by Randy Gregory
The stats don’t jump off the page at you, but Rockford senior quarterback Kyle Short played a huge role as Rockford knocked off West Ottawa 24-14 at Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium in Rockford on Friday, September 28th. Short has been battling a stress fracture in his foot since before the season even started and Friday’s contest marked the first time this year he was able to go all the way for the Rams. Rockford coach Ralph Munger stressed that having Short on the field helps in myriad ways for the Rams offensively.
“It really allows us to open up the playbook when Kyle is in there,” said Munger. “Take nothing away from Austin (McKellar), he did a great job for someone with little experience at the position filling in. But Kyle is a calming senior influence on the field and we really need that with so few returnees offensively. And even though he is not back to full strength you could see that Kyle was much more mobile tonight and that adds some new facets to our offense.”
The Rockford defense also continued their season-long trend of solid play as well. West Ottawa entered the contest averaging nearly 30 points a game but the Ram defense allowed only one touchdown in a prevent defense situation late in the first half. Their other score was a 42-yard interception return at the 5:14 mark of the opening quarter that gave the Panthers an early 7-0 lead. The Panthers opening drive was crisply run and got down to the Ram 7 yard line before KC Zenner made a leaping interception for the Rams that temporarily halted West Ottawa from scoring. The interception return for a touchdown by the Panthers happened on the subsequent possession.
On their first six carries of the game West Ottawa garnered 42 yards. Their next 18 carries netted a loss of 12 yards as the Rams completely stifled a previously potent Panther ground game. West Ottawa had little more success passing the ball as they went 8 of 21 for 121 yards. To further illustrate the dominance of the Ram defense, the Panthers went three plays and out on their first five possessions of the second half.
“We really wanted to get a good rush on the quarterback and stay in our lanes and I thought we did a great job of that tonight,” said Munger. “West Ottawa has a terrific quarterback and two of the best wide receivers you are going to see. We executed our game plan defensively very well and in the second half particularly.”
The Rams scored their first points of the evening on a 19-yard field goal from Casey Watters after coming up short on a third down and goal play from the West Ottawa one. The Rams took their first lead of the night the next time they had the ball. The TD drive took 13 plays and covered 67 yards with Connor Grady doing the honors with a six-yard run at the 2:14 point of the first half. Watters added the first of his three extra points and it looked like the Rams would take as 10-7 lead into the locker room. But the Panthers completed half of their eight passes on the night in the ensuing drive before scoring on a one-yard pass with just 22 seconds left in the opening half. The Panther PAT gave them a 14-10 lead at the half.
The second half was all Rockford from stem to stern. The Rams moved the ball up and down the field while completely neutralizing the Panthers offensively. But it wasn’t until the 2:20 mark of the third quarter that the Rams took the lead for good. This time it was a Darian Vaughn three-yard dive right up the gut that gave Rockford a 17-14 lead.
The Panther defense employed a bend but don’t break look that kept the Rams at bay for the bulk of the remainder of the game. At one point it even appeared that the West Ottawa special teams would give them the lead. Rockford pooch punted a ball that was hopping around the Panther five-yard line. Out of nowhere West Ottawa’s Ryan VerHelst (who earlier returned the interception for a TD) gathered the ball in and broke free through a seam. he appeared headed for a 95-yard touchdown return when a flag came flying for a block in the back ten yards behind the play. The ball was brought back to the Rockford 33 and the stingy Ram defense held firm forcing a 47-yard field goal attempt that missed the mark.
Rockford finally put the game away at that point by marching 80 yards for the clinching score with 2:59 to play. Scott Kaule went the final five yards to give Rockford the game’s final points and a 24-14 triumph.
“There were a few times today when I was going to run the same play offensively over and over three or four times in a row until we started executing better,” said Munger. “But we settled down offensively later on and I thought we made some strides. Now we need to build on this and move forward.”
Sam Reinke led a huge day on the ground for the Ram offense with 148 yards on 23 carries. As a team, Rockford amassed 289 yards with Kaule, Grady and Short pitching in with 62, 41 and 26 yards respectively. Short was five of fourteen passing for fifty yards with Reinke grabbing two of the completions to lead the receivers. Jarett Sobkowiak and Blake McDonald had seven tackles apiece to pace the defense.
Rockford now stands at 4-2 on the season but more importantly they are a perfect 2-0 in conference play. Grand Haven is the only other unbeaten team in conference play and those two squads don’t meet until the final Friday of the regular season. Rockford plays their next game at Hudsonville on Friday, October 5 at 7 p.m..