By RANDY GREGORY
Fresh off a dominating 36-0 victory over Lowell, Rockford will kick off the OK Red season with a bang as they host the defending league champions from Holland West Ottawa on Friday, September 7 at 7:00 P.M. The Panthers topped Rockford twice last year in a pair of offensive contests by the scores of 35-30 and 33-28.
Both games were played in Holland last season though they followed very different paths in reaching their final outcomes. In the regular season confrontation, Rockford jumped out to a huge lead at the half before a furious Panther rally led them to the 35-30 triumph. The district final in the Michigan High School Athletic Association playoffs saw the Panthers take an early sizable advantage before Rockford rallied late while coming up just short in the 33-28 West Ottawa triumph.
The wins were costly to Rockford on two fronts. The first brought to an end the Rams streak of eight consecutive OK Red crowns as they had to settle for the second spot. The second saw the Rams postseason hopes come to an end after only two games in the 2017 campaign.
This is a series that has seen Rockford dominate to the tune of an overall mark of 39-11-1. Before last season’s pair of wins, the last Panther victory came by the score of 31-24 in 2002.
West Ottawa returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball from last year’s excellent squad. While they lost a bit more offensively, including their top three receivers and top two rushers, they do return their standout quarterback (Isaac VanDyke). All VanDyke did last week was rush for five touchdowns while amassing 138 yards on 30 carries and going 16-29 passing for 183 yards in a thrilling 42-41 win over an outstanding Forest Hills Central squad.
Senior safety Jason Fairfield did his part on the other side of the ball for the Panthers while reeling in a trio of interceptions.
Including the season opening 35-10 win over Stevensville Lakeshore the Panthers have picked right back up from last year as they are out of the gates at 2-0. For their part, Rockford stands at 1-1 after the Lowell victory and a 27-7 defeat at the hands of the number-two team in the state of Illinois (Loyola Academy).