Rams hold on in regional football final

Rockford advances to face Detroit Catholic Central in semifinals 

by TIM COOPER

Kyle Short returns the first of his two interceptions against the Grand Blanc Bobcats. Photo by JIM COOPER

The goal for Coach Ralph Munger and his Rams in the regional final game was not necessarily to stop the high-powered Grand Blanc Bobcats’ offense. Grand Blanc, in the first two games of the playoffs, had run up 108 points, more than any other team in Division I. Munger gave high praise to the Grand Blanc squad, saying, “They’re the most talented team in the state.”

Early in the first quarter, it appeared the Rams were going to do more than slow Grand Blanc. On the second play from scrimmage, Kyle Short intercepted a pass from quarterback Bart Williams, returning it to the Bobcat 15-yard line. Connor Darby powered into the end zone from four yards out three plays later.

On Grand Blanc’s second possession, it appeared as if the Rams were going to continue to stop the Bobcats, as Rockford forced Grand Blanc to kick the ball away. KC Zenner returned the punt to the Bobcat 47, where the Ram offense took command. They advanced to the 24-yard line before being stalled by the Grand Blanc defense, where Steve Mette was called upon to kick the first of three field goals. Mette connected from 42 yards, 32 yards, and 45 yards.

Ryan Hartley attempts to crash through the Bobcat defensive front. Hartley led the Rams with 125 yards on the ground. Photo by JIM COOPER

With the Rams leading 10-0, the Bobcats showed they wouldn’t be stopped, but rather they could only be slowed down. Grand Blanc moved the ball to the Rockford 7-yard line, where they were faced with a third-and-goal situation. A pass interference call against the Rams gave the Bobcats a fresh set of downs inside the 5-yard line. Williams completed the drive when he found Tearon Jameson, bringing the Bobcats within three points.

After Mette knocked in his second and third field goals to give Rockford a nine-point lead, Grand Blanc appeared to have reversed the tides. They moved the ball 61 yards before giving up an interception in the end zone to Chubbs Johnson.

The Rockford offensive line took control of the game, opening large holes and allowing the Ram running backs to chew up the field. With time running out in the first half, quarterback Mark LaPrairie found receiver Brandon Lubenow in the corner of the end zone from 13 yards out, giving Rockford a 23-7 lead going into halftime.

Connor Darby drags a pair of Grand Blanc defenders with him. Photo by JIM COOPER

In the second half, a determined Bobcat squad went to their spread offense, using short passes to move the ball. Grand Blanc drove 80 yards to open the half, scoring on an 11-yard pass from Williams to Jordan Fields. The two-point conversion made it an eight-point game.

Following a Bobcat interception, Grand Blanc again put the ball in the end zone, bringing them to within two points. Again, they attempted a two-point conversion. This time, however, they failed, as the pass was broken up by the Ram defense.

On fourth down with 16 yards to go, Munger allowed the offense to stay on the field. Rockford caught the Bobcats off guard when LaPrairie pooch-kicked the ball. The ball was downed by the Rams inside the yard line. Grand Blanc advanced the ball no further than the 6-yard line before being forced to punt.

The Rams’ final scoring drive started on the Bobcat 42-yard line. A pass interference penalty helped Rockford to a first-and-10 at the 25. Three plays later, LaPrairie appeared to drop back for a pass, but instead handed the ball to Ryan Hartley, who took the ball 11 yards for a touchdown and a nine-point Ram lead.

Grand Blanc mounted one more charge, scoring with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter, to bring them within two. Their onside kick was recovered by Matt Boonstra. The Rams took possession at their own 49, and successfully ran out the clock, clinching the 30-28 victory.

Rockford finished the day with 338 yards on the ground. Hartley led all rushers with 125 yards on 18 carries.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, the Rams will travel to Battle Creek Central for a showdown with the Shamrocks of Detroit Catholic Central for the MHSAA Division I semifinals. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

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