By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
In a Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 Regional held at Carlson-Munger Stadium in Rockford on Saturday, November 13, two undefeated teams went head-to-head in a game that came down to the final conversion attempt with less than one minute to play. Grand Blanc and Rockford had traded touchdowns and conversions for an entire afternoon with the Bobcats always being the first to score. 7-7 went to 14-14 then to 21-21 before a Bobcat score with 3:41 left in the game made it a 28-21 game. Unfazed, Rockford senior standout QB Zak Ahern calmly took the field and led the Rams quickly down the field before scoring from 12-yards out on a quarterback draw down the left side with 55 seconds to play.
That made it a 28-27 game and set the stage for one of those coaching decisions that few would want to be the ultimate decision maker for. After huddling ever so briefly on the sidelines, Rockford Coach Brent Cummings opted for the surprise and went for broke. The ball was direct snapped to the kicker who rolled left and tried to loft a pass to a receiver that fell to the turf incomplete. The score remained 28-27 and after an unsuccessful onside kick the Bobcats ran out the clock for the win and a trip to the state semifinals.
Grand Blanc Coach Clint Alexander intimated in his post-game comments that they were conceding the extra point kick and were on high alert for a fake and two-point try. But Cummings was direct and honest with his thoughts at the conclusion of the game.
“The coaching staff was very confident and the kids were really excited about the call,” said Cummings. “But it did not work out and sometimes that is how things happen. I am so proud of these kids, and especially these seniors. I wish we had a little bit longer to work with them but that isn’t going to happen unfortunately. There are just so many things to be proud about of the accomplishments of this team over the course of this season.”
With the win Grand Blanc continues onto the semifinals with a 12-0 record where they will square off with another 12-0 team in Rochester Adams. The loss leaves the Rams with an 11-1 mark and concludes a remarkable campaign that saw the Rams defeat three other teams that advance to regional play and claim an always difficult OK Red at 7-0. Over the past two seasons the Rams have gone 19-2 and advanced to a semifinal and the equivalent of a quarterfinal.
For the game the Bobcats outgained Rockford 378 yards to 325. Bobcat quarterback Hunter Ames was 21-31 for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Elijah Jackson-Anderson led the rushing attack with 85 yards on 20 carries and a pair of TDs. Zak Ahern concluded a remarkable senior season at quarterback for Rockford with another performance that has almost become ho hum for those that have followed the Rams for the last two seasons. Ahern had 22 carries for 85 yards and all four touchdowns for Rockford. He also went 14 for 26 passing for 228 yards. Alex McLean led the receiving corps with six catches for 116 yards. Leo Vanderwiel added 63 on three receptions and Mc VandenHout had 28 on three catches as well. Defensively the Rams were led by sophomore Ryan Ahern with 12 tackles, while juniors Rick Beison and Colby Weston added 10 and 9 respectively. Senior Jack Lamancusa chipped in with six.
Grand Blanc got on the scoreboard first with a five-yard TD run in the first quarter on their opening drive at the 8:13 mark. They were unable to capitalize on a subsequent interception and Rockford knotted things up at 7-7 on a four-yard Zak Ahern TD run over the left side at the 9:52 point of the second quarter.
Grand Blanc jumped back on top after a 54-yard TD pass on the subsequent possession to make it 14-7 with 7:40 left in the half. Rockford later recovered a Bobcat fumble late in the first half but the Rams were also unable to capitalize on the turnover. The two teams went to the locker room with Grand Blanc holding a 14-7 edge.
Zak Ahern would tie things up for Rockford on their second possession of the third quarter on a bruising seven-yard run at the 5:09 point of quarter number three. Ahern first drew contact around the three but battled his way into the end zone through multiple defenders on an effort that encompassed his determination all afternoon. That made the score 14 to 14.
Grand Blanc went back up 21-14 on the next possession. Facing a third down and two at the Ram 15, a pass into the flat was caught at the ten but a missed tackle allowed the receiver to make his way into the end zone. It was 21-14 Grand Blanc at that juncture with 2:23 left in the third stanza. Following a scintillating 48-yard kickoff return from McLean, the Rams wasted no time tying things back up. After completing a 44-yard pass to Vanderwiel on the second play of the drive, Ahern went in from the two to make it 21-21 on the first play of the final quarter.
Grand Blanc then proceeded to eat up a sizeable amount of the fourth quarter as they incurred multiple penalties (four to be exact) before finally being forced to punt from their own 49. Then came a play that does not go into the books as a turnover but was a huge factor in the final outcome. The Bobcat punt was a low line drive that skidded and bounced crazily along the ground before caroming off the Ram returner and being recovered by the Bobcats at the Rockford 15. Grand Blanc appeared to be forced to settle for a medium length field goal before an incredible third and 17 finger tip catch set them up at the Ram one-yard line. Two play later, Jackson-Anderson scored for the second time from five to make it 28-21 with only 3:41 left in the contest.
But Ahern wasted little time coming up with his retort as he quickly marched the Rams in for the tying score. He completed passes of 8, 20, 13 and ten yards to set the Rams up at the Bobcat 12. That was the precursor to the aforementioned score that set the stage for the ending of a hotly contested game that saw a dream season for the Rams come up just short.