On a night where starting quarterback Drake Irwin only appeared in a pair of series and the defense appeared almost human at times, Rockford persevered and claimed a 39-12 victory over a game squad from Holland West Ottawa. Irwin had come into the contest a little gimpy from last week’s big win over Caledonia and the coaches opted to sit him out after he took a sack in the opening quarter. Senior wide receiver and backup QB Seth Anderson took over the reins for the Rams and piloted the team to the surprisingly hard-fought triumph that moved the Rams to 5-0 on the season and all alone in first place in the OK Red at 3-0.
It was a sloppy affair for the most part with the Rams losing three fumbles and the Panthers tossing a trio of interceptions. Rockford also blocked a punt and scored a few plays later to take an early 7-0 lead. Both teams struggled to throw the ball consistently and were forced into a ground attack. Junior running back Kayden Forbes accounted for the vast majority of the Panther offense with 124 yards on 25 carries but Rockford countered with the two-headed monster of senior Luke Ahern and junior Isaac Poot. Ahern had 115 yards on 18 carries while Poot made the most of his three carries for 82 yards. Ahern had a pair of TDs and Poot had one.
Rockford coach Brent Cummings felt that the team struggled a bit from an emotional standpoint from the opening kickoff before finally settling in and taking control of the contest.
“It was an exciting win last week and it can be tough when emotions play a big part in football,” said Cummings. “You have to play this game 100 miles per hour and anytime you let off the gas things can stall. We are not perfect as coaches and the kids aren’t perfect all of the time either. But we got things figured out in the second half and got the win.”
“Seth (Anderson) and Drake (Irwin) have two different styles and I felt Seth did a much better job managing things as the game moved along. West Ottawa did some different things defensively but we were able to eventually get the run game going and take control. We also knew their running back was slippery and very strong so it was not a surprise he had some success. Every win in the OK Red is a big win and we are just happy to get another one.”
The game started with a bang for the Rams when Luke Ahern blocked a punt after a quick stop by the Ram defense. Rockford took possession at the Panther nine and Ryan Ahern did the honors on a two-yard plunge on the second play to give Rockford a 7-0 lead with 9:52 left in the opening quarter. But the Panthers had an answer as they scored on a jet sweep on a fourth and two play that made it a 7-6 game. The two-point attempt went awry and the score remained the same with 2:40 left in the opening quarter. The Rams quickly responded on their next possession as Anderson scored from five yards out on a scramble to give Rockford a 14-6 lead with 10:41 left in the opening half.
The rest of the half saw no further scoring as the two teams exchanged turnovers on a regular basis. Junior linebacker intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards to set the Rams up at the Panther 30. But the Rams turned it over on downs eventually. Luke Ahern then intercepted another pass for the Rams that he returned 30 yards to the Ram 49. But a Rockford fumble just before the half stymied that drive as well just before the halftime horn. The teams went to the locker room with Rockford holding a narrow 14-6 lead.
Rockford finally started exerting the run game in the third quarter when Ryan Ahern punched it in from the one on a fourth down play to make it a 21-6 Ram lead. The Rams squandered another good scoring chance when they fumbled the snap at the Panther 28. Poot showed off his blazing speed early in the final quarter as he started up the middle on a handoff before veering outside and racing 48 yards to the end zone to make the score 27-6with 11:26 remaining in the contest. Another Ram fumble thwarted a promising drive for the Rams after they had driven to the West Ottawa 23. But senior defensive lineman Gabe Stouffer then experienced the dream of any lineman when he picked off the third interception of the night for Rockford. But he wasn’t content with the pick as Stouffer sped up the sidelines and didn’t stop until crossing the goal line on a 38-yard interception return for a TD. That made the score 33-6 Rockford before a late TD pass for the Panthers against the Ram reserves and a 7-yard scoring run from Corbin Starkey finished the scoring for the night in the 39-12 win.
The tough part of the contest for Rockford was the injury suffered by standout junior offensive tackle Nolan Miller. The 265-pound junior had anchored the right side of the line for Rockford all year long and his loss was felt up and down the Ram sidelines as his teammates came over to console him.
“Nolan is a great kid and a tremendously hard worker,” said Cummings. “We all hope nothing but the best for him and wish for a quick recovery. But it is an opportunity for another one of our linemen to step up and fill his shoes. We have great depth and great confidence that we can overcome that unfortunate injury.”
Offensive coordinator Jason VanderLaan was asked his thoughts on how the Rams coped with the cameo appearance of Irwin.
“It definitely affected us a little bit as Drake has different strengths than Seth,” said VanderLaan. “The timing is just something you have to keep working at and I thought it got better as the game went along. I really thought we settled in and did a much better job of taking advantage of what they were giving us in the second half. It may not always be pretty but I feel we can attack teams in different ways and be successful.”
Irwin was 3 for 3 passing for 14 yards before leaving and Anderson was 3-9 for 31 yards. Mikey DeKuiper led the Ram receiving corps with a pair of catches for 22 yards. Ryan Ahern led the Rockford defense with nine tackles while Luke Ahern and Stouffer added seven apiece. Hensley Hudson, Sam Cummings and Poot all chipped in with six each as well.
The Rams will make another trip to the lakeshore next week as they journey to Grand Haven to take on the Bucs on Friday, September 29 at 7:00 P.M. Grand Haven will enter the fray at 1-4 after falling to East Kentwood.