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Rams fall 45-40 in heart-wrenching battle with West Ottawa

By Randy Gregory, 09/07/18, 1:30PM EDT


~ Photo by Miles Postema

Rams fall to panthers

In a game eerily reminiscent of last year's regular season encounter at West Ottawa, the Panthers got a touchdown run from their standout senior quarterback Isaac VanDyke with 20.5 seconds remaining in the contest to claim a thrilling 45-40 triumph over Rockford at RHS on Friday, Sept. 7. Last year the Rams dominated the first half before stumbling through the third quarter and rallying late before falling just short by the score of 35-30. This year the Rams took a 21-10 lead into the locker room at the half before giving up a 22-0 margin in the third quarter to fall behind 32-21.

Despite recovering to put up 19 points of their own in the final stanza to reclaim the momentum and get to the precipice of victory, the Rams made a crucial mistake late in suffering the agonizing defeat. They left just over two minutes on the clock for VanDyke and the potent Panther offense after taking the lead 40-39. In a game that featured more twists and turns than a Smoky Mountain highway, the final turn saw VanDyke march West Ottawa 64 yards in 12 plays for the clinching score.

West Ottawa gave the large assemblage of fans a quick glimpse of what their offense is capable of when they marched smartly downfield on their initial possession of the game before settling for a 24-yard field goal to grab a 3-0 lead. But, the Rams had a quick retort when Jaiden Friesen swept left untouched from a yard out to give the Rams the lead 7-3 following the Teagen Lenderink point-after with 1:09 left in the opening quarter. The key play of the Rockford drive was a 41-yard pass from Drew Bareno to his brother Nate.

West Ottawa immediately answered when VanDyke tossed a 19-yard scoring strike to put them on top 10-7 at the 9:48 point in the second quarter. But the balance of the half was all Rockford as they rang up the final 14 points of the opening 24 minutes.

Bareno answered the Panther score in quick order. The first play of the drive was a 47-yard pass to Kip Cushman. Three plays later the Bareno brothers struck again when Drew hit Nate with a 16-yard scoring strike to make it 14-10 Rams, following another Lenderink conversion with 8:07 left in the half.

An errant snap on the next Panther possession that was recovered by Tyler Waterstrat at the West Ottawa one led to another quick score for the Rams. Friesen again did the honors from that point with a one-yard plunge up the gut to increase the lead to 21-10 Rams following Lenderink's third PAT.

After forcing a quick three-and-out from West Ottawa on their first series of the second half, something went awry with the Rockford offense in a brutal third quarter stretch. The Rams had two lost fumbles, an errant snap and another near miss before keeping possession after juggling another handoff. West Ottawa capitalized to the tune of a 23-yard TD pass, a 33-yard TD run and a 67-yard TD pass coupled with a pair of kicked conversions and a successful two-point conversion to turn the 21-10 deficit into a 32-21 lead heading into the final quarter. The once jubilant Ram crowd was as stunned at what transpired in that interval as the Ram coaching staff.

But, rather than hang their heads the Rams buckled up their chin straps and nearly came away with a stirring victory. Friesen got things rolling with a one-yard plunge up the middle to make it 32-27 with 9:44 still left in the game. Rockford went for two and missed and the score stayed right there. 

It took only two plays for the Panthers to make it a two-score game again. After taking possession at the 50 following a personal foul on the kickoff return VanDyke busted off 48 and 2-yard runs to make it 39-27 following another conversion with 9:15 left in the game. Rockford again answered with a 60-yard drive of their own capped off with a one-yard TD pass from Bareno to Jack Richardson with 6:15 left to make it 39-34 after another Lenderink PAT.

Rockford got a huge break on the following Panther possession when a fumble gave them the ball at the Panther 34 with just under six minutes to play. Rockford moved smartly to the Panther 19 before a pair pf penalties backed them up a a daunting third-down-and-30 play from the West Ottawa 42. But Bareno hooked up with Eli Haddad on a beautifully thrown and caught 41-yard pass that set them up at the Panther one and send the large home contingent into near delirium. Richardson plowed ahead for the final yard to make it 40-39 Rams with only 2:10 to play. The two-point attempt was denied and the score remained.

West Ottawa assumed possession at their own 36 following the kickoff and covered the 64 yards for the decisive score and ultimate huge OK-Red win.

The Rams now stand at 1-2 on the season and things get no easier next week. Rockford will welcome 3-0 Muskegon Mona Shores to Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. The Sailors will enter the fray at 3-0 and feature multiple Division 1 recruits that stand in the way of Rockford evening their record at 2-2.

~ Photo by Miles Postema

~ Photo by Miles Postema

~ Photo by Miles Postema