By RANDY GREGORY
On a night where the offense struggled to maintain consistency and the yards came in fits and starts, the Ram defense collected six turnovers in total to post a 41-28 verdict over Holt in the home opener for Rockford on Friday, September 6 at Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium. The win moved the Rams to 2-0 on the season and set up a showdown with Muskegon (also 2-0) this Friday, September 13th in a battle between top five teams in the state.
Rockford took an early lead following a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown from Tyler Bradfield at the 10:24 mark of the first quarter. The Rams never trailed from that point forward and the lead grew to as large as 38-14 before Holt made minor inroads over the balance of the fourth quarter.
“At times the defense was spectacular tonight,” said Rockford coach Ralph Munger. “We had great field position all night with the turnovers and some pretty good returns and we were able to capitalize on it throughout. I thought we also had pretty good pressure on their quarterback tonight but he was able to make some plays scrambling that cost us some points. We played very well in the secondary as evidenced by the four interceptions, but when a play starts to break down you have to maintain your assignment and I think we failed to do that a couple of times as well and it ended up hurting us occasionally.”
After the quick 7-0 Rockford lead the game began to drag on as both teams battled penalties and inconsistency early. Ryan Baumann hopped on another fumble at the Holt 22-yard line that eventually resulted in a 32-yard field goal from Quinn Nordin that gave Rockford a 10-0 lead with 2:20 to play in the opening quarter.
Holt changed tactics entirely from an offensive perspective at that point as they abandoned the run and went to the air continually with mixed results. Rockford was dominating the line of scrimmage defensively and it was really their only option to mount anything resembling an offensive attack.
The change paid immediate dividends for Holt as a result of a scramble where the quarterback was chased from the pocket ended up in a 25-yard touchdown pass with 10:57 to go in the second quarter. That cut the Rockford lead to 10-7 and the Holt partisans saw a flicker of hope when Rockford followed that up by tossing an interception of their own into the Holt end zone on the ensuing drive.
But Rockford defensive back Josh Olson reeled in picks of his own on two of the next three Holt passes that returned the momentum to Rockford. The home team was unable to capitalize on the first interception, but Darian Vaughn went 30 yards for a Rockford touchdown following the second to restore the lead to 17-7. Things remained that way as the two teams headed into the locker room for halftime.
Rockford struck quickly in the second half as they marched 63 yards in just four plays after receiving the second half kickoff. The highlight of the drive was a 51-yard pass from Austin McKellar to Zach Sargent that moved the ball to the Holt 8-yard line. Chris Bell capped it off with a four-yard TD run that made it 24-7 Rockford following the first of Drake Strehl’s three conversions with 10:19 still to play in the third stanza.
But Holt refused to go away and capitalized on another scramble from a harried quarterback that ended in a 25-yard touchdown pass two drives later that made it still a tenuous 24-14 Rockford lead. But a 48-yard punt return from Bradfield shortly thereafter set Rockford up at the Holt 24. McKellar sprinted in from 18-yards three plays later to make it again a more comfortable 31-14 Rockford lead.
Bradfield picked off another errant Holt aerial on the following drive and it was 38-14 Rockford after CJ Farmer broke free for a 31-yard TD run two plays later on the opening play of the final quarter. Another Holt scramble on the very next play went for 80-yards and a touchdown via the air to make it 38-21.
Trevor Coughlin picked off another pass for Rockford at the Holt 18 that ended up with a 20-yard field goal from Nordin that made it 41-21. Holt made it 41-28 in the game’s waning moments after a 23-yard run.
“The kids gave an all out effort all the time tonight,” said Munger. “Austin (McKellar) made a special play on his touchdown run and we got great plays from multiple players all night long. But in every high school game you are going to see some things that aren’t going to make you happy from a coaching perspective. It was a win but we need to go back and work on things and be better next week across the board.”
The largest blight on an otherwise beautiful evening before a huge crowd was the injury suffered in a valiant attempt at reeling in a long pass by Sargent early in the final quarter. The ball fell barely incomplete but Sargent stayed down following the play and was tended to by trainers and medical personnel before being carted off. It appeared to be a lower leg injury but details were not available immediately following the game as to the severity.
McKellar was 1 for 8 passing for 51 yards with the lone reception belonging to Sargent. Vaughn led the ground attack with 60 yards on 12 carries. Randy Garvin led the defense with 5 solo and 5 assisted tackles while Brent Showers added 3 solo and 6 assists from the other inside linebacker slot. Drew Boatright added three of each to fuel a solid effort for Rockford from the linebacker position.