By RANDY GREGORY
Rockford players, coaches and fans couldn’t help but be somewhat slightly disconcerted following last weeks 27-7 defeat to Loyola Academy (IL) in the season opener. Those doubts were allayed in a convincing fashion at Lowell on Thursday, August 30 as Rockford pummeled the “Pink Arrows” 36-0 before a huge turnout in the annual Pink Arrow cancer benefit football game.
The crowd was bursting at the seams and filled with hope and determination not only for the game but for the extremely worthy cause that would be the ultimate beneficiary. Lowell is historically known as the Red Arrows but once a year dons pink and briefly claims the “Pink Arrows” moniker before a home contest that draws multitudes well into the thousands.
“The administration at Lowell has a great perspective on football, people and everything else.” said Rockford coach Ralph Munger. “I feel that we do too at Rockford. It was a privilege to be a part of this great cause.’
The game itself began in an inauspicious manner for both offenses as there were exactly zero first downs on the first seven possessions of the contest. Lowell finally broke the ice by accruing the initial first down on the eighth drive, though it was exactly that- a single first down.
But from that point forward it was a game dominated by the Rams. Rockford took over at the Lowell 47 and used 13 plays to cover the 53 yards. The key play of the drive was a Drew Bareno scramble for six yards with Rockford facing a fourth down and five at the Lowell 37. The scoring play was a 19-yard Bareno pass over the middle to tight end Cade Klimczak on a drag route that made it a 7-0 game following the Teagen Lenderink conversion with 5:33 left in the first half.
That was the beginning of a monumental shift in the flow of the game as Rockford scored on six of their final seven possessions.
“I was concerned we gave away two or three opportunities to score early,” said Munger, “But we flipped a switch from a mental standpoint and the guys showed great resolve and turned it up a notch and we were able to execute our game plan beginning midway through the second quarter.”
Lenderink would go on to add a 26-yard field goal with a single second left in the first half to make it a 10-0 Rockford lead at the end of two quarters.
The second half dawned and that saw Rockford unleash Jaiden Friesen on the Red Arrows. The burly, 220-pound junior fullback ripped off runs of 59 and 26-yards while plowing through a bevy of Lowell defenders to make it a 16-0 contest with 5:42 left in the third quarter. The latter of those runs was the scoring run but a blocked extra point kept the score at 16-0.
The next Ram possession was capped off by a two-yard burst from senior halfback Jack Richardson in a drive that began at the Lowell 30. Lenderink added the PAT and the score stood at 23-0 with 1:33 left in the third stanza. Lowell then inexplicably went for it on a fourth down and ten from their own 26 before reaching the familiar outcome of turning it over on downs to give Rockford a short field for yet another score.
That one came on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Bareno to a wide open Kip Cushman down the left side on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Lenderink’s conversion made it a 30-0 game and sent a fair portion of fans scurrying for the exits.
The final Ram marker of the night came on a nine-yard sprint around the right side from sophomore quarterback Chris Corey with 4:02 left in the game that set the running clock in motion. That was the final score of the night as the game ended at 36-0.
Lost in the excitement of the offensive outburst for Rockford was a sterling effort from the Rockford defense. Rockford allowed Lowell to accumulate only seven first downs over the course of the game and only a single foray into Rockford territory. That trip came on the final possession of the night against the Ram second and third-string defense.
“Veen (defensive coordinator Randy VanderVeen) and his staff really prepared the kids well,” said Munger. “They spent a lot of time putting the kids in a position to succeed. They executed the game plan from start
Friesen led Rockford ball carriers with 101 yards on only six attempts. Richardson added 43 on 13 carries. Bareno was 8 of 17 passing for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns and a single interception. Cushman led the receiving corps with 3 catches for 56 yards. Austin Klein led the stalwart Ram defense with 8 stops while Ian Rodriguez pitched in with five. Jarrett Plekes and Klimczak added four apiece while Nick McCauley added an interception to the Rockford slate.
Next up for the Rams is a key OK Red showdown as they host defending OK Red champion West Ottawa on Friday, September 7 at 7:00 P.M. The Panthers are off to a 2-0 start and swept Rockford in a pair of high-scoring contests (35-30 and 33-28) last year. The first Panther win stopped the Rockford streak of eight consecutive OK Red titles and the second knocked the Rams out of the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs.