Rams fall in semifinals Last-second touchdown ends Rockford’s season
by TIM COOPER
With 1:39 seconds remaining in the game, Rockford quarterback Mark LaPrairie saw Neil VanderLaan racing toward the end zone. With the Rams trailing 13-10 to the Plymouth Wildcats, LaPrairie threw into double coverage. As VanderLaan did many times this season, he out-jumped the defenders, tallying his 13th touchdown reception of the season.
The Ram faithful had their first celebration of the afternoon, a celebration that would change to devastation just 69 seconds later, when Plymouth quarterback Shaun Austin found his go-to receiver Brennan Beyer in the back of the end zone for the final score of the day, giving the Wildcats a 20-17 advantage with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
Most of the season, Rockford Coach Ralph Munger spoke of trying to get off of page one of his playbook. During the second half, Munger finally turned the page, using a play on which LaPrairie handed the ball to Brandon Lubenow, who pitched the ball to VanderLaan, who then tossed the ball across the field and back to LaPrairie. LaPrairie spotted Landon Dubes all alone at the Plymouth 20-yard line. Dubes pulled down the perfect pass and walked untouched into the end zone, pulling the Rams to within three points.
As they had done most of the afternoon, the Ram defense stopped the Wildcats on drive after drive, keeping the hope alive. With big hits by Brett Egnatuk and Anthony DeDamos, the Rockford defense showed Plymouth that they had come to play. Linebackers Egnatuk and Tyler Pratt disrupted the Wildcats’ run game, forcing Plymouth to pass the ball. When Plymouth quarterback Austin dropped back to pass, the Ram defensive line forced him to scramble time and time again.
The strong defensive play allowed the time that was needed for the Ram offense to get into sync, leading up to the go-ahead touchdown in the late stages of the game. However, it all changed on the Wildcats’ last possession.
After the kickoff, Plymouth went 83 yards on 10 plays in just 1:09; the final play being Beyer’s game-winning touchdown reception.
“Obviously, Beyer is an outstanding athlete,” said Munger. “[Austin] made a heck of a throw, and he made a great catch, with two guys covering him. In this game, you have to make plays and deny plays. We didn’t make enough big plays today.”
The Rams, who finished the season at 11-2, were led by junior quarterback Mark LaPrairie, who had 2099 yards for 22 touchdowns and completed 61 percent of his passes. LaPrairie’s primary receiver, the other half of “The Connection,” was Neil VanderLaan, who caught 64 passes on the year, gaining 1,243 yards and 13 touchdowns. Rockford’s leading rusher was Nick Schmuck, who carried the ball 925 yards on the season, scoring 14 touchdowns. Schmuck had an average gain of 5.6 yards per rushing attempt.
The Ram defense was led by pair of seniors and a sophomore. Despite sitting out two games, linebacker Brett Egnatuk led the Ram defense with 140 tackles, 56 of them coming as solo tackles. Fellow linebacker Tyler Pratt had 105 tackles, with 13.5 tackles for loss. Defensive back KC Zenner, a sophomore, had six interceptions for a total of 80 yards to go along with his 64 tackles.
A special thank you from the team goes out to the Ram fans, who showed why they’re the best high school football fans in the state of Michigan by showing up week after week, displaying positive support for their team. As an old Ram motto goes, the “Right Attitude Means Success,” and your attitude contributed to the Rams’ success in 2010.
Mark your calendars for August 26, 2011, when, for the first time in 38 years, the Rockford Rams take on cross-county rival Lowell in a battle of perennial OK conference powerhouses.