Photo courtesy of Miles Postema
For the second week in a row Rockford struggled out of the gate in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 District finals at Carlson-Munger Stadium in Rockford on Friday, November 3rd. Fellow OK Red member Grandville provided the opposition for the second time this season and the Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Rams threw an uncharacteristic interception on their opening possession and were stymied by a fumble that set them way back of the sticks on their second foray on offense. This marked only the second game this season where the Rams were facing a deficit, and the first time the differential was double digits.
But in a testament to their grit and determination, the Rams put up 49 of the next 56 points to eventually win going away by the score of 49-28. The win moved Rockford’s record to a perfect 11-0 on the season and advanced them to the Region finals at Carlson-Munger Stadium next week on either Friday night or Saturday afternoon. The opponent will be another 11-0 squad when the Davison Cardinals come calling. Davison moved on with a 24-17 win over Grand Blanc. The Rams and the Cardinals are ranked second and third in the state respectively and the winner will move on to the state semifinals. Grandville ended their fine season with a record of 8-3.
“We hope and pray that the young man who was injured is okay,” said Rockford coach Brent Cummings. “When you play the game of football anytime that happens you are just scared for the player and his family. That is a part of the game as coaches and parents we all fear. But we are just really thankful the outstanding medical personnel were able to safely get him out of here and it looks like he will be okay.”
“We were able to handle the early adversity well tonight. Drake made a mistake and showed that he is not perfect, but I am proud of the way he took a deep breath, settled in and got the offense clicking. He has done that all year. He was able to process the information while gathering himself and eventually finished very strong. Facing adversity will happen in big games like this but he showed the type of player he has been all year long.”
The game got off to a rocky start for the Rams as they were driving deep in Bulldog territory on their opening possession. An Irwin pass down the right side was intercepted near the goal line and returned all the way to the Rockford 30. Seven plays later it was sensational Bulldog sophomore Jayden Terry took it in from the six to give Grandville a quick 7-0 lead. Rockford was driving again on their second possession when a fumble forced them into a punt and gave the ball back to the Dawgs. A 54-yard burst followed by a 19-yard run set up Terry for his second score that made it a 14-0 lead and sent the Grandville faithful into a frenzy hoping for the upset.
But all that did was set the table for an unrelenting Rockford comeback. On the next possession Irwin fired a deep pass down the right side to a wide open Seth Anderson that resulted in a 43-yard Rockford TD. The Ram defense forced a turnover on downs on the next Grandville possession and wasted no time tying the score. The big play setting the touchdown up was a brilliant 33-yard scramble from Irwin on a fourth-down and 15 play at the Bulldog 34. Dropping back to pass Irwin found all his receivers blanketed and started left before cutting all the way back across the field while dodging multiple tacklers. Grandville failed to cover Cam Kruisenga on the next snap and Irwin calmly stepped back and fired the one-yard TD pass for the score. Just like that it was a brand new ball game at 14-14.
The Ram defense then really stepped things up on the ensuing drive when Hudson Hensley forced a fumble that Ryan Ahern hopped on at the Bulldog 29. It seemed as if the drive was in stark danger when an errant snap over Irwin’s head left Rockford staring at a third down and 24 from the Grandville 33. But Irwin first fired a quick strike to Kruisenga that saw him juke multiple tacklers on his way to a 20-yard play that left a manageable 4th down and four from the Grandville 13. The Rams appeared ready to go for it as they lined up, but instead shifted and drew the Bulldogs offsides giving them a first down and goal at the eight. Ahern did the honors with a one-yard plunge and the Rams took a 21-14 lead into the locker room at the half.
The Rams quickly made it a 28-14 lead on their opening possession of the second half. Ahern took it in from 15 yards and the lead was 14 with just over one minute gone in the second half. But to Grandville’s credit they refused to fold at that point as Terry ripped off a 47-yard TD run of his own that made it 28-21 with 7:03 left in the third quarter. But that was only a temporary distraction as the Ram offense was now in high gear. On the third play following the Grandville score, Ahern took a handoff up the middle and stiff-armed, powered through and outraced the entire Bulldog defense on his way to a 67-yard bolt of lightning that made it 35-21 Rockford. Christian Herrema then made a critical open-field tackle on the Grandville QB on a fourth down conversion attempt that gave Rockford the ball back at the Bulldog 35. Four plays later it was Kruisenga doing the honors on a six-yard end around for a TD that made it a 42-21 Ram lead with only 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Ram defense then forced another turnover on downs and wasted little time adding to their lead. Ahern again bruised his way through the middle for a 19-yard score that made it a 49-21 contest with 9:26 remaining in the game. Chase Vogt converted all seven of his extra point attempts for the Rams. Grandville got a late score against the Ram reserves to make it a more respectable 49-28 game. And that was how it finished.
“Ryan Ahern is just a tough kid with great balance who makes big plays at important points in the game,” said Cummings. “He has shown he can always be counted on even if other parts of the offense aren’t clicking. And it is not confined to just the offensive side of the ball either. You are going to give up some big plays to a team as talented as Grandville is on offense. They have a great back in Terry and he is the real deal. But Ryan (Ahern) is just the glue that the team rallies around and the defense really asserted themselves as the game went along after giving up a few early.”
Irwin was 8-14 passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns to go along with the early interception. Anderson led the receivers with three catches for 77 yards and a TD. Kruisenga had three of his own for 45 yards and a score while Mikey DeKuiper had a pair of catches for 28 yards. Ahern led the rushing attack with 190 yards on only 16 carries and four touchdowns. The Ram defense was led by sophomore middle linebacker Sam Cummings with 15 tackles. Ahern added 12 and a fumble recovery. Herrema and Lucas Bassham chipped in with 9 and seven tackles respectively from the defensive line. Luke Ahern, Louis Bosscher and Isaac Poot all made six stops as well with Hensley adding five along with the big forced fumble.