Defense shines in first half
by TIM COOPER and MATT WEAVER
An undefeated West Ottawa Panthers football team paid a visit to the Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 16, to face the Rams in a highly anticipated matchup between the two OK Red teams.
A balanced offensive attack, led by Trevor VanTubbergan, effectively moved the ball down field on the Panthers’ opening drive. However, a Rockford interception by Shane Showers at the 10-yard line put an end to the series. Three plays later, West Ottawa was back in control of the ball on the Rams’ 8-yard line following a Rockford fumble. The Panthers were forced to kick a 26-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Rockford’s first score of the night was set up when KC Zenner raced 62 yards on the following kick return. A 50-yard field goal by Steve Mette tied the score when the Rams’ drive was stalled on the West Ottawa 33-yard line.
The stout Rockford defense prevented West Ottawa from scoring again for the remainder of the first half. Late in the first half, the Rams’ offense found its footing as well, when Mark LaPrairie hit Brandon Lubenow on fourth down. Lubenow split the Panthers’ defense for 41 yards and a touchdown with just five seconds remaining in the half.
“We could have buried ourselves in the first half,” said Coach Ralph Munger. “Maybe it was a bad game plan on my part, but that touchdown was huge.”
The Rams opened the second half with a 10-3 lead and the ball. An 85-yard drive was capped by Ryan Hartley’s 2-yard plunge into the end zone. After the Rams’ defense forced West Ottawa to go three-and-out, Hartley scored his second touchdown on a 10-yard run, giving Rockford a 24-3 lead.
Rockford’s next score came only eight plays later when Mette hit a 52-yard field goal.
“I feel very comfortable with Steve from the 33-yard line in,” Munger said of his kicker. “Mette is very capable from around fifty yards.”
West Ottawa cut into the Ram lead when VanTubbergan hit Ato Condelee for 11 yards, bringing the Panthers to within 17.
Following the kickoff, Ram running back Brady Gent took the ball 80 yards on the first play from scrimmage to give Rockford a 24-point lead once again. The Rams’ final score of the night came when LaPrairie again found Lubenow, this time from 38 yards, giving Rockford a 41-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers scored once more, making the final score 41-16.
“Mark LaPrairie did very well coming back from his injury,” said Munger of his senior quarterback. “The offensive line’s pass blocking was the key to keeping him into the game.”
The Ram victory sets up a mid-season showdown with rival Muskegon at Hackley Field on Friday, Sept. 23.
“Nothing changes from year to year with Muskegon,” Munger said. “They are always one of the most talented teams in the state.”