By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
In a matchup of a pair of teams ranked in the top ten in the state of Michigan in their respective classes Rockford scored 24 consecutive points in the final 13 and a half minutes to claim an improbable 31-27 win over the Sailors of Muskegon Mona Shores at Carlson-Munger Stadium on Thursday, September 1. Mona Shores had dominated the contest over nearly the entire first three quarters while building a 27-7 lead that they showed no signs of letting slip away.
“First of all, I want to give Mona Shores credit for how they came out of the gate,” said Rockford Coach Brent Cummings. “They are an extremely talented team that is very physical while also having tremendous speed all over the field. But I also want to credit our kids at the same time for the way they paid attention to and executed the changes we made at the half. The defense really finished and gave our offense a chance to mount the comeback.”
Cummings continued,”Adversity is a big part of building character as a team and we really had our backs to the wall. But we did a great job of chucking away and learned a great lesson to do your best even when it seems like it may not happen. It was just a great game and a great atmosphere for a night of high school football.”
The first four times Rockford had the ball they went three and out each possession while netting a grand total of 15 yards. Rockford seemingly tried everything but the stout Sailor defense refused to yield. Meanwhile Mona Shores went 56 yards for a touchdown on their second possession, 73 yards on their third possession and 59 on their fourth possession on their way to building a 20-0 lead with 4:34 left in the opening half.
The one thing the Ram defense was doing well was forcing the Sailors to execute every play while limiting big plays. The only positive of the 20-0 deficit was the fact that it could have been worse save for a pair of blocked extra points by Ram cornerback Austin Harvey. Two of the Mona Shores scoring drives were aided by major penalties against Rockford that shortened the field for a Sailor offense that did not need any help with their methodical attack.
Rockford finally got on the board at the 2:19 mark of the second quarter as Mac VandenHout connected with Brody Thompson on a 30-yard scoring pass. It looked as if the play was going to go for a short gain but Thompson shrugged off an attempted tackle around the 25-yard line and sped in for the score to make it a 20-7 game as the half drew to a close.
Mona Shores received the second half and continued with the same pattern of success they had experienced in the first 24 minutes. Using 15 plays, they traversed 75 yards to make it a 27-7 game with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter. Rockford tried to mount a quick answer as they marched all the way down to the Sailor 13 before throwing an interception at the two-yard line.
The Ram defense finally began to assert themselves following the turnover as they allowed Mona Shores to only gain six yards before being forced to lineup in punt formation. An errant snap sailed out of bounds on the punt and Rockford scored a safety to trim the margin to 27 to 9 with 1:34 left in the third quarter. A great return from Alex McLean gave Rockford the ball at the Sailor 45 but a holding penalty proved too much to overcome and Rockford turned the ball over on downs to further diminish their chances in the final quarter.
But the defense forced a punt that set the stage for an incredible series of events that began at the Rockford two-yard line. Vandenhout used a 41-yard pass to Ethan Lyon and a 32-yard completion to Jonathan Rohen-Blanton to give the Rams a first down at the Mona Shores 21. The next four snaps for Rockford incredibly all ended in the end zone as the Rams turned a 27-9 deficit into a 31-27 lead in the space of three minutes and five seconds.
The first TD came at the 7:12 point as VandenHout rolled left and juked his way into the end zone for a 21-yard TD. The next snap came on the extra point attempt as VandenHout rolled right before hitting Lyon for the two-pointer to make it a 27-17 contest. The intensity of the team and the crowd began to rise exponentially at that point as all concerned tried to will Rockford to the comeback. The Ram defense came up with a huge play in short order as Rick Beison made a diving interception at the Sailor 26 to quickly put the Ram offense back on the field.
The third snap was a beautifully executed deep ball to McLean that went for the 26-yard touchdown to make it a 27-24 game with 6:12 still left in the contest. The crowd was in a tizzy at that juncture and the defense responded again while forcing another three and out from the Sailor offense. Rockford took over at their own 41 and wasted no time scoring yet again. The fourth consecutive snap was the prettiest play of the evening for either team as VandenHout dropped back and surveyed the field before firing a deep pass to Thompson that he gathered in five yards behind the secondary and sprinted into the end zone for the 59-yard TD pass. Jackson Burkholder added his third consecutive PAT and it was 31-27 with 4:07 remaining in the contest.
Mona Shores took over at their own 20 and marched to the Rockford 36 before Harvey dove in front of a Sailor receiver to knock away a fourth down pass and give Rockford the ball back. The Rams then used five consecutive running plays to gain a pair of first downs and run out the remainder of the clock. The win mover Rockford’s record to 2-0 on the young season, while the stunned Sailors fell to 1-1.
“The execution of our offensive line in the second half was also a key factor in our success,” said Cummings. “They gave Mac time and the spacing of our routes got better and allowed us to get open receivers consistently. And Brody Thompson is a fast, fast young man who was able to use that speed to our benefit. I am just so proud that the team was able to trust the coaching and execute their assignments to allow everyone to do their one-eleventh on every play.”
Rockford outgained Mona Shores 370 yards to 233 for the contest. VandenHout was 10 for 17 passing for 279 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. VandenHout also led the Rockford rushing attack with 80 yards on 15 carries. McLean had four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown while Thompson had three receptions for 95 yards and a pair of scores. Lyon had one catch for 41 yards while Rohen-Blanton had one for 32 and Joey Pitsch had a catch for 30 yards.
Beison had a part in 15 tackles to lead the Ram defense, while also adding the huge interception. Colby Weston added 12 and defensive lineman Gabe Stouffer had 11. Ryan Ahern added ten tackles and Tyler Hoek contributed nine.
The Rams will take to the road for the first time in their next contest. The opponent will be a surprising 2-0 team from Holland West Ottawa that broke a long losing streak for the school. It will also be the first chance for Ram fans to see the acclaimed stadium that just finished construction at the Ottawa County school. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 P.M. on Friday, September 9.