By RANDY GREGORY
For a pair of teams that have met only nine times since 1996, the Rockford versus Muskegon football game has become one of the most highly anticipated games of the year in the state of Michigan. The series has featured blowouts, upsets and more than a few contests that came down to the wire.
Three of the games were state playoff contests and the other six occurred in the regular season, including a few that decided the OK Red championship. Muskegon has dropped down a class so the playoff games have become a fairly distant memory with the last happening in 2002. Rockford buried Muskegon 41-6 in 1996 in their first ever encounter in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs.
The Big Reds upset an undefeated Rockford team 34-31 in overtime in 2001 and escaped with a 41-35 triumph in 2002 in the other two playoff games. Although both of those games featured several officiating calls that still stick in the craw of Rockford fans to this day.
They played in a memorable contest before an overflow crowd at Fifth Third Ball Park in 2010 where the Rams steamrolled Muskegon with a high-flying aerial assault 52-44 in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.
NFL films produced a memorable documentary about great rivalries from the 2007 contest where a loaded Big Red team that was nationally-ranked took on a Ram team that was a huge underdog. Hard to believe that two teams that were meeting for just the fourth-time was a great rivalry, but the teams put on a show for the ages. In the end the Rams rallied late to pull off a stunning 28-21 upset and I still talk to former Rams who played for Rockford coach Ralph Munger who are visibly moved when they remember his post game comments in the latter stages of the documentary.
The Rams and Big Reds also faced off before the largest crowd ever assembled at Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium in 2008 in a battle of undefeated teams that would both claim state titles in their respective classes several weeks later. I have seen claims of between 12 to 14,000 spectators but the game was never in doubt as Muskegon dominated the Rams on that night by a 34-6 count. The teams played in back to back games in the state semifinals at Michigan State University a month or so later and the mutual support and respect they showed each other was indicative of what the teams thought of each other as both earned victories before appreciative crowds.
Last year saw Muskegon post a 21-9 win over an injury decimated Ram squad that stopped a run of three straight Rockford wins. Rockford holds a 5-4 edge in the memorable series against the team that has won more games than any other school in the history of high school football in the state of Michigan. Nobody knows what this year portends, but it will be a contest that fans of both teams will flock to in droves and join the lore of what has become a series of classic football games.