By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Photo by Lou Murray
The most highly anticipated football game of the past several seasons took place at Caledonia on Friday, October 21. The 8-0 Rockford Rams made the trip south to take on the 8-0 Caledonia Fighting Scots in what promised to be a contest that came down to the final possession, or so we thought. But when the final second ticked off the clock, it was Rockford who ran away with a dominating 38-15 win. That procured the OK Red crown, a third consecutive undefeated regular season, a 9-0 overall record and more than likely, home field for the first three rounds of the playoffs should the Rams keep winning. Caledonia dropped to 8-1 for the year and 6-1 in OK Red play.
There are three phases in every football game. The offense, defense and special teams are all key components for every team in every game. If you hold the upper hand in two of the three there is a very good chance to procure a win. But if you command all of them you are guaranteed a victory. And that is exactly what the Rams pulled off in this contest. The Rams had a punt return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery on a kickoff on special teams. The offense rang up 247 yards on the ground and accounted for four TDs and a field goal, and the defense held a high-scoring Caledonia offense (45.6 points per game) scoreless until the fourth quarter after having built a 31-0 lead.
“We really had a tough week of weather getting ready for this game,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “Even so, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I was just so proud of the kids prep to get ready for this game against a very, very good Caledonia team. And the planning and work that goes into a game like this by our coaching staff is also difficult to put into words. I am just extremely pleased that everyone associated with the program came up with a heck of a performance.”
The game began as if it were going to be dictated by the defenses. On the first two Ram possessions Rockford threw an interception after driving to the Fighting Scot 15 and fumbled inside the Caledonia 15. The Scots returned the favor to Rockford with a turnover of their own as Kyle Munger recovered at the Caledonia 45. As a result, the contest remained scoreless after the opening 12 minutes.
The game’s first points came like a lightning bolt out of the blue for Rockford when they forced a Caledonia punt from their own 12. Sophomore safety Isaac Poot settled under the kick and immediately broke to the left from the Fighting Scot 45. A wall of blockers that had set up perfectly allowed the speedy Poot to dash untouched all the way into the end zone for his second punt return TD in two weeks with 8:47 left in the first half. Jackson Burkholder then began an excellent night for himself by converting the first of his five extra points to give Rockford a 7-0 lead.
After the Scots failed for the second time on a fourth down attempt, the Rams took advantage to increase their lead just before the half. Beginning at their own 41, the Rams used 12 plays to reach the Caledonia 10-yard line where they faced a fourth and five. After failing in two attempts to draw Caledonia offsides, Cummings sent Burkholder out to attempt a 27-yard field goal that split the uprights and gave Rockford a 10-0 lead at the break. Rockford successfully overcame a glitch by the officials that cost them a down and was able to build the lead to two scores.
The second half was dominated by the Rams beginning with the second half kickoff. Burkholder boomed a kickoff deep into the Caledonia end of the field that was returned to the Scot 30 before a booming hit from Rockford forced a fumble that Burkholder jumped on at the Caledonia 30. Mac VandenHoout took it in form two-yards out on a run to the right while spinning off a tackle to make it a 17-0 game with 9:31 left in the game.
After turning away Caledonia on yet another fourth down attempt, Rockford moved quickly to increase the lead even more. Starting at their own 34, the Rams used 12 plays to increase their lead to 24-0. The drive ate up a big chunk of the third quarter before being capped off with a 10-yard TD run form Ryan Ahern to make it a 24-0 Rockford lead.
Facing the large deficit, the Scots again went for it on fourth down from their own 49. And they were turned away yet again as the staunch Ram defense again stood their ground. Facing a first down and 26 from the Caledonia 40 after a Ram holding penalty, VandenHout dropped back to pass before seeing a huge expanse of open field in front of him and began sprinting towards the Caledonia goal line. He had to make only a single cut before crossing the goal line to make it a 31-0 Ram lead.
The Fighting Scots were able to push across a pair of late scores to avoid the shutout. Sandwiched between those scores was the final Ram TD of the evening. This time around it was junior quarterback Drake Irwin who did the honors from three yards out with 3;34 to play.
Probably the most impressive accomplishment of the evening for Rockford was the efforts of the defense to almost completely bring the potent Fighting Scot offense to a standstill. Time and again the secondary batted down passes and the front seven brought ball carriers to a screeching halt before they had reached the sticks. And that fact was not lost on Rockford defensive coordinator Randy VanderVeen.
“The kids were awesome tonight,” said VanderVeen. “I just want to thank the Lord for allowing them to be able to do what they did. Caledonia is a dangerous team from any place on the field and they did everything we asked of them.”
VandenHout was 11-18 passing for 104 yards for Rockford. Brody Thompson led the receiving corps with five catches for 53 yards and Alex McLean had a pair of receptions for 20 yards. VandenHout also led the rushing attack with 128 yards on 19 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Ahern had 94 on 15 rushes and a TD of his own while Irwin also ran in a score for Rockford. Middle linebackers Rick Beison and Ahern led the defense with nine tackles apiece and outside linebacker Thys Segard chipped in with six.
Now the Rams will have to sit and wait to see who will be their first-round opponent in the playoffs next week. We know the Rams will be home and it will probably be played on Friday.