Rockford methodically eases past Grand Ledge in playoff opener 40-7
In a game that bore more than a passing resemblance to Rockford’s final regular season game at Grand Haven last week, Rockford defeated Grand Ledge 40-7 at Carlson-Munger Stadium in Rockford on Friday, October 29. Once again the Rams jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead before stalling for a bit and finding themselves ahead only 21-7 at the half. But on this occasion Rockford quickly assumed control in the third quarter while scoring 19 second half points and allowing none to claim the victory and advance to the District Finals and round two against bitter rival Grandville.
The Ram game plan coming in was to pound the Comets on the ground and that was exactly how it played out. The rushing attack was fueled by the Ahern brothers for the Rams. Senior quarterback Zak Ahern ran for 143 yards on 17 carries while sophomore running back Ryan Ahern pounded his way to 58 yards on 15 attempts. Both brothers had a pair of TDs on the ground as well. Zak scored from 15 and four yards while Ryan reached the end zone on runs of five and one yard.
“The wind made it difficult to throw the ball tonight and we thought we could have some success on the ground against them after watching the films as well,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “Our success was a team effort from the offensive line and the backs as well. The kids were fired up for the first playoff game and played with great effort and determination tonight. We also brought up quite a few of the jayvee players for the playoffs and they really bring a whole new level of enthusiasm to every practice and that translates to even bigger efforts from the varsity kids.”
Rockford got on the board first after Grand Ledge went for it on fourth and eight from their own 48. The attempt was stuffed for a ten-yard loss and Rockford took possession at the Comet 38. Seven plays later it was Ryan Ahern going in from five-yards out up the middle and it was a 7-0 Ram lead after the first of five successful conversions from Jackson Burkholder. After a quick three and out from Grand Ledge the Rams took possession at their own 44. Four plays later it was a 14-0 Rockford lead. This time it was a beautifully executed inside screen pass from Zak Ahern to Alex McLean. McLean made one cut and went 23 yards untouched into the end zone to make it a two-score game with 2:56 left in the opening quarter.
The Comets again went for a first down early in the second quarter when facing a fourth down and one from their own 40. This time the play was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Rams again had a short field to navigate. Once again it was Ryan Ahern who capped off the six-play drive with a one-yard plunge at the 8:59 mark of the second quarter to make it a 21-0 game.
Grand Ledge showed they would not go down without a fight on their next possession as they marched 80 yards to get on the scoreboard. Once again they went for it on a fourth down, but this time it was in Rockford territory on fourth down and 14 from the 42. And they finally converted on a 29-yard pass play to get to the Ram 13. The scoring play was a jet sweep left on a third down and eight from the 11-yard line.
By all appearances Rockford scored on the final play of the half when Zak Ahern scrambled left, dove for and touched the pylon. But the official ruled otherwise and the game stayed as a 21-7 Rockford lead at the half. Grand Ledge attempted an onside kick to begin the second half but the Rams recovered. They were unable to take advantage of the great field position but a great punt from Zak Ahern pinned the Comets at their own six and set the stage for a huge momentum boost for the Rams.
Three plays lost two yards and the Comets were pinned against the back of the end zone to punt. Jack Lamancusa then made the special teams play of the game for the Rams as he blocked the punt and it went straight up in the air before being knocked out of bounds by the Comets for a safety. Rockford then got a great return from McLean after the free kick to begin their drive at the Comet 40. This time it was capped off by a four-yard scamper from Zak Ahern as he extended the ball into the end zone for the score. That made it 30-7 and pretty much salted the game away for Rockford with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
Ahern finished off the Ram touchdown parade with a 15-yard jaunt around the right side while juking a defender at the three and going in untouched to make it 37-7 with 8:17 left in the game. Burkholder would later nail a 33-yard field goal right down the middle to make it a 40-7 game. That score was set up by an interception and long return from Jonathan Maat for the Rams.
Zak Ahern was only 5-9 passing for 64 yards and a touchdown. McLean was the only receiver for Rockford with two receptions that totaled 28 yards. Lamancusa led the defensive effort for Rockford with 8 tackles. Luke VanderWiel chipped in with seven and Rick Beison, Andrew Kalczuk, Tyler Hoek and Andrew Griffin all added six tackles as well.
Rockford now sits at 10-0 on the season and will stay at home for the District finals next week. The opponent will be a talented squad from Grandville who gave Rockford their stiffest test of the season before falling 53-46 in double overtime earlier this year. Both teams went up and down the field with little resistance in an offensive showcase that was run at a break neck pace with big play after big play for both teams.
These two teams have met three times in the last two years with Rockford prevailing on every occasion, including a pair of multiple overtime contests. At one point this season the Bulldogs were 1-3 but they have reeled off six straight wins in overwhelming fashion, save for a tightly contested affair against Hudsonville.
KIckoff is slated for 7:00 P.M. at Carlson-Munger Stadium in Rockford on Friday, November 5. Both teams will bring sizable followings to the contest so plan on arriving early.