By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Photo courtesy of Miles Postema. Check out pictures of the game here: https://milespostema.smugmug.com/Rockford-Sports/2021-09-17-Rockford-vs-Grandville/
If you made the trek to Grandville on Friday, September 17 expecting to see a hard-hitting defensive affair between Rockford and the host Bulldogs you left sorely disappointed. But alternatively, if you came to watch offensive explosions from both teams you were spellbound watching both teams traverse the field time after time. In the end though a Ram defense that had been shredded all night long made a stop in the second overtime to help Rockford eke out a a 53-46 win in double overtime.
At one point in the second half and OT the Dawgs scored TDs on five consecutive possessions on their way to amassing an incredible 456 yards on the night. Their running back (Cade Pilzuk) ran for 301 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries for the contest. Rockford also had a streak of a field goal followed by four consecutive TDs as they built a late 40-28 lead that almost fell by the wayside in the final 18 seconds.
“Grandville surprised us tonight with a great counter attack offense,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “When you get a rivalry game like this one always is, both teams are going to give it all they have. Grandville is a very physical football team and they took it to us at times tonight on the ground.”
Rockford totaled only 316 yards offensively for the night but they nearly always found themselves with a short field to drive as they continuously returned kickoffs for big yardage or stopped squib kicks north of their own 40. The Dawgs had TD drives covering 87, 80, 79, 83 and 92 yards as well as returning the opening kickoff for a score. Thanks to the outstanding return game of the Rams their longest drive of the night covered only 69 yards. Rockford had returns covering 48, 36 and 30 yards when the Bulldogs dared kick it deep.
The game began with a bang for Grandville as they brought the opening kickoff all the way for a touchdown to take a quick 8-0 lead following the two-point conversion at the 11:47 point of the opening quarter. That portended another statistical oddity as the Bulldogs scored on the opening play of the first, second and fourth quarters as part of their offensive onslaught.
Rockford wasted no time in answering however as they used only eight plays before Zak Ahern burst in from nine yards out to make it an 8-7 contest following the first of Jackson Burkholder’s six conversions. Ahern had yet another huge game for Rockford as he ran for five touchdowns and passed for a sixth. Grandville spread the field defensively in an effort to nullify Ahern’s propensity for gashing defenses for chunk plays. They were somewhat successful in keeping the big plays to a minimum but when the opportunity presented itself for Ahern to exploit what was available, he took it time after time.
Rockford appeared ready to assume control following that score as Jonathan Maat sacked the Dawg QB in the end zone for a safety on their next possession. That gave Rockford a 9-8 lead but they were unable to increase that any further as they came up empty despite taking over at the Dawg 41 following the free kick. That began the opening of the flood gates for both offenses as first Grandville scored on a 58-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.
Rockford quickly cut the lead to 14-12 as Burkholder boomed a 38-yard field goal through the uprights at the 8:29 mark of quarter number two. After a forced punt on Grandville’s next possession, Ahern again scored from 11 yards out over the left side to make it a 19-14 Ram lead with 1:07 left in the opening half.
Rockford received the kickoff to open the third quarter and the seesaw continuously tilted from side to side as the two offenses assumed total command of the contest. First it was Ahern on a 21-yard TD pass to Alex McLean down the right sideline. McLean made a few sparkling moves and tiptoed his way in to the end zone to give Rockford a 26-14 lead. But another long (70 yards) TD run from Grandville made it a 26-21 game. Ahern made several excellent moves on a 19-yard scoring run down the right sideline that made the score 33-21 Rockford with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
Grandville wasted no time responding again as they countered with a 37-yard TD run on the opening play of the final quarter to make it 33-28. It was then Rockford’s turn to build the lead back to 12 as they dipped into their bag of tricks. Facing a third down and goal from the Grandville 12, Ahern took the shotgun snap and quickly lateraled the ball into the flat to Mac Vandenhout. Vandenhout also doubles as the backup QB for the Rams. That was immediately apparent to the Dawg defenders as Vandenhout quickly planted his feet and fired a TD pass to a wide open Tyler Vroman for the score to make it a 40-28 Rockford lead with 7:21 left in the contest.
But Grandville again refused to fold as they scored another TD to make it 40-34 with 2:44 remaining in regulation. The score stayed there due to a huge play by the Ram special teams as Kade Kostus broke through the line to smother the point after attempt. Grandville then proceeded to burn all three of their time outs and left Rockford with a huge decision facing a fourth down and three from midfield. Rockford opted to punt and it looked like a great decision as Ahern pinned the Dawgs at their own eight with no time outs and only 2:10 to play.
But fifteen plays later the game was knotted up at 40-40 following a two-yard TD pass with 18 seconds remaining and the home crowd was in a state of delirium as they sensed the upset. But their hopes were dashed when the PAT missed well left and the game remained at a 40-40 tie. Vandenhout nearly ended the game when he burst through a hole on the return and brought it all the way back to the Grandville 37. But two passes fluttered harmlessly to the turf and the game headed to overtime.
Grandville got possession first and used three plays to cover the ten yards and take a 46-40 lead. The try for two was thwarted by the Ram defense and the score remained the same as Rockford took possession at the Grandville 10-yard line. Ahern did the honors from a yard out to knot things up at 46-46 and this time it was Rockford looking at a chance to win it with a successful conversion. But following a Grandville timeout the kick sailed just wide to the right and the game was headed to a second extra session.
Rockford had possession first this time and it was again Ahern who scored from a yard out on a third and goal snap. This time the conversion easily split the uprights and it was a 53-46 Rockford lead as Grandville took over. After netting 2 and zero yards on their first two plays, an incomplete pass made it fourth and eight. Grandville’s QB took the snap and rolled to his right under heavy pressure from several Ram defenders. Despite appearing to be several yards over the line of scrimmage when he launched his desperation pass, the ball fluttered harmlessly to the turf and this time it was the Rockford fans, team and coaches who took the opportunity to erupt into a cacophony of celebration in a hard fought and earned victory.
“We were able to exploit the middle of the Grandville defense over the course of the game due to a really good effort from Ryan Ahern tonight,” said Cummings. “It was really nice to watch him pound his way through the middle for extra yardage play after play. And we do have to give credit to our defense for coming up big on that final Grandville drive.”
Zak Ahern was 11-20 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown while Vandenhout was 1-1 for 12 yards and a TD as well. McLean had five receptions for 71 yards and a score while Vroman chipped in with 58 yards on three catches and a TD. The Ahern brothers were almost perfectly divided in the ground game for the Rams. Zak Ahern had 73 yards on 22 carries with five touchdowns while Ryan had 72 on 14 rushes. The Rams were led defensively by Jonathan Maat with 12 tackles and Tyler Hoek with 11. Luke Vanderwiel, Camden Whyte and Rick Beison all pitched in with seven and Jack Lamancusa added five.
The win moved Rockford’s record to 4-0 on the season while Grandville fell to 1-3 following the loss. The Rams will return to the friendly confines of Carlson-Munger Stadium for another huge rivalry game next week Friday, September 27 when they host Hudsonville. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 P.M. and another huge crowd is anticipated.