by DAN LEESA
Last week Rockford’s varsity boys soccer team met the challenges of three big opponents, winning two games 1-0 and tying another at 0-0. But it’s what the scoreboard didn’t say that defined the Rams’ caliber of play.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Rams hosted Grand Haven. The lakeshore’s OK Red giant arrived after battering highly ranked West Ottawa 4-0, but couldn’t get past Rams’ senior goalie Sean Lewis once.
While Grand Haven controlled play the first 10 minutes, the Rams heeled up their defense. Pulled from his usual forward post because of speed for this game, trailblazer junior Justin Wynn deftly harassed All-State forward Nick Hieborg. Meanwhile, the Rams kept pressure on their rival with hard tackles and tight defense, earning senior forward Andrew Wyles the chance to beat Grand Haven’s keeper with a low far post strike for the game’s only score. Solid the entire game, junior defensemen Dylan Bronkema and Jason Vrosh played key roles in closing out the upset.
Rockford’s contest against West Ottawa Thursday, Sept. 24, under the lights began with a salute to the team’s nine seniors: Michael Bertsch, Kyle Cook, Oliver Crosby, Nick DePompolo, Sean Lewis, Mitch Reyers, Connor VanMeeteren, Joe Weber and Andrew Wyles.
After the players left the field flanked by their parents, it became a battleground for two hungry OK Red powers—neither of which could feed a net after 110 minutes of hard-hustling soccer, including two overtimes.
But lack of score on the board didn’t mean lack
Early launches by Wyles and sophomore Jacob Aman were ignited, though not as quick as the Panthers’ keeper. West Ottawa’s senior defenseman Grant Neil startled Rams fans with his threatening rainbow throw-ins, which some guessed traveled further than he could kick. Fast and aggressive foot skills erupted on both sides, fueling an onslaught of free kicks and shots on goal that couldn’t find a home.
While Rams’ keeper Lewis manned his post with diligence, Rockford defenders Weber, Vrosh, Bertsch and Bronkema stayed focused on the ricocheting speed of West Ottawa’s Brayden West and fellow Panther Michael McCarthy. Meanwhile, alert to practiced offside traps set by Holland’s pulled-up defensive line, Rams’ sophomore midfielder Cam Jensen, forwards freshmen Dewey Lewis and Wynn, and senior mids Reyers and Cook fired quick-touch passes and shots with Wyles in vain.
With two minutes left in the game’s first 15-minute overtime, goalie Lewis roused the stands with a diving save to block the Panthers’ closest scoring threat. Though West Ottawa emerged more aggressive in the second overtime, Rockford turned on its hardest offensive pressure yet. Vrosh fired a 20-yard header, Wyles executed an adept long shot, and Aman drove a promising bullet.
But despite such efforts, the Rams and Panthers both had to leave the field with empty pockets. The game ended in a tie, 0-0.
Big, physical and fast—prior to entering Rams Stadium blazing a streak of nine straight wins up north—Petoskey’s top-ranked team just couldn’t penetrate Rockford’s defense Saturday, Sept. 26.
With a total team effort, the Rams performed solidly throughout the match. Midway through the first half, Reyers hit Weber with a precision cross in front of Petoskey’s net. Weber muscled off a defender to get a foot on the ball, deflecting it off the post and past the keeper for the game’s only goal.
This Thursday, Oct. 2, Rockford hosts 2008 state champs East Kentwood
at 7 p.m.