By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Photo by Miles Postema
Finding themselves on the short end of the score at halftime has been a rare occurrence for Rockford in 2022. But the Rams found themselves looking at a 17-14 deficit at Hudsonville on Friday, October 7. Looking to keep their record unblemished, Rockford came out in the second half and outscored the Eagles 28-6 over the initial 21 minutes to take a commanding 42-23 lead before a late Eagle score made it a 42-31 final. With the win the Rams moved to 7-0 on the season and 5-0 in the OK Red. Hudsonville fell to 2-5 (2-3 OK Red) with three of their losses coming to unbeaten teams and a fourth to a strong outfit from Grandville.
Fresh off of an emotional 37-14 dismantling of Grandville last week the Rams were faced with the difficult task of hitting the road to take on a Hudsonville team that is not only far better than their record of 2-4, but was also looking for a big win to key a late season playoff surge. The Eagles moved the ball successfully for the majority of the contest but in the end their inability to slow down the potent Ram offense proved too big a hurdle to overcome.
“We knew coming in here that it was going to be a tough game,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “All they needed was a big win to get them started and they have a couple of winnable games to finish off the season. But we managed to get the ball to our playmakers in good positions to make plays and that is exactly what they did in the second half. I was also impressed with the ability of our defense to keep them in check in the second half. We pretty much held them to a single score in the second half before that late touchdown.”
Hudsonville got on the board first on the opening drive of the game. The possession was capped off by a one-yard TD run and it was a 7-0 Eagle lead with 6:40 left in the opening quarter. But Rockford had a quick retort as Mac VandenHout scored a TD of his own on a nine-yard run on a sweep to the right to knot things up at 7-7 following the first of six perfect extra points from Jackson Burkholder.
After forcing an Eagle punt, Rockford down to the Hudsonville 23 before turning the ball over on downs. Hudsonville then made it to the Rockford 8 before settling for a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 5:51 left in the half. After a big kickoff return by Jonny Rohen-Blanton set the Rams up at the Hudsonville 45, Rockford took less than three minutes to retake the lead. VandenHout again did the honors on another run to the right side to make it a 14-10 game with 3:09 left in the opening 24 minutes.
But the Rams left too much time on the clock for an efficient Hudsonville offense. Using only seven plays, the Eagles marched 70 yards in only seven plays to take a 17-14 lead into the locker room. As they did all game long, the Eagles mixed the run and pass to great success and keep the Rockford defense off balance.
Both teams garnered little on their opening salvo of the second half, but the Ram offense awoke with a fervor at that point to take control of the contest. The first Ram score of the second half came on a 53-yard bomb deep down the left sideline from VandenHout to Rohen-Blanton that the speedy senior gathered in while in full gallop before deftly staying inbounds and making a pair of decisive moves for the score. The next Ram marker came on a quick slant pass from VandenHout to Alex McLean that was snagged at the 15 before McLean quickly sped forward avoiding a pair of tackles and diving into the end zone. It was a 28-17 Rockford lead with :22 left in the third quarter but the scoring was far from over for both teams.
Hudsonville used a key personal foul penalty from Rockford to mount a drive that concluded with a 26-yard scoring pass to make it a 28-23 game with just over ten minutes remaining. The try for a two-point conversion was intercepted by Austin Harvey and the score remained 28-23 Rockford. The Rams took all of one play to respond. Taking the snap from his own 20, VandenHout started yet another sweep to the right side and sped through a gaping hole to daylight. Not being familiar with the sight of their senior quarterback running unfettered, many assumed that he would be caught from behind by one of the speedy Eagle defensive backs. But the gap was never closed and VandenHout raced into the end zone for the 80-yard score to make it a 35-23 game with 9:49 remaining.
After stopping Hudsonville on downs at their 16, Rockford was forced to immediately punt the ball back to the Eagles. But Rockford took firm control when the punt was muffed by the Eagle returner and the Rams recovered it at the Hudsonville 17. Facing a third down and 13 at the Eagle 20, VandenHout handed the ball off to McLean on a jet sweep to the left. McLean again showed his burst and elusiveness as he darted between multiple tacklers and lunged into the end zone to make it 42-23 with only 3:44 remaining on the clock.
A late Eagle score and two-point conversion made it 42-31 and a subsequent onside kick recovery gave Hudsonville a glimmer of hope. But sophomore safety Isaac Poot intercepted a pass with just over a minute to play to thwart the Eagle rally. VandenHout took a pair of knees to seal the win and Rockford left town with a hard-earned 42-31 triumph.
VandenHout was 16-23 passing for 167 yards and a pair of TD passes while also amassing 129 yards on the ground with a trio of rushing TDs. McLean had eight catches for 50 yards to lead the receiving corps to go along with his late rushing score. Ryan Ahern had 66 yards on 13 carries and Joey Pitsch had four catches for 57 yards while Rohen-Blanton had the single scoring reception that covered 53 yards. The defense was led by Ahern with 12 tackles, while Rick Beison added eight despite seeing limited action with an injury. Poot added seven stops and an interception and Gabe Stouffer contributed six tackles for the Rams.
“The kids trusted their coaches and really took advantage of the changes we implemented at halftime,” said Cummings. “Next week is Homecoming for us and kids will be kids, but as long as we are able to focus and do the things we need to do we are confident we can continue to be successful.”
Rockford will play their final regular season home game next week when they host Jenison. That is indeed Homecoming for Rockford and game time is slated for 7:00 P.M. on Friday, October 14 at Carlson-Munger Stadium.