Unsung heroes play pivotal in Ram comeback

By Randy Gregory

 

The usual stars on the gridiron are the quarterback, the running backs, the wide receivers or the violent tacklers from a stifling defense. Rockford has plenty of talent to fit all of those descriptions on this year’s team. Kyle Short, Sam Reinke, KC Zenner, Brent Showers and Randy Garvin are just several of the headliners on a typically talented Rockford squad. But in the Ram’s stunning 35-28 come from behind victory over West Ottawa, it was a pair of players who perform under the radar regularly who really rose to the occasion and made plays in critical situations.

Steven Bilski has started several games at cornerback for Rockford and rotated in and out of the lineup with regularity. But with Rockford trailing 28-21 and trying desperately to get the ball back with four minutes left in the game it was time for him to show his moxie.

Tyler VanTubbergen had riddled the Rockford defense repeatedly all game long with his incredible scrambles and precise throws from the quarterback position for the Panthers. But facing pressure, he tried to force a throw into tight coverage while rolling to his left. Bilski not only provided the tight coverage, he dove in front of the receiver to make a sprawling interception that set the Rams up at the Panther 27. It was his first career interception.

“Steven Bilski made what we call a “MAD” play there,” said Rockford defensive coordinator Randy VanderVeen. “That stands for make a difference and that is exactly what he did in a pressurized situation. It was an opportunity for him to shine and he really made an incredible interception.”

The Rams quickly punched the ball into the end zone to thrill the team and it’s fans and make it a 28-27 game. But that thrill quickly turned to disappointment as the extra point just sailed by the right upright to keep it a 28-27 contest with only 2:12 to play. The Panther fans rose as one to celebrate the errant kick and the unexpected gift that would send them on to their first win over Rockford in the last twelve games.

But out trotted an even more unlikely hero for Rockford. Curran Schoff doesn’t leave a very large physical imprint with his 5’9” 148 pound physique. But he left a huge impression on all in attendance with what happened next. Schoff calmly teed up the ball at the Ram 40 and sent a blistering onside kick towards the front wall of the receiving team. The ball caromed off a Panther and was recovered by Connor Grady at the Ram 48-yard line. Two plays later Connor Darby put the Rams on top for good and the home crowd was truly in a frenzy as the final seconds ticked off in the stirring triumph.

“What a great kick by Curran Schoff there,” said Rockford special teams coordinator Steve Dengler. “He has not only done a great job all year holding for kicks, he got the chance and delivered perfectly when we most needed it. I am so happy for him.”

Rockford head coach Ralph Munger was also thrilled for Schoff. “Curran Schoff has been practicing onside kicks for eleven weeks and came up huge for us,” said Munger. “He wasn’t remotely apprehensive when he got the chance and did exactly what we needed him to do. He wasn’t overly apprehensive, he kicked it perfectly and the recovery team guys did a great job too. It was like Curran was willing it to happen for our seniors.”

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