The Rams celebrate after their 17-7 victory over East Kentwood to close out their regular season. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
On the strength of a suffocating defensive effort Rockford throttled East Kentwood 17-7 in the regular season finale at Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium in Rockford on Friday, Oct. 26. Combined with a Caledonia victory over Grandville, the Rams ultimately claimed an undisputed OK Red championship with a record of 5-1 in league play and 8-1 overall.
"It really feels awesome to win our league after we have come so close the last couple of years but kept coming up just short," said Rockford coach Ralph Munger. "Our coaching staff and kids worked really hard against a very challenging schedule and that dedication paid off in the end. East Kentwood has a very talented team and it required our best effort to come out on top tonight."
The Rockford defense was on point for nearly the totality of the contest while holding a potent East Kentwood offense to only 135 yards over the course of the game. It didn't appear that the Ram defense would be so dominant after the opening drive saw the Falcons march 80 yards in just three plays to take a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game. That scoring drive was aided by a reverse pass on the game’s opening play that saw the Falcon receiver fumble the ball, but a teammate scooped up the fumble and advanced it an extra 20 yards to the Ram 20.
For the balance of the contest, no East Kentwood drive accumulated more than a single first down. That included a pair of Rockford fumbles that gave the Falcons the ball at the Rockford 30- and 37-yard lines. On both of those occasions the Falcon offense ended up with negative yardage before the Rams took the ball back. The Ram defense had 13 tackles for loss, nine sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in total.
Rockford was able to knot things up at 7-7 later in the opening quarter. On the second drive of the game for the Rams, junior quarterback Chris Corey floated up a perfectly thrown deep ball to senior wide receiver Eli Haddad. Haddad did his best Willie Mays imitation as he deftly gathered in the pass over his shoulder while sprinting towards the end zone to complete the 36-yard touchdown pass. Teagen Lenderink added the point after and it was a 7-7 game with 5:48 left in the opening quarter. The Rams seemed headed for another score on the next drive but an interception by the Falcons thwarted that drive at the Falcon 14.
The next Ram possession saw them grab the lead for good. Using seven plays and marching from the Falcon 49 to the 22, Rockford was eventually forced to trot out the field goal unit. Lenderink nailed the 39-yard boot with 9:57 left in the opening half to give the Rams a 10-7 lead. Lenderink had an outstanding game from multiple angles as he consistently forced the Falcons to drive nearly the length of the field after every punt and kickoff. His five punts averaged 46.6 yards per kick while his four kickoffs went into the end zone for a touch back three times and was returned from the one the last time.
The third quarter and most of the final stanza saw both defenses rise to the occasion as neither team came close to denting the scoring column. It was the Ram offense that answered the bell with a key drive midway through the final quarter. Taking over at their own 39, the Rams used nine plays to cover the 61 yards before crossing the goal line with only 3:34 left in the contest. There were three key plays on the drive that proved crucial to the win. The first came with the Rams facing a third down and four at their own 45. Corey took the snap and rolled slightly left before firing a pass to junior tight end Isaac Toole that he neatly corralled before averting an attempted tackle and finally being stopped at the Falcon 25 after a 30-yard gain.
The Rams were then eventually faced with a second-and-10 at the EK 15 when Munger used a formation that paid huge dividends on consecutive plays. The first play from the wishbone found the Rams running a sweep to the left with junior fullback Jacob Vega. Vega plowed forward for six yards before barely being forced out of bounds to leave Rockford looking at a third down and four. Coming out in that same formation on the following play it was evident that East Kentwood again expected a run. But Munger had other thoughts while reaching deep into his tremendous coaching acumen for a play that sent the Ram faithful into a state of euphoria. Corey took the snap and faked a handoff before rolling to his left. He then pulled up and placed a perfectly thrown pass to Ram senior tight end Brock Holwerda just into the end zone and just inside the left sideline. Holwerda used all of his 6'5" frame and managed to tap both feet inbounds before falling out of the field of play. The ref signaled touchdown and the game was over for all intents and purposes at that point following Lenderink's PAT.
The Falcons got one last possession but in what was a nearly game-long pattern they went backwards before turning the ball over on downs to the Rams. Three plays out of the victory formation saw the Rams run out the clock and claim the bruising 17-7 win.
"Our defense has been stellar all season," said Munger. "We know they are going to hold up in every game and give us a great chance to win. We just needed to find enough offense to put us over the top and we were eventually able to. We changed things up a little offensively on that last drive and the kids seemed to find another gear. It is always special to play at "The Ted" and we were able to feed off the energy of our crowd and get this huge win."
Vega led the Ram rushing attack with 66 yards on 14 carries while senior halfback Jackson Moseley added 29 yards on seven attempts. Corey was 6-for-9 passing for 93 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. Haddad had two receptions for 44 yards that included the first Ram touchdown. Senior fullback Jaiden Friesen battled through an extremely sore ankle to also haul in two receptions for 10 yards.
Junior linebacker Cole Gleason had a game for the ages to pace the Ram defense. Gleason had 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. Fellow junior linebacker Ben Tadych added eight tackles of his own. Senior linebacker Reid Nicholson also had a banner day as he accrued seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Senior safety Dylan Dams had five tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack of his own. Junior defensive back Ethan Nash also had five tackles and junior linebacker Chase Klimczak added two and a half sacks of his own.
Rockford will now play the waiting game until Sunday evening to see their opponent in the opening round of the playoffs. The Rams will almost certainly be hosting at least the first two rounds if they are fortunate enough to win their opener. The Michigan High School Athletic Association playoff field will be announced Sunday evening at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Detroit. This year marks a state record 25th consecutive trip to the playoffs for the Rams and their legendary coach Ralph Munger.
Quarterback Chris Corey hands the ball off to Ethan Nash. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Ram ball carrier Jacob Vega takes on an East Kentwood defender. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Brock Holwerda and Jacob Vega protect Jackson Moseley as he heads down the field. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Cole Gleason and Ben Tadych take down a Falcon. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
The Rams defense causes a fumble and get the turnover. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Ram ball carrier Jackson Moseley earns yards. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Luke McLean and Andrew Lanham tackle an East Kentwood ball carrier. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
Kaden Seelye, Ben Tadych, Aidan Crosby and Cole Gleason shine on defense. ~ Photo by Connie Hill
The Rams "Rock The Ted." ~ Photo by Connie Hill