Good night at the old ball park

Rams shock Muskegon with 52-44 upset

by TIM COOPER

Rams football captains Brett Egnatuk and Tyler Pratt. Photo by JIM COOPER

 

 From many people attempting, and few finishing, the gastronomical monstrosity that is the Fifth Third burger, to a rousing chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” some traditions at Fifth Third Ballpark never change. On Friday, Oct. 1, the park renewed a tradition by inviting two local high school football teams to participate in its annual tradition at the ballpark.

Instead of backstops and base paths, there were goal posts and sidelines. Instead of Tigers’ prospects and dreams of Major League careers, it was the Rockford Rams and the Muskegon Big Reds with hopes of OK Red supremacy.

The opening kickoff set the tone for a night of surprises, as Muskegon caught the Rams off guard with an on-side kick, which the Big Reds recovered. Four plays later, Big Reds quarterback Kavonta Keyes sprinted 17 yards into the end zone, giving Muskegon an early 6-0 lead, after the Rams’ Brandon Lubenow blocked the extra point attempt.

The Rams’ first possession ended in an interception, just three plays into the drive. They retained possession of the ball after just three more plays, however, when Zack Nelson recovered a fumble forced by teammate Colin Remtema. The fumble recovery set up Rockford’s first score of the night, a 38-yard field goal by Steve Mette, cutting the Big Reds’ lead in half.

Ram quarterback Mark LaPrairie shows up ready to play football. He went 21-28 and had 274 yards. Photo by JIM COOPER

 

Muskegon ate up the remainder of the first quarter and the opening minute of the second quarter, driving the field, before Keyes found an open Darren Briggs for a 17-yard touchdown pass, extending the Big Reds’ advantage to 13-3.

Rockford’s offense found its footing on its next possession, with Mark LaPrairie going a perfect eight-for-eight on passes before handing the ball to Zach Schmuck for the final yard, bringing the Rams within three points of Muskegon. The Rams then took advantage of a second Muskegon fumble on the kickoff, giving them the ball at the Muskegon 21. Four plays later, LaPrairie found Aaron Weston in the end zone, giving the Rams their first lead of the evening.

Rockford took the 17-13 lead into halftime.

Rockford’s first play of the second half saw LaPrairie passing to star receiver Neil VanderLaan for a 54-yard touchdown pass, allowing the Rams to extend their lead to 11 points.

After the Big Reds answered with a solid touchdown drive of their own, the Rams began to open up the gap, with three consecutive touchdown drives.

The most surprise came on a trick play on fourth down and nine yards to go, when VanderLaan lined up for a direct snap in a quick kick formation. However, catching the Big Reds off guard, he threw the ball to Weston, for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

Ram fans show up in full force to attend the “Battle at the Ballpark.” Photo by JIM COOPER

 

Trailing by 25, Muskegon wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Early in the fourth, Key’Marious McMillian picked off LaPrairie and returned the interception for a touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Big Reds, effort fell short.

When the dust settled on the infield, a total of 96 points had been scored, and the two teams had combined for 799 yards of offense, as Rockford defeated Muskegon 52-44.

Rockford Coach Ralph Munger said, “Muskegon gave a great effort until the end. They overcame a lot of mistakes and stayed in the game. Our pass protection was really good. Mark [LaPrairie] played really well.”

When asked about giving up a home game to play at a baseball field, Munger said, “It was awesome to play at Fifth Third. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these boys. All in all, it was a pretty good night at the old ball park.”

Since 1950, the Muskegon Big Reds have only allowed 50 or more points two other times. In 1974, the Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders beat the Big Reds 50-6, and in 2001, the Polar Bears of Creston defeated Muskegon 56-30.

Leaving “the Ted” for this game doesn’t dampen the Ram Pride in these seniors. Photo by JIM COOPER

 

Yes, Coach, it was a good night at the ball park.

On Friday, Oct. 8, the Rams will travel to Kentwood to take on the Falcons.

The Rockford student section makes sure to be especially loud and proud. Photo by JIM COOPER

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