By RANDY GREGORY
Rockford and Grandville met in a showcase contest for gaining an early leg up in the OK Red conference at Grandville on Friday, September 29th. The Bulldogs of Grandville were fresh off of a 28-14 triumph over previously unbeaten East Kentwood and stood to establish themselves as the favorites in the conference if they could knock off Rockford. Rockford was coming off of two consecutive wins of their own, but both were against lower echelon teams in the conference (Caledonia and Grand Haven). And to add to the difficulty of the match up, Rockford had numerous players not suited up to face a 4-1 Grandville squad that had seemed to be hitting their groove.
But the Ram defense had not been informed of the difficulties they would potentially be facing as they dominated from the opening whistle to the final horn en route to an emphatic 27-0 victory before a large, shell-shocked Grandville contingent. Rockford scored a touchdown in all four quarters while allowing a grand total of exactly four first downs to the Dawgs. And two of those came via defensive penalties against the Rams. Rarely did consecutive plays net positive yardage for Grandville and the biggest cheer of the evening for the home crowd was when the Bulldogs actually got their initial first down of the game that did not come via penalty in the third quarter.
“First off, I want to say hats off to Randy (VanderVeen) and his staff for implementing a tremendous defensive strategy for tonight’s game,” said Rockford coach Ralph Munger. “They did a great job and were relentless all night long in not allowing Grandville to sustain anything. But by the same token we made a lot of mistakes in other areas tonight. Every starter played well enough to win this game offensively but we have much, much more to work on if we want to develop the consistency we need to attain in order to achieve our goals.”
After forcing the first of many Grandville three and outs on the opening drive of the night, Rockford wasted no time in posting the first and only score they would need for the contest. Chase Novak cradled in the ensuing punt at the Rockford 27 and spun his way out of a tackle while reversing his field and did not stop until being brought down at the Bulldog 33-yard line. It took the Rams six plays to cover the distance with Connor White doing the honors on a four-yard run at the 8:04 mark of the opening quarter. Eric Zeboor added the point after and it was a quick 7-0 Rockford lead.
The game bogged down somewhat for the next quarter and a half as neither team was able to mount anything resembling a sustained drive. But Rockford got their first big break of the night late in the second quarter when a punt snap on one of the numerous Bulldog punts of the night was bobbled. Alex Miller and Jarrett Plekes combined to sack the punter at the Grandville 26 and it took only three plays for Rockford to add to the lead. This time it was Maliq Thompson doing the honors as he slashed right up the gut while breaking a pair of tackles on his way to a 14-yard TD run. Zeboor again split the uprights and it was a 14-0 Ram lead with 3:38 left in the first half.
Rockford received the second half kickoff but quickly punted the ball to Grandville after three plays. That set the stage for Grandville to mount their only even remotely sustained drive in an effort to get back in the game. Using an actual first down and achieving another via penalty against Rockford, the Bulldogs looked to be in business with a first down at the Ram 33-yard line. But the Ram defense quickly squelched the drive while adding to the Rockford lead in the process. Snapping the ball on the first play from that spot, the Grandville running back found himself facing a swarm of Rockford defenders several yards deep in the backfield. Out of that scrum, Ram defensive back Marcus Remtema emerged with the ball at the Grandville 42 and raced 58 yards untouched to the end zone and start the mass exodus to the exits of the Bulldog faithful. The PAT was just wide and it was a 20-0 Rockford lead with 7:16 to play in the third quarter.
Grandville later blocked a Ram punt that set them up at the Rockford 30 but they were again denied without achieving a single first down. After turning the Dawgs aside the Rams took over at their own 25 and marched to the final score of the evening for the visitors. Using ten plays, the Rams reached pay dirt when quarterback Drew Bareno lofted a 24-yard touchdown strike to a wide open Logan Lee down the left side at the 5:28 mark of the final quarter. Zeboor’s PAT made it a 27-0 game and the whitewash was finished off by the stalwart Ram defense several minutes later.
Thompson led the Ram rushing attack with 87 yards on 19 carries. Jack Richardson added 60 yards on 15 carries as Rockford rushed for 144 yards as a team for the contest. Bareno was 5 for 10 passing for 52 yards and the one touchdown. Richardson had two receptions for 15 yards while Jake McLean also hauled in a pair for 13 yards.
Khale Showers again led the way defensively with 15 tackles while Remtema further added to his own stellar game with 12 tackles to go along with defensive touchdown. Paul Reinke and Miller also added seven tackles apiece to the Ram cause while Eli Haddad came up with an interception as well.
The win moves Rockford to 4-2 on the season but even more importantly it left the Rams at 3-0 in the OK Red. Rockford will be on the road again this week as they travel to West Ottawa for the next game of the year in conference play. The Panthers are 4-0 in conference play and 5-1 overall. They stomped East Kentwood 34-7 last week to position themselves along with Rockford as the only unbeaten teams left in OK Red play. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 P.M. and a large turnout is anticipated.