by TIM COOPER
After being on the road for four weeks, the Rockford Rams appropriately returned to the Ted on Friday night, Oct. 15, for their annual homecoming game. This year, along with the fans and alumni, the Rams also welcomed the Bulldogs of Grandville to the tradition, renewing the storied rivalry between the two teams.
Throughout the history of the rivalry between Rockford and Grandville, there have been many surprises. No one would have expected the Bulldogs to upset the number-one-ranked Rams early in the 2004 season, or the teams meeting later that year in the playoffs in an overtime thriller that helped launch Rockford to its first state title. Equally as shocking was the Rams’ 48-0 playoff victory over the Bulldogs in 2005 after losing 10-7 in the regular season, marking Grandville’s most recent defeat of the Rams.
This year, the surprise stemmed from the stellar play of Rockford’s defense, who held the Bulldogs to just 79 yards of total offense, despite Grandville maintaining control of the ball for 24:59. Though Rockford’s offense had the ball for less than 20 minutes, they managed to tally 379 yards and score 56 points in a dominant shutout.
Six different Rams found their way to the end zone, led by Zach Schmuck’s three-touchdown performance. Mark LaPrairie completed 8 of 10 passes, and threw for two touchdowns, including a spectacular pass thrown to standout receiver Neil VanderLaan, who made one of the most impressive catches he’s had so far this season.
In addition to Schmuck and VanderLaan, four other Rams scored touchdowns: Brandon Lubenow, Trevor Alferink, Nate Sanders and Spencer Sims all contributed by putting points on the board. Kicker Steve Mette chipped in by hitting all eight of his extra-point attempts en route to the 56-0 blowout of the Bulldogs.
Coach Munger commented, “Tonight, we executed. The challenging thing in a game like this is to maintain focus. You have to play at the level of your ability. In these games, you take the scoreboard out of the equation. The guys are gaining ground, and starting to understand the concepts of our offense.”
The regular season finale will be played this Friday, Oct. 22, when the Rams travel to Hudsonville to face the Eagles. The Rams will find out who their first playoff opponent will be this Sunday, Oct. 24, when the MHSAA airs its “Selection Sunday” show at 6:00 p.m. This is the 16th consecutive season Rockford has qualified for the playoffs.