By Randy Gregory, Michigan Sports Radio
Photo courtesy of Miles Postema
In the opening MHSAA district contest at Rockford on Friday, October 27 the Rams found themselves squarely in the middle of a competitive contest holding a narrow 7-6 lead after the first quarter. West Ottawa had almost fought the Rams to a standstill and had just scored on a 70-yard run to inject a dose of confidence into a team and fan base that was facing a formidable foe in the undefeated Rams. But when the clock turned to the second quarter, the Rams proceeded to go on a 41-0 tear over the balance of the game to easily advance to the district finals next week.
“They (West Ottawa) made some changes and adjustments defensively that we hadn’t seen,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “It was a completely different package but our offensive staff made some adjustments of their own and figured it out pretty quickly. What I was most proud of tonight was when we began that one drive at our own two-yard line and completed a 98-yard touchdown march. It was a dose of inclement weather again tonight but our guys really stepped up and showcased our versatility.”
Rockford got on the board first when senior running back Ryan Ahern took a toss sweep off a reverse pivot from senior quarterback Drake Irwin 45 yards for a TD to make it a 7-0 Ram lead at the 2:10 juncture of the opening quarter. But two plays later Kayden Forbes took a handoff up the gut and sped past the Rockford secondary for a 70-yard score that made it a 7-6 game with 1:44 left in the opening quarter. Rockford quickly responded on their next possession when Ahern took it in from the two on a a dive off the right side to make it a 14-6 game. The Panthers pinned Rockford deep on the next possession as their punt rolled dead at the Rockford two-yard line. The Rams used 12 plays to traverse nearly the length of the field to make it a 21-6 contest with 4:22 left in the opening half. Irwin did the honors with a four-yard run but the previous play featured a tremendous catch by senior wide receiver Cam Kruisenga. Facing a third down and eight play from the Panther 35, Irwin fired a pass towards Kruisenga down the right side, The defensive back was draped all over Kruisenga but he juggled the ball firmly into his grasp while tumbling to the ground. The 31-yard pass set the Rams up at the Panther four for the ensuing score.
West Ottawa showed some grit when they advanced the ball to nearly midfield on their subsequent drive. But the Rams had other plans when the Panther QB dropped back to pass at that point. Senior defensive lineman Christian Herrema came storming in from the left side and stripped the ball from the QB’s hands where it was gathered in by fellow senior defensive lineman Gabe Stouffer. Stouffer rambled down to the Panther 15 and set the stage for one final Rockford score before the half. This scoring play was an 11-yard pass from Irwin to Kruisenga that made it a 28-6 contest at the half. It was a short crossing route that Kruisenga snagged before cart-wheeling his way into the end zone with 1:11 left in the half.
Rockford received the second half kickoff and wasted no time expanding their lead. Irwin and Kruisenga again teamed up for the TD pass of 48 yards. Kruisenga gathered in the pass in full stride over the middle and easily outraced the Panther secondary. Irwin was not finished with TD passes yet and he proceeded to find a wide-open Seth Anderson for a 32-yard strike that made it a 41-6 game with 4:15 to play in the third quarter. That set the running clock in motion and quickly helped run out the clock for the Rams. But Rockford had one final score up their sleeves when sophomore quarterback Brayden Daniels scored from three yards out to make it a 48-6 game with just over six minutes left in the contest.
Irwin was 9 for 15 passing for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Daniels was 1 for 1 for 22 yards in the 200-yard Ram passing attack. Ahern led the ground attack with 93 yards on 12 carries and a pair of TDs. Junior running back Isaac Poot had six carries for 29 yards and Irwin had 26 yards on five carries and a score of his own. Kruisenga led the receiving corps with 4 catches for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mikey DeKuiper had three catches for 29 yards and Anderson made his lone catch count with the 32-yard scoring pass. Ahern led the Rockford defense with ten tackles while Stouffer added nine. Sam Cummings and Herrema had seven tackles each while Poot had four and junior linebacker Kade Friesen contributed four.
The Rams record now stands at 10-0 on the campaign as they await another familiar opponent in the district final on Friday, November 3 at Carlson-Munger Stadium. Grandville topped Hudsonville in a thrilling 22-21 game when the Eagles missed a late 33-yard field goal. Rockford topped Grandville two weeks ago in a downpour at Grandville by the score of 34-13. Grandville will enter the game with a record of 8-2 and their only two losses were to a pair of undefeated squads in Rockford and Davison.
“Anytime you face someone twice there are challenges,” said Cummings. “But I like how we prepare for challenges like this one. Both teams are familiar with each other as long -time rivals in the OK Red. We are excited to advance and look forward to what should be a very good game.”