Photo by Miles Postema.
By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Rockford went to the locker room at halftime against West Ottawa holding a tenuous 20-13 lead against the Panthers in Holland on Friday, September 9. But a strong second half fueled 21 unanswered points for the Rams as Rockford eased their way to the 41-13 victory. The win moved Rockford’s record to 3-0 on the season and 1-0 in OK Red play. The Panthers fell to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in league play.
The item that caught the attention of all of the thousands of the Ram faithful who made the trek to the lakeshore was the striking appearance of the brand new stadium that the Panthers just completed in time for the beginning of the 2022 campaign. With a towering home double-decked bleacher section, the facility reportedly holds up to 10,000 fans and the turnout for a pair of undefeated squads probably approached three-quarters of that total.
“Pat Collins is an excellent coach and came here from Montague where he had a tremendous career,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “He is building a new culture here and has really grown the numbers of players who have come out to compete for West Ottawa. The future is bright for them and they really competed hard all game long.”
West Ottawa received the opening kick and looked as if they had something going before the Ram defense stepped up to make their first interception of the contest. Tyler Hoek made the big play for the Rams as he stepped in front of a pass in the left flat to make a juggling interception that gave the Rams the ball at their own 42. Rockford wasted no time capitalizing on the turnover as they took nine plays to cover 58 yards and score the first points of the evening. Junior running back Ryan Ahern did the honors as he took an option pitch wide right before breaking a pair of tackles and cutting back and then stretching the ball past the goal line for an 18-yard touchdown. The extra point was wide right and the Rams had a 6-0 lead with 5:41 to play in the opening quarter.
The Ram defense forced a quick three and out and Rockford took over at their own 36 to set the stage for the next score. This time around it was a beautifully executed play fake that completely fooled the Panther defense on a second and goal from the West Ottawa one. Mac VandenHout faked a handoff to Ahern and the whole defense bought it. VandenHout pulled the ball back and calmly floated a pass to a completely uncovered Ethan Lyon for the TD. This time the Jackson Burkholder point after was perfect and the Rams had a 13-0 lead with 1:52 still to play in the opening quarter.
But at that point the Panther offense began having consistent success against Rockford and proceeded to make it a contest at the conclusion of the first half. A running game that had a fair amount of success mixed in with a few passes and multiple penalties against the Rams led to a pair of TDs for the Panthers in the second quarter. The first Panther score came on a 6-yard burst up the middle to make it 13-6 after a missed extra point with 4:44 to play in the half. But Rockford wasted little time responding as Vanden Hout hit Joey Pitsch with a fade route on the left side to make it 20-6 with 3:05 left in the half.
But West Ottawa had a quick retort of their own to make it a game at the half. Again aided by a pass interference penalty against the Rams, a three-yard run up the gut made it 20-13 at the :40 mark of the first half. Rockford got within shouting distance before a late deep ball at the horn fell harmlessly to the turf.
The second half had an entirely different tone to it though as the Rams received the second half kickoff and proceeded to push back out to a two-score lead in quick fashion. Rockford converted a fourth down and two play at the Panther 37 to keep the drive alive. The scoring play was a 19-yard pass from VandenHout to Alex McLean. Rolling to his left, VandenHout fired a low pass that McLean scooped up in the front of the end zone to make it a 27-13 game with 9:32 left in the third stanza.
The Rams turned the ball over on downs on the next Panther possession as a fourth down and five pass from the Ram 13 fell harmlessly to the turf. Using 15 plays, Rockford used a delayed draw from VandenHout that went for eight yards to the end zone to increase the lead to 34-13 after another Burkholder conversion. The Panthers again moved into Rockford territory on their next possession before another incompletion on fourth and eight from the Rockford 22 again went awry.
For their final score the Rams went deep. VandenHout dropped back and fired a deep ball down the right side to McLean. The speedy slot receiver gathered it in while speeding down the right sideline. The play covered 57 yards and erased all doubt as to the final outcome as the score moved to a 41-13 Ram lead. Isaac Poot made a leaping interception for the Rams on the next Panther possession and the Rams successfully ran out the clock to secure the win.
“When you have the group of receivers we have and they are running crisp routes, we are a very difficult offense to play against,” said Cummings. “Coach (Jason) VanderLaan is always making whatever adjustments are necessary and that leads to things going very well on the offensive side for us. I think defensively it was a little bit of an energy issue for us in the first half. But we came out with a lot more energy and jump in the second half and everyone did their jobs to keep them off the board.”
Rockford totaled 510 yards offensively while the Panthers went for 359. VandenHout was 19-34 passing for 289 yards and four touchdowns while Drake Irwin was 1-1 for nine yards on the final series of the contest. Ahern ran for 116 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown while VandenHout amassed 55 yards on eight carries and a TD of his own. McLean had a banner night with 11 receptions for 201 yards and a pair of scores while Pitsch and Lyon also reeled in receiving TDs.
The defense had the interceptions from Hoek and Poot to spark their efforts. Rick Beison was in on 15 tackles to lead the defense. Ahern added eight and Hoek and Colby Weston had seven apiece. Louis Bosscher also pitched in with six tackles of his own.
Rockford will return home next week with a game against Grand Haven on Friday, September 16 at 7:00 P.M. The Buccaneers are 1-2 thus far on the season.