Photo Courtesy of Miles Postema.
After playing the first three games of the 2023 season on the road, Rockford opened the home portion of the schedule in impressive fashion with a 42-16 triumph over Caledonia before a record crowd of over 12,750 fans at Carlson-Munger Stadium on Friday, September 15. The showdown between the top two teams in West Michigan (as well as top five teams in the entire state) was a pitched battle for the first 24 minutes as Rockford was able to only take a 14-10 lead into the locker room at the halftime break.
But the second half was an entirely different story as the Rams unleashed a passing attack that the Fighting Scots had no answers for. Rockford scored the first 28 points of the second half in building a 42-10 lead while scoring touchdowns on four of their first five possessions of the half. Caledonia got on the board late against the Ram reserves but it was just a blip on a dominating evening for a determined bunch of Rams looking to make amends for last year’s loss in the second round of the playoffs.
“It was a heck of an honor to play a game like this in front of a great community like Rockford that really supports their kids,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “We had to find a way to attack what the defense is going to give us and that was with the passing game today. Jason VanderLaan does an unbelievable job in just his third year as our offensive coordinator. He is a young coach, but a heck of a coach, with a great future and he is growing at a very fast rate. The team believes in him and plays hard for him on every play.”
“Drake (Irwin) and our receivers were excellent all night long as well. He used his progressions and if his first option was covered, he was able to work his way around in the pocket and buy time and find another target. And the protection provided by our offensive line was just outstanding again tonight.”
Irwin lit up the stat sheet on a memorable night for the senior Ram quarterback. While hitting on 22 of 28 passes, he racked up a school record of 431 yards to go along with three touchdown passes. The receivers also rang up big numbers with Cam Kruisenga totaling five receptions for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That brings Kruisenga up to nine receiving TDs already in a season not yet at the halfway mark. Seth Anderson had six catches for 86 yards and the other receiving TD for Rockford. But it did not stop there as Michael DeKuiper also had five receptions for 74 yards, Blake Linsley had a pair for 57 and Ben Cummings reeled in a pair as well for 29.
The evening began inauspiciously for the Rams as standout running back Blake Townsend received the opening kickoff at his own six-yard line and proceeded to take it to the house for a 94-yard score that made it a 7-0 game just 12 seconds elapsed off the clock. That sent the large visiting crowd into a frenzy that was to be short-lived as Rockford had a quick answer. Beginning at their own 28, Rockford overcame a personal foul penalty and marched 72 yards to knot things up at 7-7 on a nine-yard jaunt from Ryan Ahern with 9:01 left in the opening quarter.
After apparently stopping Caledonia on their first offensive possession, the Rams committed their second major penalty on a face-masking call that kept their drive alive on a fourth-down play. But the Scots decided to go for it when looking at a fourth down and goal at the Rockford three before being turned away. Rockford returned the favor after being turned away on their own fourth down attempt in Caledonia territory on their next attempt. But the defense forced a quick three-and-out to set the stage for another special teams score in the game.
Junior safety Isaac Poot gathered in the subsequent Caledonia punt at his own 16 and began sprinting up the left side while dodging tacklers. Poot broke into the clear for the most part before facing a final pair of fighting Scot defenders inside the 25. Louis Bosscher mad a tremendous hustle play and block at that point that enabled Poot to cut back inside for the stunning return that gave Rockford a 14-7 lead with 8:07 left in the opening half. To their credit the Fighting Scots regrouped and were able to march all the way down to the Ram 13 before settling for a 30-yard field goal that made it a 14-10 game at the half.
Those were the first and only points allowed by the starting defense for Rockford four games into the season. That was a point not lost on Rockford defensive coordinator Randy VanderVeen.
“We have really talented kids who believe in themselves and each other,” said VanderVeen. “When they execute as they are coached to do the sky is the limit for them. I have to also mention the fact that we are blessed with tremendous position coaches on the defensive staff as well. We just have to continue to avoid our own mistakes but I could not be prouder of everyone involved in our success so far and we just have to continue to build on this.”
Cummings added, “It was a great job by the defensive staff and kids who just continually work their tails off and have improved each of the last four weeks.”
The second half was all Rockford from the opening kickoff. The initial Ram drive lasted two plays as Irwin found the speedy Kruisenga on a 72-yard bomb in stride that saw the speedy senior take it to the house to make it a 21-10 game just 49 seconds into the second half. The second Ram possession ended in a missed 30-yard Rockford field goal that did nothing to stem the Ram tide offensively. Irwin quickly answered with a 26-yard scoring pass to Anderson that saw the senior wide receiver bull over a pair of defenders near the goal line to make it a 28-10 game. Irwin and Kruisenga teamed up again on the next possession as they hooked up on a 45-yard pass that made it a 35-10 game with 2:14 still to play in the third quarter. That completed a 21-0 Rockford run that left both sides stunned as to the quickness and variety of the Ram passing attack.
Rockford completed the scoring for the evening as Corbin Starkey powered his way into the end zone on a five-yard scoring run that made it a 42-10 game with 8:45 remaining. Caledonia managed the one final score to make it a 42-16 final. The only sour point of the evening were the five major penalties called on the Rams and the pair of touchdowns that were called back on penalties. Poot was the unfortunate recipient of both unfavorable outcomes for Rockford. Poot had a punt return touchdown called back for the second time this season as well as a 60-yard receiving score called back as well.
Ryan Ahern led the Ram rushing attack with 75 yards and a TD on 11 carries . Irwin had six attempts for 26 yards while Starkey had four for 24 and a touchdown and Ben Cummings added 20 on just two carries. Ryan Ahern and Poot led the defense with eight tackles apiece while Luke Ahern added five of his own.
Rockford returns home next week for a game against Holland West Ottawa. The Panthers are 1-3 after defeating Jenison last night 21-18 in overtime. Rockford will enter the contest at 4-0 and 2-0 in OK Red play.