By Randy Gregory,
Michigian Sports Radio
The last two times Rockford and Grandville squared off the games totaled five overtimes and narrow Rockford victories. When the teams met at Carlson-Munger Stadium in Rockford on Friday, November 5 in a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 District Championship tilt more of the same was expected. But this game was the antithesis of a nail-biter as Rockford dominated from start to finish on their way to a 38-7 win that advanced the team to the Regionals at home next week against Grand Blanc.
With the win the Rams now stand at 11-0 on the season while a solid Grandville team finished at 7-4 in a very successful season for a team that had major roster turnover from last year. Grand Blanc will also enter the battle with Rockford unblemished at 11-0. The Bobcats topped Howell 49-28 to punch their ticket to Regional play.
“I am so happy for this team,” said Rockford Coach Brent Cummings. “We had an awesome week of practice leading into this game and the excitement and intensity were off the charts leading into it. This was a great program win for Rockford from top to bottom. Our scout team was unbelievable this week and prepared us for what we were going to see from Grandville on offense, defense and special teams. And the jayvee kids who have joined us for the playoffs played very fast in practice and that also played a major part in our ability to execute tonight. Grandville has an excellent team and they are very well coached but our defensive staff from top to bottom was key in game planning for this one tonight. My Hats off to them.”
The game played in week four between these two teams featured a non-stop barrage of offense from both teams. Both squads had five consecutive scoring possessions at one point. But tonight would be a different story for the Rockford defense from the beginning. Grandville did manage to reach the Rockford five and fifteen yard lines on two separate occasions but were stymied on both occasions to remain scoreless until the game had only 21 seconds to play. The big plays that hurt Rockford in the first meeting never materialized in this game. At every juncture the Ram defense had an answer for whatever the Dawgs threw at them. While they did not force any turnovers, the Rams stopped Grandville on three different occasions when they went for it on fourth down. Jonathan Maat and Luke Vanderwiel led the Ram defense with 11 tackles apiece. Rick Beison and Colby Weston both chipped in with ten stops while Jack Lamancusa added eight.
“Our scout and jayvee teams gave us an incredible look at what Grandville was going to do tonight,” echoed Rockford Defensive Coordinator Randy VanderVeen. Our kids really bought into everything we coached them to do in practice this week. Particularly our defensive linemen who carried the play all night long. Kudos to Coach Bo Mercer who really had his troops ready to play. It was just a complete attitude adjustment that showed when you get off on the right foot and stay positive, great things can happen.”
The other overwhelming factor in the game was the speed and elusiveness of standout Rockford senior quarterback Zak Ahern. He exhibited both on the second offensive play of the game for Rockford. Starting on a sweep to the left Ahern turned up field and juked past a pair of defenders before turning on the jets and easily out-paced the Dawg secondary on the way to an 82-yard touchdown that ignited the huge home crowd and was a portent of what was to come all night long. Ahern carried the ball only 15 times but amassed 229 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson Burkholder added the first of his five perfect PATs to make it a 7-0 Ram lead just 4:12 into the game.
But Ahern was far from finished as he eventually had a hand in all five Rockford touchdowns. The next Ram possession began at their own 29. This drive featured 18 and 33-yard runs for Ahern and resulted in a one-yard plunge from him that made it a 14-0 game with 2:27 left in the opening quarter. The next Rockford drive reached all the way inside the Grandville one before an inopportune penalty forced the Rams to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Burkholder that made it a 17-0 game at the half.
Rockford received the second-half kickoff and wasted little time adding to their lead. This score came on a play that looked to be a sweep as Ahern tucked the ball while going wide right. But he deftly pulled up and lofted a perfectly thrown pass to Mac VandenHout for a 29-yard score that made it 24-0 at the 8:20 point of the third quarter. After forcing the ball to be turned back over on downs the Rams took only three plays to increase their lead. This time it was a series of fakes from Ahern that befuddled the Bulldog defense on a third and ten play from the Grandville 42. After the fakes Ahern sprinted past the line of scrimmage on the left side before veering right and again easily outpaced the Grandville defense for the 42-yard TD.
After forcing another Grandville punt on a three and out the Rams again added to the lead in relatively short order. Taking over at the Grandville 47, the Rams took only five plays to finish their scoring for the evening. On a first down and ten play from the Grandville 35, Ahern dropped back into a well-protected pocket and fired a slant pass to Leo Vanderwiel that he snagged in stride between two Grandville defensive backs. Never missing a beat, Vanderwiel took it all the way into the end zone to make it a 38-0 game with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter and set the running clock in motion.
Grandville finally got on the board in the waning seconds of the game against the Ram reserves to make it 38-7 Rockford. But it was far too little, far too late for the visitors.
Ahern was only 9 for 20 passing for 138 yards and the two TDs but was victimized by several drops by Ram receivers. Alex McLean had four catches for 23 yards while Leo Vanderwiel added three for 59 yards and a TD, and VandenHout had a pair of catches for 56 yards and a TD as well.
The Rams will play Grand Blanc on Saturday at 1:00 P.M.