By RANDY GREGORY
Rockford made the trek to Muskegon to square off with an undefeated and talented football team from Mona Shores High School on Friday, September 8th. Rockford jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead but gradually found themselves trailing 17-7 while failing to generate hardly anything offensively nearly through the end of the third quarter. It appeared for all intents and purposes that the Rams were destined to suffer a second consecutive defeat where the defense played valiantly but the offense just could not get anything going consistently.
But that was decidedly not the case as the final twelve minutes featured play after play of thrilling football from both teams that had both sides of the stadium alternating between delirium and despair. After combining to put 24 points on the board through the first three quarters the two squads produced 24 points in that final stanza to send the game into overtime tied at 24-24.
But an errant snap on a field goal try from the Rams with the opening possession of OT resulted in zero points for the visitors. Mona Shores cashed in with a touchdown on the third play of their possession to claim the thrilling 30-24 victory and stay undefeated at 3-0 on the season. Rockford fell to 1-2 with the loss to a third consecutive powerhouse from the state of Michigan.
“We have got to play solid football for 48 minutes or more as was the case was tonight,” said Rockford Coach Ralph Munger. “We have not put a solid half together so far let alone an entire game. We also had ten penalties tonight and that was definitely not Rockford football. We have had a tendency to be our own worst enemy so far this year and that has to stop if we want to reach our goals as a team.”
The game got off to a flying start for Rockford as Taylor Green burst through the Mona Shores line to block a punt and complete the daily double as he scooped the ball up and traveled 10 yards into the end zone to give Rockford a quick 7-0 lead following the Eric Zeboor conversion at the 8:04 mark of the opening quarter. Mona Shores countered with a TD of their own on the ensuing possession to quickly knot things up at 7-7 with 5:16 still to play in the opening quarter.
That would cap off the scoring of the first half for both teams. Mona Shores did reach the Rockford 26 twice in the second quarter before being turned aside on a Cade Klimczak fumble recovery on one occasion and an incomplete pass attempt on fourth down to end the other foray.
The third quarter was all Mona Shores unfortunately as the Sailors scored on a 51-yard QB keeper and a 20-yard field goal to grab control of the game from all appearances. But that all changed late in the third quarter as Rockford took possession of the ball at their own 12 following yet another of the myriad penalties assessed against them. Rockford quarterback Jason Whittaker suddenly started clicking in the passing game and some solid runs from Maliq Thompson aided the cause as Rockford marched 87 yards in 11 plays for the score. Thompson capped off the drive with a one-yard plunge off left tackle to make it 17-14 with 8:37 to play in regulation (Zeboor added the PAT).
Two plays later T.J. Higgins pounced on a Mona Shores fumble and Rockford was quickly in business again at the Sailor 39. This drive featured Thompson, Whittaker and Jack Richardson and on the sixth play of the drive Rockford finally took back the lead on a two-yard sweep from Whittaker inside the left pylon to make it a 21-17 lead for Rockford with 5:36 left in the game.
The Rams forced a quick three and out for Mona Shores and forced them into a punting formation. And good fortune again came for the Rams when the punt snap sailed high over the head of the punter into the end zone. But instead of the Rams falling on the ball in the end zone or sacking the punter for a safety, he somehow miraculously got off a short boot that ended up at the Mona Shores 28. Two runs got the ball to the 16 and it looked like Rockford was going to quickly march in for a two score lead that would all but wrap up the stirring comeback.
But a delay of game penalty and holding call stalled the Ram momentum and the Rams eventually fumbled and the Sailors recovered at their own 36 with just over two minutes to play. This drive featured a little bit of everything as Rockford was called for a pair of personal fouls while the Sailors were called for a chop block and a holding penalty to eventually set up a third and 25 form the Rockford 45 with just over a minute to play’
But instead of going for some of the yardage to set up an easier chance for a first down, the Sailors went for it all as they launched a deep pass into the end zone that saw the receiver and the Ram defensive back fighting for the ball right at the goal line. The crowd held their collective breath waiting for the official to render a decision. He finally signaled touchdown and Mona Shores took back the lead at 24-21 with 57 seconds left on the clock.
But that was just enough time for the suddenly potent Ram offense to tie things up at 24-24. Whittaker crisply moved the Rams from their own 40 to the Sailor 20 and Zeboor trotted out onto the field to try to send the contest into overtime with a 38-yard field goal attempt. The kick sailed high and true and would easily have been good from another 15-20 yards and the two teams were headed to OT all knotted up.
But a poor snap on a field goal try left Rockford with nothing to show for their possession and the Sailors ran three plays to reach the end zone and claim the 30-24 triumph.
Thompson led the Rockford rushing attack with 60 yards on 15 carries. Whittaker was 15 of 25 passing for 148 yards with Thompson hauling in four receptions for 46 yards to pace the receiving corps. Logan Lee added three catches for 39 yards while Chase Novak had three of his own for 26 yards as well.
Khale Showers again paced the Rockford defense with 17 tackles. Paul Reinke and Ian Rodriguez chipped in with seven apiece while Marcus Remtema added six tackles of his own,
Rockford returns to the friendly confines of Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium to kick off the OK Red season on Friday, September 15th. Caledonia will provide the opposition for the 7:00 P.M. kickoff as the Rams look to extend their streak of OK Red titles to nine.