling the ball out and beginning the celebration of another conference title for the program.

“It’s always a good feeling when you can get that many guys into a game and guys have success. Bear got his first varsity touchdown, and that’s always big,” Griffith said. “Our league has been very competitive, and we haven’t had a great opportunity to get a lot of our JVs and our young kids in, so it was nice tonight to finally get some of these guys in for some playing time.”

VandenBerg led the Falcons in rushing on the day, carrying the ball 13 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. James had 89 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, while Presswood had eight carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Jones was 1-for-2 passing for 17 yards to Presswood.

Griffith praised his team’s defense for their efforts in Friday’s match, the second shutout in a row pitched by the Falcons. Outlaw had two sacks on the day, VandenBerg had a sack and Caleb Bontrager had seven tackles to lead the team.

“It’s two shutouts in a row for us. We’ve come on strong, playing well. We’re doing a good job tackling right now, and we have to keep that up and get better if we’re planning on making a run in the playoffs,” Griffith said. “I think [the fumble recovery] did set the tone. When you’re playing in a big game like this, and it’s a big game because you have a chance to put a league championship away, and when Josh picks it up and takes it all the way to the house, it kind of takes a little bit of pressure off your offense, and you saw the defense picked it up more. I thought we did a great job the whole first half on keeping them from doing what they wanted to do.”

The No. 3 team in Division 6 will learn where they’ll be playing in the MHSAA playoffs Sunday at 6 p.m. on Bally Sports Detroit.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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