By Randy Gregory
Last year the regular season featured a Rockford versus West Ottawa tilt in Holland that saw the Rams jump out to a commanding lead at the half only to fall prey to a sudden third quarter collapse that proved decisive in a 35-30 Panther victory. This year the venue changed as the game took place in Rockford, but the end result was hauntingly familiar with West Ottawa claiming a 45-40 win following a touchdown with only 20.5 seconds to play in the game.
The Rams took a 21-10 lead into the locker room at the half and appeared ready to increase that margin even more after forcing a quick three and out on West Ottawa’s first possession of the third quarter. That was the beginning of an ultimately decisive stretch for the Ram offense as they proceeded to lose a fumble on their first snap, bobble the ball a few plays later, have a shotgun snap roll back to the quarterback and lose another fumble two drives later on the first play. Five plays, two turnovers and a total loss of momentum that led to a 22-0 outburst from the Panthers in that 12-minute span turned a 21-10 Ram lead into a 32-21 deficit.
To the Rams credit they put the pedal to the medal in the final quarter and even took a 40-39 lead with just over two minutes to play in the game. But as happened with stunning regularity over the entirety of the second half, Panther quarterback Isaac VanDyke promptly led West Ottawa on a 12-play 64-yard drive that ended on his own one-yard plunge and the game was for all intents and purposes decided with 20.5 seconds to play.
West Ottawa jumped out to a 3-0 lead on an opening drive field goal but the Rams quickly answered when Jaiden Friesen swept left into the end zone form the Panther 3 to make it 7-3 Rockford with 1:09 remaining in the opening quarter. West Ottawa responded with a TD pass of their own on the next drive to make it a 10-7 game early in the second quarter,
Drew Bareno sparked the next score for Rockford as he hit Maverick Pant on a 47-yard strike before connecting with his brother Nate on a 16-yard scoring pass to give the Rams a 14-10 lead after Teagen Lenderink added his second PAT. Rockford added another quick score after recovering an errant snap at the Panther one by Tyler Waterstrat. Friesen again did the honors by plowing into the end zone and the Rams had a 21-10 lead and seemingly all of the momentum. Alex Miller picked off a Panther aerial on the next possession but Rockford was unable to capitalize. The remainder of the half saw both teams unable to move the ball and the half ended with the Rams holding a 21-10 lead.
The aforementioned disastrous third quarter saw West Ottawa score on a 23-yard TD pass, a 33-yard TD run and a 67-yard TD pass. Coupled with a pair of extra point kicks and a two-point conversion, the fourth quarter loomed ominously for a Rockford team that looked so poised and had given the huge home contingent much to cheer about in the opening twenty-four minutes.
But defying the odds, the Rams mounted a furious rally of their own to get back into the game in the final quarter. Friesen scored his third touchdown of the game from a yard out with 9:44 left in the game to make it 32-27 though a two-point conversion attempt went awry. West Ottawa needed all of two plays to answer as they covered 50 yards to increase the lead to 39-27. Drew Bareno then hit Jack Richardson on a one-yard scoring pass to make it 39-34 with 6:05 left to play.
Rockford then got a huge break on the first play from scrimmage for the Panthers when Cade Klimczak pounced on a fumble at the West Ottawa 34. But a pair of penalties appeared to put Rockford up against it when they were left facing a third down and thirty from the Panther 42. But Drew Bareno dropped back and lofted a beautiful deep ball to Eli Haddad just beyond the defensive back that was reeled in at the Panther one. Richardson scored one play later and the home crowd sensed that the incredible comeback had come to a final realization with just 2:10 left in the game.
But there was just too much time on the clock and the Panthers capitalized on the previously mentioned score late to claim the huge OK Red win.
Drew Bareno was 13-22 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Haddad had three catches for 72 yards while Nate Bareno also garnered three receptions for 66 yards. Pant added a pair of catches for 57 yards. Friesen paced the rushing attack with 64 yards on 18 carries and Richardson chipped in with 50 on 12 attempts.
Ian Rodriguez paced the Ram defense with 11 tackles and Jarrett Plekes and Austin Klein added 7 and 6 respectively.
Next up for the Rams as they continue their early season gauntlet is another formidable foe. Muskegon Mona Shores will roll into Rockford sporting a perfect record of 3-0 on Friday, September 14th. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 P.M. as the Rams look to improve on their own record of 1-2.