Jaiden Friesen breaks the goal line with plenty of Grand Rapids Christian players on his back. ~ Photo by Miles J Postema
Rockford made the trek to Grand Rapids, Thursday, Aug. 29 (and Friday, Aug. 30 as fate would have it) to square off for the first time ever with a highly-rated squad from Grand Rapids Christian. It took two days to complete the contest but the Rams emerged with an impressive 24-14 triumph over the Eagles to start the season 1-0 for only the second time since 2014.
As to the delayed finish to the contest, Rockford built a 17-0 lead at the half on Thursday before a lengthy lightning display forced an eventual cancellation after the teams waited for approximately 90 minutes for it all to die down. Alas it was not to be, and the coaches and athletic directors settled on a resumption of the game for Friday at 1 p.m.
The unfortunate interruption failed to deter a surprisingly large Ram contingent that outnumbered the hosts fans by a fairly substantial margin when the game resumed on the 30th. The Eagles were able to seize the momentum midway through the third quarter on a 32-yard touchdown pass that would bring them to within 17-7, but the Rams went right back to their hammer to push the lead back to 24-7. The hammer in this instance was 240-pound senior fullback Jaiden Friesen who carried the ball seven times for 47 yards to complete a 56-yard drive that took only nine plays. A late Eagle TD made it a more respectable 24-14 game, but it was far too little and late for the hosts.
"Jaiden Friesen is a load,” said acting Rockford head coach Randy VanderVeen. “He is blessed with great genes and has put an enormous amount of work in the weight room. I'm glad we are done with Christian. Offensively, they are very difficult to defend. Schematically, they have some very good stuff over there."
The first quarter featured a lot of back and forth as the teams traded jabs and made occasional forays into enemy territory but neither team was able to dent the scoring column. But the second stanza was all Rockford as the Rams put up 17 points to take a firm grasp on the game.
The first score came on the first play of the second quarter as junior quarterback Chris Corey rolled right before finding senior wide receiver Eli Haddad open in the back of the end zone to make it a 6-0 Ram lead with 11:55 left in the opening half. Junior kicker and punter Teagen Lenderink made good on the first of three extra points at that juncture to make it a 7-0 lead.
The second Ram scoring drive was set up by an Eagle fumble that was recovered by senior Dylan Dams at the Christian 47. That drive was capped off by another yeoman-like effort from Friesen. This time he toted the rock on six of the seven plays for 38 yards before plowing into the end zone on a six yard plunge that built the lead to 14-0 with 5:38 to play in the first half following another Lendrink conversion.
Rockford then forced another fumble that was recovered by junior Ben Tadych on the next possession but the Rams were unable to capitalize on that opportunity. But Lenderink made it a 17-0 game with only six seconds to play in the second quarter as he absolutely boomed a 45-yard field goal right down the middle. The kick would easily have been good from another ten yards and was part of an impressive display from Lenderink that also included putting every kickoff but one into the end zone to nullify the athleticism the Eagles possessed at the skill positions.
"It was a difficult situation for the team and they had to overcome a lot of adversity by coming back to play and maintain that pinnacle high a day later," said VanderVeen. "I think we were really well-prepared and it was a great defensive effort against a team that is very difficult to prepare for. But we knew we would have to get it done as units. And we have good, even what we would call great kids, who really rose to the occasion."
Friesen battered his way for 149 yards on 25 carries while leaving a wake of destruction in his path on nearly every carry. Corey was 8 of 18 passing for 69 yards and one touchdown. Haddad led the receiving corps with five receptions for 41 yards as the Rams totaled 240 yards of offense.
There were a trio of Ram defenders who paced the effort on that side of the ball. Reid Nicholson had nine tackles while adding a fumble recovery and a sack while Dylan Dams added six tackles and a fumble recovery of his own. But the stat sheet stuffer for the spirited Ram defense was junior linebacker Ben Tadych who had seven tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks and a fumble recovery of his own.
Next up for Rockford is the home opener next Friday, Sept. 5, against Lowell. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. as the Rams look to go 2-0 to open the season for the first time since 2014.
Junior Chris Corey is handling quarterback duties for the Rams. ~ Photo by Miles J Postema
The Rams varsity football team brought a large crowd, sporting a patriotic theme, with them. ~ Photo by Miles J Posteam
Dylan Dams strips the ball from a Grand Rapids Christian ball carrier. ~ Photo by Miles J Postema
The Rams offense had a big night against Grand Rapids Christian. ~ Photo by Miles J Postema