By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Rockford fans could not be blamed for feeling a touch uneasy at halftime of the Rockford versus Jenison game at Jenison on Friday, October 1. For the third consecutive week it appeared that the Rams would be involved in a contest that was going to come down to the wire with Rockford holding a tenuous 24-17 lead at the break.
But then came the second half and the Wildcats ran into a buzzsaw as Rockford scored four unanswered touchdowns in very short possessions to cruise to the 52-17 victory. That offensive explosion was combined with a stalwart effort from the defense that completely stifled a Jenison offense that rolled up over 200 yards in the first half and scored on their final three possessions to even the score temporarily just before the half at 17-17.
“We made some adjustments at the half defensively and the kids responded incredibly well,” said Rockford defensive coordinator Randy VanderVeen. “It all comes back to how you execute the scheme and the kids showed great pride and determination to achieve those results. We are very proud of them as a unit.”
Senior quarterback Zak Ahern had a game for the ages for the Rockford offense. It has become commonplace to see Ahern rack up big numbers via the potent ground and air attack the Rams feature. But this one was something special as Ahern accounted for an incredible 518 yards of offense and six touchdowns. The rushing numbers were somewhat pedestrian for Ahern as he ran the ball eleven times for 120 yards and a pair of scores. But the passing numbers were undoubtedly the most prolific Ahern has posted over the last two seasons while piloting the Rockford offense. Ahern was 16 for 17 passing for 398 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, junior quarterback Mac VandenHout ran the team for a single possession and went three for four for 38 yards while rushing the ball for 51 yards on five carries and a rushing TD.
Rockford amassed a remarkable 653 yards of offense with 436 coming via the pass and 217 on the ground. To put things in an even better perspective, Rockford had seven TDs and a field goal on their first eight possessions and the only time they failed to score came when they took a knee on their final possession. Rockford also never punted a single time as they marched up and down the field against the Wildcats.
“We felt coming into the game that with some of the looks Jenison presents defensively we would have success throwing the ball,” said Rockford Coach Brent Cummings. “What you saw tonight was Zak (Ahern) showing even more growth as a quarterback. He works every day to become a better quarterback and what you saw tonight was evidence that his hard work is being rewarded.”
Rockford stopped Jenison on their opening drive of the game to set the stage for an unrelenting Rockford offense to never surrender the lead before a full house on the road. Rockford’s first score came on a screen pass to Alex McLean that saw the junior slot receiver catch the ball before cutting all the way back across the field into the end zone for the 35-yard TD. Jackson Burkholder added the first of his seven consecutive conversions to give Rockford a 7-0 lead at the 7:01 mark of the opening quarter.
Jenison answered with a common refrain in the opening half as they marched to the Rockford 7 before having to settle for a 25-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game with 1:34 left in quarter number one. Jenison converted several third and long plays as well as a fourth and ten to capitalize with the field goal against a struggling Ram defense.
Rockford pushed the lead back to 10-3 on their next possession as Burkholder nailed a 27-yarder with 11:15 remaining in the first half. That marked the only Ram possession that failed to result in a touchdown all game long. Jenison quickly knotted things up at 10-10 on their next possession as a tipped pass was neatly corralled into the hands of a Wildcat receiver with 8:57 left in the half.
But that tie lasted exactly four plays as Ahern ripped off a 65-yard TD jaunt down the left sideline to give the Rams a 17-10 lead. As soon as Ahern gained the edge he shifted into high gear and easily out-raced the Jenison secondary to the end zone. But the Wildcats again marched the length of the field to knot things up again at 17-17. And once again they exhibited the ability to convert multiple third and longs before scoring the tying touchdown on a 13-yard scramble.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats they left 1:40 on the clock for Rockford to retake the lead. Starting from their own 20, Ahern completed passes of 30 yards to McLean and 41 yards to Leo Vanderwiel along with a pair of runs to quickly get to the Jenison five. Despite getting flagged for a holding penalty that set the Rams back ten yards, Ahern again did the honors on a one-yard stretch across the goal line to push the Rams back into a 24-17 lead with only 17 seconds left in the half.
The third stanza featured an offensive outburst that was both beautiful and decisive for Rockford. The Rams took over at their own 20 to begin the second half. After a run gained nothing, Ahern dropped back deep into the backfield and unleashed a deep pass to senior wide receiver Tyler Vroman. Vroman never broke stride and the pass dropped neatly into his hands as he raced the final 40 yards untouched to increase the Rockford lead to 31-17 with only 43 seconds off the clock in the third quarter.
After the resurgent Ram defense forced a Jenison punt the Rams quickly made it a 21-point game. This time it was a 22-yard strike to McLean deep in the left side of the end zone. This drive began at their own eight and took only six plays. Three plays and another Jenison punt later the unstoppable Ram offense again added to the lead. The drive also took only six plays to cover the 56 yards to the Wildcat end zone. This one was also through the air as Ahern and Vroman again teamed up for the score. Ahern rolled to his right and lofted a short pass to Vroman down the sideline. Vroman gathered it in and broke a pair of tackles before high-stepping his way into the end zone to make it a 45-17 game with 1:44 to play in the third.
Austin Harvey intercepted a pass for the Rams at the Rockford 10 to begin the next scoring drive for Rockford. Vandenhout took over as the quarterback for the Rams on this drive and exhibited the talents he brings to the table for the Rams in executing the 90-yard scoring drive. VandenHout did the honors himself as he took off over the left side and broke several tackles before crossing the goal line for the Rams. This TD came with 5:38 to play and made it a 52-17 game and capped off the scoring for the night for both teams as the running clock was set in motion.
The Rams receiving corps was led by McLean with eight catches for 122 yards and a pair of TDs. Vroman had four receptions for 160 yards and a pair of scores as well. Leo Vanderwiel never crossed the goal line but also had three catches for 122 yards. Jack Lamancusa
led the Rockford defense with 12 tackles while Thys Segard added eight. Luke Vanderwiel, Rick Beison and Sam Watts added 8, 7 and seven tackles respectively for Rockford.
With the win the Rams move to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in OK Red play. Jenison fell to 1-5 and 0-4 in conference play. This sets the stage for the game of the year in the OK Red next week. Rockford will host fellow unbeaten conference foe Caledonia at Carlson-Munger Stadium on Friday, October 8 at 7:00 P.M.