By Randy Gregory,
Michigan Sports Radio
Photo courtesy of Miles Postema
It didn’t take long to see what kind of night it was going to be for both teams when Rockford hosted Hudsonville at Carlson-Munger Stadium in the final regular season game on Friday, October 20. Rockford received the opening kickoff and watched as star junior return specialist Isaac Poot gathered the kick in at his own two-yard line. Poot sped up the middle before veering to his left and finding room. A Hudsonville defender appeared to have an angle on Poot to prevent the touchdown but he turned on the jets and left him in his dust to complete the 98-yard kickoff return that gave Rockford a 7-0 lead just 14 seconds into the contest.
But the miserable night for the Eagles was just getting started as Rockford led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and built that to a 41-0 halftime edge on their way to the 48-0 victory. The win moved Rockford’s record to 9-0 on the season and 7-0 in OK Red play. It marked the fifth consecutive OK Red title for Rockford and completed a four-year stretch for Rockford Coach Brent Cummings where Rockford has gone 31-0 in the regular season. The Rams will now await their assignment in the first round of the playoffs when the matchups are announced by the Michigan High School Athletic Association on Sunday night. Rockford is almost certain to be the number one seed in Division 1 and will be the host team for the first three rounds of the playoffs should they continue to win. Holland West Ottawa topped East Kentwood 34-22 and appears to have clinched the final spot in the initial four-team bracket and will most likely be headed to Rockford next week. The silver lining for the Eagles is that despite falling to 5-4 with the loss, they have also qualified for the playoffs and will most likely be headed to Grandville for their first round contest.
“They (Rockford) were focused on finishing tonight and winning the OK Red championship as well as getting a number one seed in the playoffs,” said Cummings. “Really just focusing on the things that got us to this point. Do your job on offense and protect the ball, and to tackle well on defense. We tried to keep it simple and we did a great job of that tonight.”
Senior stalwart Ryan Ahern showed his prowess and power as a running back for the Rams as he ran for a pair of long, punishing touchdowns to highlight a potent Rockford offense. The first score for Ahern came on a 24-yard gallop where he broke through an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and stiff armed a pair of Eagle defenders en route to the score that made it a 14-0 game. Ahern later ran for a 37-yard TD where he blasted his way through multiple tacklers and eschewing the stiff arm while maintaining his balance with tacklers careening off of him. Senior quarterback Drake Irwin sandwiched a perfectly thrown 10-yard TD pass to 6’6″ junior wide receiver Lucas Pitsch between the Ahern scores to make it 28-0 after the opening quarter. That third TD for the Rams was started by a fumble recovery from junior linebacker Kade Friesen.
“He (Ryan Ahern) is a fierce kid who has great balance and great toughness,” said Cummings. “And we saw that on a couple of his runs tonight where he refused to go down. He is having a special senior season and is almost like having another coach on the field. He is a tremendous mentor for everyone and the kids all follow his lead on both sides of the ball. He has been invaluable in leading the way for Rockford football.”
Irwin connected with junior tight end Blake Linsley for a five-yard TD pass that made it a 34-0 game at the 8:18 point of the second quarter. And that sore expanded t0 41-0 with 1:39 left in the second quarter when Irwin and Pitsch hooked up for their second TD pass of the night from eight yards out. This one was a perfectly thrown fade that Pitsch gathered in just before landing on his back in the end zone.
After again turning Hudsonville away on their initial possession of the second half, the Rams concluded their scoring for the game when Irwin ran 20 yards for a TD to make it a 48-0 game. The running clock was in effect for the entire second half of the contest and the Ram defense put the capper on the game by stuffing Hudsonville on their only extended drive of the night in the final quarter. Rockford amassed 404 total yards offensively while holding Hudsonville to 86 for their second shutout of the season.
“Our defense practices hard and plays hard every day,” said Cummings. “They play with great intensity and are yelling and screaming while keeping everyone on their toes whether they are in practice or in a game situation. Tonight was just a continuation of the way they have performed all year.”
Ryan Ahern led the Ram rushing attack with 119 yards on just nine carries and a pair of touchdowns. Irwin had 43 yards on seven carries and a TD while Corbin Starkey added 34 yards on just two attempts. Irwin was 13 for 20 passing for 164 yards and three TDs and a single interception on a Hail Mary pass just before the half. Cam Kruisenga led the receiving corps with three receptions for 42 yards. Pitsch had 3 catches for 27 yards and two scores and Linsley had a pair for 52 yards and a TD as well. Seth Anderson and Mikey DeKuiper both added a pair of receptions for 20 and 19 yards respectively. Sam Cummings led the defense with seven tackles while Ryan Ahern and Luke Ahern contributed six and four respectively.
If history is any indication, the first-round playoff game for Rockford will be played on Friday, October 27 at Carlson-Munger Stadium at 7:00 P.M. West Ottawa will almost certainly provide the competition, but the actual field will be announced on Bally Sports Detroit on Sunday night at 6:00 P.M. for final clarity.